Lemon trees

Lemon is an unusual ingredient in Javanese culinary tradition. We use lime a lot instead. And the lime leaves. But lemon, no. We use lime in curry, rendang, stir fry dishes, savoury snacks, and fresh drinks. We used the juice and the leaves. It is not too difficult to find lime in Melbourne, or in Leiden where we used to live. It is usually sold at Asian groceries shops as dried leaves. I rarely bought the fresh ones–because they are not always available. I learnt that the Asian groceries in Victoria Street have the fresh lime leaves.

My sister showed a photo of lemon trees I uploaded on my Instagram account to mother. Mother was very impressed by the lemon trees apparently—not by my picture. Mother asked my sister to ask me to bring some lemons when I visited her in Indonesia. Why did not she just bought some from Superindo, I asked my sister. If I brought her the fruit myself, that would be special. To bring lemon might be perceived like bringing a jewel from nature.

The sight of lemon trees, with lemons dangling and so abundant, grow in someone’s garden, in faraway land, might be very appealing to mother. Lemon trees are not the usual trees to grow in the environment where mother lives. She is more used to see lime trees. Like her, the familiarity of the lemon trees in Richmond neighbourhood was an interesting sight for me too. I find that I am still struggling to better explain my own surprise in seeing the trees.

I started to learn that Michele, my mother in law, always put lemons, oranges, and sometimes tangerines, on a giant ceramic bowl on the living room table. Cahaya likes the table. She uses it to play everything–lego, drawing, play doh. Sometimes she put her feet up the table (to which we always say ‘no Cahaya’) while watching something on television. I have spent countless times doing various activities around the table too–having tea, coffee, pain au chocolate, with Trevor and Michele, or accompanying Cahaya drawing, constructing lego buildings, or making play doh. I would work on the table, with my eyes partially cast towards the lemon in the bowl. The bowl is full with precious colourful jewels–orange, bright yellow, greenish yellow.

The longer time I stay here, I began to appreciate the existence of lemon in various dishes–fish and chips with lemon wedges on the side, rye sourdough slices topped with dijon mustard, smoked trout, served with cucumber and lemon wedges. We started to cook Italian dishes from Rachel Roddy’s books–which involves a lot of lemons. Last week Cahaya and me baked lemon and ricotta cake. Today we had Pollo con arance e olive, or chicken with citrus and olives, which requires juice from one lemon.

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