Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
Just back from Calabria, a fleeting visit for which I had no excuse other than to accompany Helena Attlee on her research trip to the Jewish citron harvest. This peculiar event will soon be properly described by Helena in her forthcoming book on the role of the citrus family in Italian culture. Briefly, though, the citron (etrog in Hebrew) takes a central part in the annual Feast of Tabernacles (sukkot); what’s more, each fruit has to be absolutely flawless. We met a citron merchant from Brooklyn who talked us through the business, at the same time giving us a crash course in elementary Judaism. Who knew, for example, that the only commandments that apply to us (non-Jews, I mean) are the seven ‘Noahide’ commandments – six of which were given to Adam before the Fall and the seventh to Noah after the Flood?
Harvesting these fruits is a brutal job – the trees are covered in vicious spines and grow low to the ground, so that the pickers have to crawl on all fours and pick the fruit while lying on their backs. All this in the furnace heat of a Calabrian summer. And then each fruit must be washed and checked by the merchant for the slightest imperfection, variation in colour, etc. before being packed in bubble wrap and foam rubber like a piece of glassware.
More pictures may be found here. After a brief break for beach time it was north to Amalfi to look at the precipitous and beautiful lemon gardens that hang above the Tyrrhenian Sea. The first picture on this post shows the view from our room, so high above the sea that we could just make out the mountains of Sicily 100 miles distant. Then home – and within 24 hours we were swimming in the rain in Hampstead Ponds. Funny thing, travel.