Monday, January 30, 2012

The Case of the Mysterious Citrus Seller

What could be better than being in the right place at the right time and even better than that, getting a bargain and a mystery too!

Well, a funny thing happened to Auntie on the way to the market...

Last Saturday morning, a day bathed in winter sunshine,  I was trotting my way downwards through the narrow  streets of  Menton's old town buy things to eat at the covered market when I  spotted an intriguing, handwritten sign.  I stopped to read it:

"For Sale, Lemons and Mandarins from Menton. Untreated.  1.50 per Kilo, Ring or Knock."

What a find!  Mentonnaise Lemons and Mandarins usually sell for 3-6 per kilo and I needed some since I was gearing up to make marmalade and I only had a few left on our trees.  The timing was perfect.  And, I had my sturdy folding grocery cart with me.

Hmmm.  Come to think of it, I remember seeing this sign last year but I didn't knock.
This time, I knocked.
Last year's sign.  What, no mandarins!?
A nice man answered and invited me in to his garden.  His name was Mr Perrin.  As luck would have it, he had a little bijou garden with about 6 lemon trees, and 3 mandarin orange trees.  He was a smart man.   Instead of wasting such a bounty, he put up a sign and offered them to others for a tiny price.

Mentonnaise lemons aren't like regular lemons that come from Spain or California. They're shipped around the world to chefs  and connoisseurs who prize them for their sweet, deep flavour, fragrant skin and soft acidity.

Historical documents show that lemons have been grown in Menton as far back as 1471.

Currently in Menton there are about 80,000 lemon trees which produce about 12,000,000 lemons annually.  Auntie's trees account for about 100 of these, most of which she squeezes into her Perrier.

There are 3 varieties of lemons native to Menton: Bignettes, very juicy with a thin, smooth skin, Sériesqués, with a thick but smooth skin but with less juice than the Bignette  and Bullotins which are rarely seen any more because they have thick skin and  very little juice.  

Mr Perrin, the mysterious lemon seller grows Sériesqués, as does Auntie.

Mandarins from Menton are quite unique too.  Their skin smells like orange flower water and taste sweet and intense with a long lingering finish. They put other mandarins to shame.  When you peel one, everyone in the house knows about it they smell so strong.    Uncle Jim loves them juiced and I use them to make sorbet and tarts to really make the most of them. 

Lemons deformed when fertilization goes awry
For about 10, I stuffed my cart with a big bag of lemons an even bigger bag of mandarins and continued down to the market with a big smile on my face. I had discovered the deal of the day.  Little did I know at the time that I should have bought more when I had the chance...

A few days after my discovery, I tried to direct a friend to the same place and the conversation went something like this:
Her: Where can I get some of those great mandarins and lemons?
Me: In Menton's old town.  Do you have google maps on your phone?  

Her:  No.  

Me:  OK, I'll guide you.  First, walk past the cemetery, go down through the old town and turn right at the Basilica and go past the school. 

Her:  OK, I've just passed the school.  

Me:  Good, now turn left down the street with the bright turquoise door at the corner.  Sometimes there's an orange cat sitting there. 

Her:  I see the cat but not the door.  

Me:  Then look for a dark brown door, I think it's the third door down, look for the leaves of a citrus tree peeking out over the stone wall.  There should be a sign.

Turn left at the cat
Her:  I think I found the place but there's no sign.  What colour was the door again?

Me:  Dark brown. There's no sign?

Her:  No.

Me:  I guess that's that then.  You can have some of mine.  Let's meet for tea!

And so the citrus and the citrus seller had vanished for yet another year...

This Saturday I tried to find it again but alas, the sign was no longer there.  Even the screws that held up the name plate had disappeared.  I guess if I want more cheap lemons I'll have to send Uncle Jim into our garden to pick some.

The moral to the story?  It makes sense that when you spot a scented citrus seller, use ALL your cents to snag some.

Up Next:  The 79th Annual Menton Lemon Festival.  
Lemony Fun in the South of France.

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