Cape Rough Skinned Lemon

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Cape Rough Skinned Lemon

The Cape Rough Skinned Lemon is the oldest variety of lemon in South Africa. It was named for its bumpy, uneven thick skinned yellow fruit, and is sweeter than other lemon varieties. The fruit is oval, and 7 to 12cm in length. The tree has an upright habit with a roundish crown, growing to an average 3 to 6m in height, and has sharp thorns on the branches. It has dense foliage, and the leaves are oval shaped, and a dark, slightly glossy green.

Cape rough-skin lemon trees were brought to South Africa from the island of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, during the 17th century, and planted in the Cape Town gardens of Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch Colonial administrator. These gardens were planted with many fruits and vegetables, for European traders circumnavigating Africa, to do trade in the East. The traders would stop at the Cape to rest, and have fresh food from these gardens. Citrus fruit (lemons and oranges) were popular with the sailors, because their high vitamin C content was useful for combating scurvy, a disease that resulted from a lack of vitamin C, due to shortage of fresh food available on long distance sea journeys.

The exact origins of Citrus Jambhiri are uncertain, although it is thought to be endemic to North-Western India, and would have been planted on the island of St. Helena when it became a stop-over for ships sailing between Europe, Africa, and Asia, in the 16th Century. Citrus Jambhiri initially thrived in St. Helena, but was eventually overcome by the diseases of the region and became extinct.

In South Africa, starting at the Cape, the rough-skinned lemon thrived, and then became popular throughout the country, where it became acclimatized to a diversity of regions, from the humid sub-tropical East Coast, to the drier and colder inland regions.

In the diamond mining town of Kimberley, North-West Province, Cape rough-skinned lemons were planted as street trees during the Anglo-Boer War, at the turn of the 20th Century to combat scurvy. Very few of the original trees remain, and while the tradition of planting lemon trees as street trees continues, the Cape rough skinned lemons are gradually being replaced by the more popular smooth skinned and commercially available varieties such as Eureka and Meyer lemon trees.

Being sweeter than the usual commercially available lemons, but still having the usual sour, tart lemon flavor and aroma, the Cape rough lemon makes an excellent lemon juice.

A tradition with school children in Kimberley, is to make a delicious healthy snack of the lemons picked from the street trees, peeling off the skins and sprinkling the lemons with salt and Peri-peri (dried chili powder), before eating them.

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Nominated by:Melissa de Billot