Golden Trumpets of Sunshine
You’ve no doubt heard of the Eureka, the Meyer, the Lisbon and the Lemonade varieites of lemons but how about the Sfusato or more precisely the Sfusato Amalfitano? This is the golden trumpet the Italian poet Eugenio Montale refers to in his evocative poem, I Limoni (The Lemons).
It is this glorious golden trumpet that flourishes on the steep terraced slopes of the Sentiero dei Limoni, a stunning walk between the tiny towns of Maiori and Minori on the Amalfi Coast overlooking the Mediterranean.
I was lucky to visit the Mansi family’s limoneto (lemon grove) on the hills above Minori earlier this year in June when the lemons were plump and fragrant at the height of the season.
Tommaso Mansi explained that his father Mario has been growing lemons here since he was a child.
“My grandfather sadly died when my father was 12 years old and as he was the oldest son he took all the responsibility to run the lemon farm. My brother Domenico and I help our father.”
Tommaso wears another hat as the simpatico bar manager at the magnificent Belmond Caruso hotel in Ravello which looks out over Minori while Domenico and his wife Loredana run La Limonaia della Torretta which is in the family’s limoneto.
The sentiero (path) actually goes through the Mansi orchard to allow another 10-15 families access to their terraces.
“Every generation splits the land between their sons and daughters. It’s hard to say who continues and who does not,” he told me.
The Mansi family own about a hectare of land in total, with terraces of different sizes. To access one of the terraces, we actually walked through the family’s original home kitchen. It was touching to see the way in which they had honoured their mother.
We were lucky to walk downhill most of the way from Belmond Caruso Hotel in Ravello to Minori and then to catch a small bus up the hill to the Mansi’s limoneto.
The heat was intense and there were many hot sweaty tourists who had set off from Maiori and walked down to Minori and were now climbing thousands of steps up to Ravello.
I was with my son, Linden Pride, and his family. The girls weren’t loving the heat and couldn’t wait to get down to Minori for a cold drink and gelato.
It took us about an hour to get to Minori where we were met by Tommaso on his scooter. Just as well he was there because he showed us which mini bus to catch up the hill to the limoneto, and pointed to a magnificent pasticceria where we sampled the famous delizia al limone and indulged in numerous scoops of gelato.
Tommaso told us the lemons are ready to be picked between February/March-September depending on how hot it is. Some of the trees are 70-80 years old but are at their best between 10-30 years of age.
They hand pick approximately 10-15 tones per annum and the lemons are transported by donkey to the road, then taken in a van to the Costieragrumi di Riso where they are sorted and packed.
“The trees are pruned every year after picking,” Tommaso explained. “The new parts of the plant need to be tied down on the pergolas to make it easier for picking and then covered with a net against hail and wind until May when the weather gets better and there is no more danger”.
It’s heavy work looking after the terraced slopes and picking and transporting the lemons to the co-op. Years ago, much of this work was done by women portatrici.
Le Portartrici Di Limoni (aka “formichelle”/ants) who carried baskets of lemons down the steep slopes on their heads
I can only begin to imagine their exhaustion!
Further north at Sorrento you’ll find a different variety, the Limone di Sorrento, which is rounder in shape than the Sfusato Amalfitano. Laura Thayer points out that:
“Both varieties are exceptionally fragrant and boast very high levels of vitamin C. The skins are rich in oil and brightly colored, making them ideal for creating the famous Limoncello liqueur of the Sorrento Peninsula. The Limone Costa d’Amalfi and the Limone di Sorrento have both been honored with the IGP status (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) which indicates their role as an important and unique regional food in Campania.”
Fabulously refreshing Sorbetti di Limoni at one of the cafes in Amalfi
I’d love a Sfusato lemon tree in my backyard and recently came across a website where they sell the seeds. However I’ve always understood that growing a lemon tree from seed isn’t a good idea as they don’t grow true to type (i.e. the fruit may not be like that of the parent fruit) and may be thorny and take a long time to produce fruit.
Lemon trees sold by garden centres are grown by budding or grafting. The selected variety is budded onto two-year-old rootstock, usually ‘Trifoliata‘, which is resistant to root rot diseases.
I wonder if there’s an enterprising citrus grower in Australia willing to give the Sfusato a go?