As Pancake Day approaches, we consider the humble lemon squeezer and how to capture the warmth of sunny days in frosty February.
When I was sixteen years old, my parents took me to Sicily for a sunny Easter holiday. It was there that I first saw lemon groves in the Island’s rich volcanic soils with the magnificent backdrop of Mount Etna in the distance spitting out its venom. I had read about them in Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals when the family moved into the lemon-scented villa in Corfu but I’d never seen them in their natural environment.
Although my father was a chef, there wasn’t much lemon-squeezing action going on in our household on Shrove Tuesday. Dad would flip the pancakes in true chef style but we’d drizzle them in true seventies style with lemon juice squeezed from a plastic lemon-shaped Jif bottle. Our lemon squeezer, the type that collects the juice around it like a sandcastle with a moat, would remain firmly in the kitchen cupboard.
In my twenties, when I was invited to a flurry of weddings, my signature gift was Phillipe Stark’s lemon squeezer along with a set of Elizabeth David cookbooks. I was seduced by its long spidery legs and rocket shape and the fact it was always proudly on display in Heal’s and the Conran Shop. It looked like it belonged in War of the Worlds.
But as is often the way with kitchen implements, the simpler the better. For salad dressings and an impromptu squeeze, I use my wooden handheld squeezer. As I’m trying out gin distillery tours around the country and tasting British regional gins, there’s always a lemon in the fridge that’s had a slice taken out of it and is in need of using up.
On these chilly and dark February days, I’d love to jump on a plane to Sicily to walk through the lemon groves again. I’d sit down and eat an enormous bowl of steaming crab linguine followed by one of those divine frozen lemons filled with sorbet. But it’s not so easy to do.
I can though immerse myself in Helena Attlee’s book ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit’. And I can seek out tropical warmth in the magnificent glasshouses at RHS Wisley, Chatsworth House Gardens and in Oxford’s Botanic Garden where it’s a reminder of the city’s citrusy history of marmalade-making.
I can let a little bit of the Sicilian sunshine in too by listening to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Let Me Be Your Lemon Squeezer’, eating lemon drizzle cake and pouring myself a generous gin and tonic.