In September 2004, after working in Athens for the Olympic Games, I had a couple of days on the Greek cycladic island of Naxos. One of the larger Greek islands, the mountains rising to 1000m (3000ft) generate enough rain to support considerable agriculture in the valleys. Even at the end of the summer, streams were still flowing.
Part of an ancient greek temple this massive structure overlooks the port of Naxos, and can be seen by arriving vessels from many miles away.
Although, I knew for sure that citrons were cultivated in these valleys, actually locating a tree proved impossible. The citrus trees of the area around Engares were protected from wind by tall and thick barriers of reeds. Individual plots within these reeds were fenced, with padlocked gates and sometimes chained dogs!
Are those citrus trees down there?
Well protected from the fierce winds
They proved to be oranges & lemons, not the elusive citron!
In the parade of shops and restaurants along Naxos Town's seafront, are two businesses competing for sales of the local liqueur distilled from the leaves of the citron tree. The shops and the "kitron" liqueur distilleries are owned by the Promponas and Vallindras families. Along with varied bottles of liqueur, the shops had a few examples of the citron fruits on display - but they refused to sell me any to take home.
These citrons were displayed by the Promponas company at their tasting stall on the Naxos Town sea-front.
Their square-shouldered shape and slight ribbing is similar to the Italian 'Diamonte' variety.
About 10km inland is the village of Halki (or Chalki, or Kalki). This is the home of the Vallindras distillery which is open for visitors to see the original still, which is still used for Kitron production.
Finally, in a last attempt to track down some of Naxos's citrons I asked for help from Mrs.Despina Kitini , who runs the local tourist information centre, owns several hotels and seems to have excellent contacts throughout the island. The following morning two large fruits and a handful of leaves were waiting for me! Thank-you again Mrs Despina!
The larger, yellow and very mature fruit weighed 1kg and was 12cms in diameter. The smaller green fruit was 0.8kg and 11cms diameter.
The flesh was acidic, and both fruits were seedless. I was unable to find any variety name, but they did appear to be different from the Promponas fruits shown earlier.
Promotional leaflets from the Promponas and Vallindras distilleries
page created 14th Sept 2004 & rebuilt 4th December 2009
Walking up in the hills, I came across the remains of an old water mill. with a little stream flowing under it. The stream goes on to irrigate the green and fertile valley of Engares.
The median apples, as our ancestors called citrons (citrus medica) in antiquity, were used for medicinal purposes, and also as an indication of fertility and affluence. In recent times, citron has been used in preserves, sweets, distillates, ice creams etc.
Citron's juice is also used in the Arab cuisine and due to its acidity, replaces vinegar, Persians use the citron peel for flavouring fruit salads and for marinating meat. Often the leaves are dried and mixed with tea. The fruits are also used to produce citron oil and citris acid.
In Greece, citrons have been used for the production of preserves (spoon sweets), honey pectin, sugar pectin (candies) and liqueurs. In our country the citron tree has been cultivated, just as in Spain, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Calabria.
Naxos is one of the regions of Greece where citron trees have been cultivated and the well known Citron Liqueur has been distilled, for at least two centuries.
The Cultivation Of Citron in Naxos
Up until about 1960 the cultivation of citron trees on the island was systematic. Since 1960 until the end of seventies, many trees were uprooted and replaced by other crops. Today there are approximately 2000 citron trees of which few are to be found in organised gardens (in the areas of Naxos Town, Engares, Melanes, Khalki and Apollonas). The local variety is the sour citron tree with purple flowers and seedless, aromatic, thick skinned fruit.
The Making of the Citron Distillate
a. Collection of leaves: The citron producer collects healthy citron leaves from the end of October until February. Following the collection, the leaves are laid out in a dry room and then dampened with a small quantity of water.
The collection of leaves is an arduous task, due to the thorns on the trees and, hence, time consuming. Great care must be given not to gather too many leaves, which could lead to distruction of the tree.
b. Distillation phase: In the shortest time possible after collection, the leaves are placed in the boiler in low heat, along with pure alcohol and water. This is where the distillation process takes place.
c. Depending on the quality of the extract which is being sought, a second or third distillation may take place, in which case the first extract is boiled along with new leaves. In that way the flavour and taste of the Citron Liqueur becomes stronger.
The text reproduced here about Naxos' Citron is copied from the information notice in the distillery.