While travelling on scented adventures across the globe I distinctly recall the uplifting properties that a rind of bergamot tucked in my pocket for difficult moments imparted on my nausated self. A brief whiff of its aromatherapeutic properties was my lucky charm to aliviate the stress of traveling and make me focus. It was only much later I learned that it was the traveller of travellers, Christopher Columbus, who first brought the tree to the Caribbean, where it was popularly used in voodoo rituals to protect against misfortune and that it's still used in in hoodoo rootwork, to control or command individuals!
Antonio Familiari, an 80-year-old former school teacher who tends bergamot groves off Calabria's coast in Italy is definite on the subject:"The bergamot is an intelligent creature. Its arrival in Calabria is shrouded in mystery, and even though it grows elsewhere, only in this area does it give us the essential oil", while his nails claw on a bergamot releasing the little stream of droplets that posses a soft orange undertone under the lemon sharpness. Ezio Pizzi, a 62-year-old former lawyer who returned to his family's bergamot plot after his father died a decade ago is equally enthralled by the fruit: "When I think about the possibilities for bergamot fruit, I get goosebumps." On the outskirts of Reggio di Calabria, Francesco Crispo, director of the state-founded Consortium of Bergamot Growers, has a plan for a 1,500-square metre, seven million-euro institute of perfumery.
But apart from the established role of bergamot in perfumery, is there some way of utilizing this heavenly scent into something that combines the aromatherapeutic with the gluttony? As in food and drink?
The stimulating and pleasantly refined aroma of bergamot has always been a companion in my black tea, in the form of beloved Earl Grey, possibly the best-known incarnation for most people. Its distinctive flavour and aroma derives from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange; the name on the other hand derives from the 2nd Earl of Grey, British Prime Minister (1830-1834) and author of the Reform Bill of 1832, who reputedly received the aromatized tea and the recipe as a diplomatic gift by a Chinese nobleman who thus thanked him for saving his life. History proves otherwise, but that shouldn't deter you from enjoying a full cup nevertheless! Twinings, one of the loose leaves black tea brands I buy out of tradition, still has the emblem of the Earl on their nostalgic, metallic canisters. Their newest addition Lady Grey is a little pale for my tastes, but you might like it. Fortnum & Mason has a superior Earl Grey blend in their loose leaves tins and is a purchase that won't break the bank. Clearly the many drinkers of Earl Grey have been enjoying this rich, elegant richness above all else and one of the loveliest blends you can try is Adagio Earl Grey Bravo (or Aristocrate), while I also like the balanced approach of Upton Teas Earl Grey Ceylon Select. Perhaps the best novel idea I can give you is to actually ice the tea and drink it for refreshment in the summer: much more invigorating and satisfying than plain black tea with lemon!
Yet bergamot has other uses in flavourful incarnations, even though the fruit is inedible, prompting the owner of this small garden on Zante island to proclaim on this funny placard on his midget trees "they're bergamots, not lemons", to deter poachers from cutting off the fruit to use in their kitchen.
One of the loveliest and easiest ideas is to aromatize a white liquor with the washed, peeled rind. Just peel the fruit, remove the white underside, cut in small rolls and press them inside the neck of a bottle of alcholic drink. Leave them be for a couple of weeks and you will see. The idea is not drastically creative, as Triple Sec has been using citrus essences on a base of brandy distillation to act as a digestif for decades. But it's good to expand. The idea works well with Italian Grappa as well as Vino Greco and I have personally used it with good results in light white rum and local ρακί/raki. The resulting potion can be used in cocktails, imparting a delicately bitter fruity flavour.
The most traditional and devilishly tempting proposition of them all however is the Greek Bergamot spoonful treat: a single spoonful of candied fruit dessert that is served on very small crystal plates and chased down with an icy cold glass of water. The flavour is so concentrated and intense that you won't need another one. And although it's so full of sugar it has no fat whatsoever, rending it a very healthy dessert. You can buy them ready-made, but they're breezily easy to make, so here is a handed-down recipe.
Recipe for Bergamot Spoonful Sweet
You will need:
7 fresh bergamots
white sugar, as much in weight as the bergamots
juice of 1 lemon
1 and 1/2 cup of water for the final boil
juice of 1/2 lemon for the final boil
clean, boiled jar with tight-fitting lid
1. Wash the bergamots, wipe and using a kitchen scrub pad scrub until outer becomes bright yellow.
2. Cut a little off the top and the bottom and score with a sharp knife into three or four parts. With the tip of the knife, remove the skin and throw away the inner part. Remove as much white pith from the bergamot peels as possible, because it's very bitter.
3.Pick the rolls of rind and roll them securing them with the toothpicks. Place them in a large saucepan and cover them in water.
4. Bring to boiling point for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove the water and substitute with fresh. Repeath Step 4 for 3-4 times. This can be done on consecutive days or on the same day to remove some of the bitterness. The more diaphanous the water becomes, the less bitter it has got.
5.On the last boiling procedure empty hot water, add fresh cold water and the juice of 1 lemon. Put them again to boil for 10 minutes. Remove from stove and leave until the water cools. Drain them and put them on the pot again.
6.Now add the sugar and the water. Leave them for half an hour and then boil. Lower heat to medium for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave for a while.
Bring the bergamots again to a boil, simmer for about an hour, or until the liquid becomes clear and thick (You'll know it's ready when it forms "set" droplets that leave the spoon reluctantly when dropped). Finally add the other lemon juice, stir and leave to cool completely.
7. Place the fruit in clean jars with a lid, close tightly and place them upside down for a couple of minutes. You can keep them in a cupboard for a year.
Related reading on PerfumeShrine: the Bergamot Series, Aromatic Cuisine (scented escapades in the kitchen)
Photos copyright by PerfumeShrine and via Gayot.com