January (mud, wind, rain, cold) brings little to allotment life besides the satisfaction of digging in compost and the occasional pleasure of uprooting a leek or two for supper. Fortunately, the citrus season is upon us (well, not us, Seville and beyond) with all the zest, zing and lip-pursing tartness we need to shake us out of our January lethargy.
Bergamots, however, are an often overlooked citrus fruit of the Dec-Feb harvest variety. And I spotted some in Daylesford this week, so here we are with an exotic glut. They’re overlooked partly because they aren’t terribly easy to find (Natoora sell online), but also because they are shrouded in more than a little mystery and confusion:
“Bergamot: isn’t that Earl Grey tea?”
“No no, it’s that lovely purple-flowered plant in your Mum’s garden.”
“No it’s something they use in posh perfumes”
“Hang on, I thought it was an orange.”
“Can’t be, it’s not orange.”
“But then some are greeny-yellow – so it’s a lemon.”
“I thought it was a type of dance…”
Let’s clear this up:
Bergamot orange – (above) greeny yellow citrus fruit with powerful fragrance and taste (the nearest I can get to a comparison is preserved lemons but more perfumed). Technically a type of sour orange, but in practice more akin to a lime. The oil from the skin is used in perfume and also to make Earl Grey tea.
Bergamot (in a French accent) – an orange coloured orange (!) which in France goes, incorrectly, by the name Bergamot (typical). It’s far less fragrant than true bergamot and only comfortably sour. Thanks to David Lebovitz for finding that one out.
Bergamot – a herbaceous perennial plant technically known as monarda. Very easy to grow with beautiful big purple flowers that bloom all summer. You should get one. Called bergamot because it randomly happens to smell like a bergamot orange.
Bergamasque – that dance they do at the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Right. Then let’s eat some….
Very pleasing to say and perfect if your granny comes to tea. Bergamots are notorious for their perfumed/soapy aroma and over-use in a dish can make it taste like a granny’s boudoir smells (one imagines, my grannies weren’t the boudoir type). However, the balance of sweet and sour here gives a nice hint of grannies without being overpowering.
- 200ml double cream
- 80g caster sugar
- 1/2 bergamot, juice and zest
Mix the cream with the sugar in a pan and bring slowly to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Pour in the bergamot juice and zest, stirring briskly or it might go lumpy. If you find the fragrance a bit much then go easy on the zest since this is where the granny-soap-factor is strongest. Pour into cups or glasses and chill until set.
Bergamot Chicken Cacciatore
I saw Angela Hartnett cook a version of this during a masterclass at Wilderness Festival last year and I still haven’t quite recovered – from her general loveliness and charm, or from fact that something so simple could taste so totally knock out. She makes hers with regular lemons and you can find the recipe here.
I replaced the regular lemons with bergamots and was quietly chuffed with the results. Already fragrant from the rosemary, the dish takes a step up on the ladder of perfumed with the addition of bergamot, but I quite like the subtle girly-ness it brings to this otherwise rustic peasant dish. Serve it with mash, or pasta or just a hunk of bread to mop us the juices and a crisp salad.
I have a suspicion that bergamots would make a mean G&T. But it’s not yet 6 o’clock, so I shall have to wait until then before I can try. Will report back…