Celebrated food writer Nigel Slater once wrote that a good lemon is the one kitchen condiment he would not be without.
From the picturesque village of Hoyos, tucked into the northwest corner of Extremadura beside the borders of Castile and Portugal, comes the highly prized ’limón de luna’ or moon lemon.
So called because they flower once a month, instead of the usual once or twice a year, Hoyos moon lemons are organically grown on small family farms and backyards. Blessed with a high concentration of aromatic oils and a pungent juice, they are presented with no protective wax or artificial ripening treatments. Their rough peel contains generous amounts of essential lemon oils, making moon lemons ideal for use in cocktail mixing, patisserie and perfumery. A single slice of moon lemon will give a lift to a gin and tonic, while a thin slice of zest adds fragrance to desserts like arroz con leche.
For centuries the ’moon lemon’ has been cultivated in the little-known county of Sierra de Gata, just below the northerly limit of citrus production on the Iberian peninsula. The unique microclimate of this unspoiled Sierra creates wide temperature differences between day and night, leading to increased aromatic concentration in the fruit. This rare heritage variety has never been commercialized outside its home region.
The county of Sierra de Gata is badly communicated and has almost no economy except for subsistence agriculture. The citrus fruit here was never sold, just used domestically - and now even that has changed with the arrival of Valencia oranges and Murcia lemons.
The moon lemon trees of Hoyos are planted in sheltered spots in the lower part of the village, often close to stone walls for added protection from frost. Most households have their own trees in the family huerta (vegetable patch). Local uses for the lemon include fresh limonada, a popular summer drink with ice and sugar, and the ensalada de limones, a refreshing winter salad of chopped lemon flesh, finely sliced onion and hard boiled egg, dressed with extra virgin olive oil from local D.O. Gata-Hurdes and enriched with cooked egg yolk.
Moon Lemon Salad (Mojo de Limones) by Paul Richardson
Preparation: 3 minutes
Cooking: 8 minutes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
6 moon lemons
1 green bell pepper, seeds and stalk removed, finely chopped
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sprigs parsley, chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
½ cup (120ml) extra virgin olive oil
Fine salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small pan, boil 2in (5cm) of salted water and cook the potato dice until just tender, 6-8 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water until cool. Reserve. Peel the lemons, removing both outer skin and pith, and the thin skin surrounding each segment. Coarsely chop the lemon flesh and place in a salad bowl, followed by the potatoes, the green bell pepper, the spring onions and parsley.