True gems of the citrus family, lemons brighten up gardens and tables at this time of year.
By Debby Larsen
Lemons (Citrus limon) have evolved from a rare and exotic fruit to an essential staple in many kitchens. Prized for their sunny color and refreshing tart flavor, they are thought to have originated in India two thousand years ago. Eventually, cultivation spread to Northern Africa, the Mediterranean region, and into Europe. During the age of colonization, lemons arrived on distant shores. Columbus brought them with him to Haiti, Portuguese sailors took them to Brazil and the Spanish planted the fruit in Florida. Spanish missionaries also introduced lemons to California. Lemons were taken on long sea voyages to help prevent scurvy, a multi-symptom disorder caused by lack of vitamin C.
The lemon tree has a vigorous, spreading growth habit. It prefers a location with adequate sun exposure, and it is more frost-sensitive than other citrus varieties. Very little pruning is necessary, except for removal of suckers that sprout up from the roots or at the graft point. Lower branches should be left alone to help protect the trunk from sunburn.
Water slow and deep once a week during the summer and twice a week the rest of the year. The tree well should be as wide as the canopy. Build a berm sloping away from the trunk to the edge of the canopy.
Fertilize three times a year, in February, May and September. Wait until lemons turn yellow to harvest them because they will only ripen on the tree.
Many varieties are available at your local nursery; ask for help to choose the correct type and size for your location. Available tree sizes range from standard and semi-dwarf to dwarf.
Eureka Lemon (Citrus limon “Eureka”) originated in Italy and was cultivated commercially in California for culinary use. It is high in acidity, possesses very few seeds and is excellent for cooking. The medium-sized tree has few thorns and an open growth pattern. Eureka is the least cold-hardy of the lemon varieties. The fruit is 2-5 inches in diameter.
Pink Variegated Eureka Lemon (Citrus limon “Pink Variegated Eureka”), a cultivar of the Eureka, has pink flesh with rough-textured, striped green and gold rind that mellows to yellow when mature. The foliage also is variegated, so it’s a nice ornamental. The tree can grow up to 15 feet but also is suitable for a container. It is frost-sensitive.
Improved Meyer Lemon (Citrus limon “Meyeri”) is a hybrid between a tart lemon and sweet orange. It is thin-skinned and sweeter than regular lemons, making it a favorite among home gardeners and cooks. Improved Meyer has medium-sized fruit with a yellow-orange glossy rind. The tree has a shrubby appearance, and the fruit remains on the tree for several months. It is the most cold-tolerant of all lemon varieties.
Lisbon Lemon (Citrus limon “Lisbon”) originated in Portugal and is cultivated in California. Commercial growers prefer Lisbon lemons for their drought-tolerance, cold- and wind-hardiness, and productivity. It is know for its strong acid flavor, thin skin, few seeds and plentiful juice. This is the variety most often found in grocery stores. Lisbon lemons are not outwardly distinguishable from the Eureka variety.
Santa Teresa Lemons (Citrus limon “Santa Teresa”) is a disease-resistant hybrid native to Sorrento, Italy. The fruit is large, with a round, elongated shape. Santa Teresas are high in acidity with an intense aroma, lots of juice and few seeds. They are used in Italy to make limoncello. These trees are offered by specialty growers for home gardens.
Ponderosa (Citrus limon “Ponderosa”) is a hybrid cross of a lemon and a citron. This medium-sized tree is very thorny with large leaves and fragrant blooms, and is cold-sensitive. It produces lemons the size of grapefruits that can weigh from 2-5 pounds. The taste is very acidic, so Ponderosa lemons most often are grown as ornamentals.
More Than Just Lemonade
This small fruit has influenced cultures and cuisines in every country where it has flourished. Lemons bring out the flavors of other ingredients in foods. Prized by cooks, they add just the right zip to savory dishes and their tartness shines in all desserts. The thinner-skinned lemons usually contain more juice, while those with thicker skin tend to have a more flavorful zest.
2½ cup flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1¼ cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2¼ cup granulated sugar
9 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. lemon extract
½ cup flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
Zest of 1 lemonPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, powdered sugar and butter. Beat at low speed for one minute, then at medium speed until mixture is crumbly. Press dough into a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crust looks firm and lightly browned.
Combine eggs, sugar, lemon juice, lemon extract and lemon zest. Mix flour and baking soda into egg mixture and beat at low speed, just until blended. It should foam to the top of the bowl if baking soda is fresh.
Pour over hot crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until middle is set. Should be lightly browned and pulling away from pan edges.
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. lemon zest
6 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Whisk together the melted butter, sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt in a medium saucepan. Add egg yolks and whisk until smooth. Place saucepan over low heat and cook slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Cook a minute or two longer, but do not boil. Remove from heat and cool. Store in a covered container and refrigerate until use. It will keep for 3 weeks and can be frozen for 2 months.
Yields 2 cups.
1 14-ounce package sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. salt
4 large egg whites
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the coconut, almonds, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. In a separate bowl combine egg whites and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into coconut mixture. Drop mounds of the mixture (about 2 tablespoons each) onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the edges begin to brown, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.
Yields: 24 cookies
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp. lemon extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt and whisk together. Beat the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and extracts with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes. Fold in the dry ingredients with a whisk. Then, fold in the butter the same way. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Butter and flour the madeleine pan. Divide the batter into 12 molds. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from the pan immediately and let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container. Makes 1 dozen.