A Festival of Lemons

By Yasemen Kaner-White*

A life without lemon is lackluster indeed, so join in the global celebrations...

If you haven't immersed yourself in the world of lemons as I have for the last couple of years, you may be surprised to hear that lemons are veritably berries, hesperidiums in-fact, in other words, a berry with a leathery rind. With or without this knowledge, I am fairly sure your life has improved with a few citrusy drops at some juncture. For instance sipped with warm water first thing in the morning to kick start the liver, used to shine dulled metal, whiten rice, or even squeezed over salad, fish or papaya to perk it up. From beauty, to household, to boosting the taste of everything... Lemon has the answer.

Globally, unique attributes of this berry are commemorated lavishly with festivals devoted to it. Indisputably, the biggest takes place in Menton; France, attracting 250,000 visitors annually, in February. No amount of research could have jaded my candid amazement at seeing the humongous lemon floats drift through the pretty Promenade du Soleil along the sea front, as I sat in the front row, lemon sorbet in tow. Sweets, perfumes and crepes alike, temptingly line streets waiting to be snapped up in this lemon extravaganza. Les Jardins de Lumière (The Gardens of light for those who do not parler Français) is a magical walk to be savoured, romanticising all that is citrus. Folklore claims Eve, who was chased from paradise to earth, brought this golden fruit with her and because Adam was scared of the wrath of God’s anger, he persuaded her to hide it. Eve chose to bury the fruit in Menton, wishing its rich fertile soil would replicate the paradise lost. Since then lemons have flourished, later inspiring the town’s festival.

America hosts a selection of lemony dates for your diary. Annually during April, in Upland, expect performances, crafts, petting zoos, pony rides and climbing walls for kids. Adults indulge in meandering through the Beer & Wine Garden. Famous Western actors and authentic Native American Teepees are displayed. The famous Lemon Pie Eating Contest is one of the festival’s highlights. During August, head to Chula Vista; California, for the 'Lemon Fantasy Hair Competition' featuring innovative styles from Third Avenue salons. Children can relish the Kids’ Fun Zone including carnival rides and inflatables. October, again in Citrusy California, this time Goleta, gathers lemon lovers to what began in 1890 with a rancher named Sherman Stow and his 600 acres of lemon groves to now an annual celebration of the iconic fruit that today defines the local region. Attracting 35,000 visitors annually, eating 1,720 lemon bars, drinking over 93 gallons of lemon ale, and buying over 932 lemon meringue pies between them.

South America of course cannot be ignored, Argentina currently being the main exporter of lemons. They too host their own zesty hullabaloo in Tucaman, annually in June. Thanks to students from Tafí Viejo who participated in creating the biggest lemonade jar, totaling 5·75 litres, they won the Guinness World Record, smashing the previous record set by the US. Peru, similarly in June, between the 22nd and 30th annually, features lemons in Olmos on the Eastern edge of the Sechura Desert. Here competitions take place between producers, as well as dances and celebrations.

Madeira launched its annual lemon themed festival in May 2001, to accolade Santana’s most important product; the lemon. This year it is scheduled for the 10th/11th May, at the parish of Ilha in the municipality of Santana. Local folk dancing groups, brass bands, musicians and other entertainment from the mainland vividly portray their efforts.

It would be wrong to end an article on lemons without mentioning Italy. Every year, during May, this year the 19th, the Sagra del Limone happens in Monterosso. The village is coloured in yellow. Ancient, narrow streets are the setting for limoncino, lemon cream, lemon marmalade and lemon pie. The '8000 passi al profumo di limoni' walking tour around Monterosso, departs from the house of Eugenio Montale, Nobel Prize winner, who wrote the poem; Limoni and ends in lemon groves where farmers explain the local utilisation of lemon. In the evening awards for best shop window display are nominated. Sorrento, a place which remains close to my heart, mid July, sees local producers exhibit their products. Antique and photographic exhibitions, as well as folk music and lemon inspired competitions take place. The festival is preceded in May by guided walks through lemon groves.

It is advised to research festival dates before factoring in a visit, as although the months remain the same annually, exact dates differ. Lemon festivals encompass all the excitement of any celebration but with the added twist (pun intended) of goodness that lemon exudes. Everyone should visit at least one in their lifetime...

*Yasemen Kaner-White is the author of Lemon Compendium (www.lemoncompendium.com)