If the thought of lemonade stalls and cool, pale green liquid in long glasses cloudy with condensation seems like a perfect way to pass warm summery days then you could be excused for thinking we are living in the northern hemisphere rather than in sub-tropical Brisbane. Our long Indian summer has delayed Autumn and it is wreaking havoc on my equilibrium. I have capitulated to the realisation that my garden will never be perfect however, this season I am experiencing citrus envy which is threatening to impair the quality of my relationship with my trees.
When I look at the picture perfect citrus displayed on Gardening sheets and blog pages I start hyperventilating with fury and begin raging at the mealy mites, the ants, the grass hoppers and the aphids which have been, judging by their population, orgasmically enjoying our long hot days.
My latest weapon in the fight to perfection is to release Cryptolaemus larvae onto the leaves where the mealy mites have populated in profusion. These larvae feast on the mealy mite then morph into tiny beetles that resemble lady bugs. They are brown with rusty red heads and move so quickly that I haven’t managed to get a photo of them. I have resorted to wandering through my trees trying, in vain, to count the number of beetles that have hatched. As my non-gardening husband asks, ‘How can you tell whether you have counted the same one three times because it flies around so quickly?”
I adore the smell of citrus blossom and missed it hugely whilst living London, so when we returned to Brisbane, I went overboard and have planted oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, seville oranges, blood oranges and tangelos. As always there will be too many fruit for just one family and my father regularly directs his hose towards my trees so that he can claim watering rights in the form of tangelos and navels for his morning orange juice. I give away jars of marmalade and salted lemons as gifts.
Scale is often a problem, not in the size of my garden or the musical tinkle of ice blocks but in the rough patches on the skin of the fruit. They would never win a prize in our agricultural show and could be used as an example of how not to look in a dermatologist’s brochure. They look ugly but are so delicious.
Our lemonade tree is one of the earliest to ripen particularly in these still hot days. It is a strange fruit, and has come from either a cross between a Meyer lemon and an orange or a lemon and a mandarin tree. Whatever its source, the fruit is sweeter than a lemon and sharper than an orange.
The delicious pale green juice can be drunk straight or with soda to make a summer spritz. The fruit can be eaten but it does contain a lot of seeds that become annoying. It does not need a sugar syrup. Even the most discerning four-year old palate will accept lemonade squeezed straight from the fruit.
I have been waiting to see whether the fruit ripened to a lemon yellow or an orange colour before picking but this doesn’t seem to happen. The fruit stays a light lime green, slowly turning yellow by which time it is almost over-ripe. The trick is to test the ripeness of the fruit by gently tugging or twisting the fruit hanging from the branches. If ripe, the fruit comes away easily. I have realised that it is best not to wait until they become yellow because by then they have been attacked by fruit fly and rot on the tree.
Our young tree has fruited too heavily and has a decidedly drunken lean to it but I have been reluctant to prune it. The challenge is in avoiding being impaled on its thorns which are sharp enough to use as tapestry needles. Even worse, the rootstock tends to send out rogue branches that would be a perfect material for weaving a crown of thorns. I have already suggested this as an option for the next dress up event at school and I think I am about to be reported by my daughter-in-law for cruelty to children.
In the meantime I am enjoying fresh lemonade for breakfast.
Nutritionally, you don’t need a large amount of fruit juice so it can be difficult to find the right size glasses. Traditional water glasses are too large and clumsy so I was delighted when I remembered these lovely crystal glasses sitting at the back of the cupboard. A perfect size and shape. The etched star pattern was the right complement to the homegrown lemonade sparkling in the early morning sunlight.