The extraordinary Amalfi lemon and a luscious lemon cake

“Their juice has a very low acidity; you wouldn’t expect it to give a kick to home-made mayonnaise, and you can’t use it to replace the vinegar in a salad dressing because it is altogether too gentle for jobs like that. Instead a summer pasta dish can be made by dressing spaghetti with raw garlic, parsley, and the mild but intensely flavoured juice of a Sorrento lemon.”

Helena Attlee, The Land Where Lemons Grow

Amalfi is the place for lemons. The last time I went was with Tried and Supplied founder, Domini Hogg, when we went to the Mamma Agata cookery school, a foodie heaven where mozzarella arrived, just five hours old; where fat grapes and ripening red tomatoes grew along curling tendrils of the vines, and where lemons hung, like giant dew drops, from overhead trellises.

So when, in this dank British May, a tantalising email came through from them, with the subject line:


I gave in to temptation and dug out this cake recipe. This cake is a sort of first cousin of a lemon drizzle cake, but much lighter. It needs the cream, but it needs to be fairy-light whipping cream to maintain the light-as-air feel.

What is the limone femminello sfusato amalfitano aka Amalfi lemon?

These local lemons are the sfusato Amalfitano, ‘fuso’ being the Italian for spindle – and you can see, particularly the ones on the right in the image above – are a sort of spindle shape, long and thin. They are sweeter than most lemons with a rugged skin, the giants of the family, weighing in at almost twice the norm. The IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) denomination which Mamma Agata writes about so proudly is a Geographic protected denomination (see Confused by PGIs) which means that these lemons can only come from a specific geographic area: along the Bay of Salerno from Positano to Vietri sul Mare. Each lemon has a maximum of nine segments, and few pips.

The Amalfi lemon is cultivated on the old terraces (macerine), originally constructed on rich, porous earth, some thousand years ago. The terraces are protected from the north wind by the mountains, but they bask in the gentle sea breezes and the sunshine.

The steep coast is terraced to make way for the lemon gardens, those closest to the sea begin harvesting first.

The harvest begins each year in the lemon gardens closest to the sea, on 1 February and continues through to October in gardens further inland. The flavour is most intense in the middle of the summer.

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