I had some friends coming over for a buffet and needed loads of lemons. All those salad dressings to make, and perhaps a cooling zesty lemon mousse for dessert. So, in Malta, where do you go for lemons? The supermarket?
No, you look over the garden wall. Or, more precisely, you lower a basket over the wall, your neighbour generously fills it, you hoist it up, and hey presto, you’ve a surfeit of lemons to make a gallon or more of lemonade, and some left over.
This little ritual of give and take plays out if you don’t conveniently have your own tree that is. Even the smallest front or backyard in a town like Sliema has room for a lemon tree. I have olive, cypress and palms but my ageing lemon died a long time ago. My neighbour’s garden is littered with fallen lemons. Old, knarled, thick-skinned with warty lumps, and slightly mildewed or bird splattered. Fresh from the orchard, in their natural state and free of those boxtoxed-looking waxed skins, they are bliss. A lemon scent and taste to die for.
Yesterday morning, 07.30, I called from my roof across her garden as I’d heard her weeding. Mary picked out the best from her crate of windfalls and obligingly packed my wicker basket full. I pulled it up the 15 foot drop, ever grateful. And I took a moment to reflect on this endearing slice of Maltese village life: the sharing neighbours, the use of produce to the full when in season, and an appreciation of nature’s bounty.
I look at Mary’s large orchard, overshadowed by the parish church, and pray that it will never be built on. Anything is possible in Malta. Long may her lemon trees live on.
What is a ‘basket’ in Malta?
Basket is used in Malta to refer also to a plastic bag, the sort supermarkets dish out (at a price these days). Not to be confused with wicker or reed woven baskets.