Thursday, June 18, 2015

When Life Gives You A Lemon Tree...

...you make lemonade, lemon curd, lemon tarts, lemon... well you get the picture. 

Chronica Domus
A taxonomic presentation of Citrus limon 'Eureka' that would make Franz Eugen Köhler proud
Photo: Chronica Domus


When I was a young girl in England, lemons were exotic things.  One was more likely to run into plastic lemon-shaped squeeze bottles full of what approximated real lemon juice than an actual lemon. In fact, I recall my mother buying these novel little pretenders and squeezing the contents onto our pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, on salads to make dressing, and in tea to soothe our sore throats. Any opportunity to acquire the real thing was snapped up with alacrity as my parents believed (and still believe) that most foods doused in lemon taste better.  Perhaps that is where my love of these refreshingly juicy fruits was born.

When my husband and I moved into our house many years ago, and my parents traveled from England to visit us in our new digs, they were enthralled by the old lemon tree that stood at the corner of our lot. Lush with bright green foliage and boughs heaving with fruit, my parents thought we'd hit the lemon jackpot. As it turned out, they were right.  "Old Faithful", as I've named our tree, is so prolific it provides a generous bounty year round.  In any given month one can spot both unripened green fruits growing happily alongside cheery yellow lemons.  Ivory colored blossoms, the beginnings of future fruits, are also in evidence through every season.  These glorious blooms, heady with the alluring scent of fresh citrus, draw me in like a moth to flame. I find it nary impossible to walk by them without doffing my wide-brimmed straw gardening hat and taking a few moments to savor their compelling beauty, inhaling deeply as I do. 

The gardener that planted our tree knew a thing or two about which variety of lemon would thrive in our moderate climate.  Old Faithful, which I posit is anywhere from fifty to seventy years old, is a Citrus limon 'Eureka'.  At some point in the 1850's an astute fellow brought Eureka lemon seeds to California from Sicily where they proved a good match for local growing conditions. One would not typically associate northern coastal California's cooler maritime-influenced climes as particularly well suited to the cultivation of citrus, but it is, and I am most thankful for it.

Chronica Domus
A citrus blossom yet to unfurl
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
Ah, if only scent was transmittable through pictures!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
The elongated thick-skinned fruits of Eureka lemons dangle from Old Faithful's branches
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
A trug of juicy lemons bound for the kitchen
Photo: Chronica Domus


The silvery-grey foggy days we have endured for the past several weeks, so typical for this time of year, seem to have vanished, for now.  Alfresco dining on the balcony always heralds the beginning of these warmer spells and a jug of homemade "Lime-o-nade", as we call it around here, provides just the right note of refreshment on those balmy lazy afternoons.

I squeeze the juice of two large lemons and four limes, add that to a cup of granulated sugar and eight cups of water, toss in a few pinches of salt (the secret ingredient), stir with a wooden spoon, and voila! I promise you will have the most deliciously zingy, restorative concoction from which to sip and revive flagging spirits on dreamy sun-baked days.

Chronica Domus
Won't you join me for a glass or two of Lime-o-nade?
Photo: Chronica Domus


Chronica Domus
More please!
Photo: Chronica Domus


Lemons, either juiced, sliced, or zested, feature heavily in many of the dishes we prepare at home, and our kitchen is rarely without a few of these succulent fruits available at arm's length.  I don't recall ever having purchased a single lemon since moving to our house.  It dawned on me while writing this essay that although I am intimately familiar with the cost of many fruits and vegetables at the farmers' market, I could not honestly tell you the price of a pound of lemons.

One of my favorite desserts is flavored with lemon so, naturally, I enjoy using them to make lemon curd.

Chronica Domus
Homemade lemon curd is creamy and rich and surpasses anything one can purchase in a store
Photo: Chronica Domus


Lemon curd is an English invention which strikes me as odd because I can only imagine the difficulties, and cost, of growing and obtaining these Mediterranean fruits during the early nineteenth century when curd was first concocted.  Although lemons arrived in England as far back as the sixteenth century, only the very wealthy would have been able to acquire them.  I imagine too that over the centuries attempts at cultivating these sun-loving fruits would have been attempted but always within the confines of a glasshouse where they could endure the harsh winters of the British Isles far better than if grown outdoors.

Chronica Domus
Scrumptious lemon curd tart awaits devouring
Photo: Chronica Domus


Lemons not only make excellent flavoring for food, but their astringent qualities are well suited to getting one's house clean and sanitized.  Lemons are non-toxic and a green alternative to the modern commercially available cleaners that line countless supermarket shelves.  Removing odors from wooden cutting boards, for example, is a breeze when the cut side of a lemon is rubbed against the surface to eliminate strong garlic and onion smells.  A paste of lemon juice and salt, or baking powder, rubbed on copper makes an effective and natural cleaner.  Pots and pans will be gleaming in very short order.  The kitchen porcelain sink is also cleaned with the cut side of a lemon and a sprinkling of baking powder. Those pesky sink stains and grease vanish in a flash restoring the surface, once again, to it's shiny bright white.

Chronica Domus
A natural cleaner, lemon juice has a multitude of uses around the house, including refreshing one's wooden cutting boards to rid them of foul food odors
Photo: Chronica Domus


Lastly, one of the more rewarding aspects of our lemon loot is sharing it with friends and neighbors. Only last week, when hosting the first outdoor luncheon of the year for our dear friends Steven and Connie, we sent them home with not one, but two bags bursting with lemons so that they too could reap the rewards of Old Faithful.

What would you do if life gave you a lemon tree?

36 comments:

  1. The smell of lemons has to be one of my favourites. And lemon curd on freshly baked bread and I am in heaven - how can something that tastes so good be so easy make. You are lucky to have an old tree we can only grow them here indoors.

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    1. Hello elaine,

      The smell of lemons has to be one of the most captivating scents known to mankind and I feel extremely privileged to have access to a tree's worth so close to home.

      I agree, lemon curd is easy to make and until one actually attempts to do so, one might be inclined to perceive the process as a complicated and fussy one - not so as you too have discovered.

      Enjoy your break and I hope it is a rejuvenating one.

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  2. So jealous!!! Lemons around around $1.00 each here in DC typically and they are small and usually pretty dry. I use them in cooking, salads, and in tea a lot but the quality and cost prevent me from other uses. I always use the rinds to clean out the garbage disposal though!

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    1. Hello AD,

      Thank you for enlightening me as to the cost of a lemon. I had no idea they were priced individually vs. per pound. Goodness, Old Faithful has proved to be quite the gold mine.

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  3. I am allergic to lemons (and all citrus,) which is awful as I love all things lemony! Still, I can buy lemon printed items for my kitchen as they are so cheerful.

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    1. Oh, no! This would be an outright calamity were I allergic to lemons. I'm sure the juice runs through my veins - I love lemons that much. However, as you say you can always substitute a lovely lemon graphic without fear of a dreadful reaction. Someone should come up with a scratch n' sniff model of a lemon. Now there's an idea!

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  4. If I had a lemon tree, I'd be very happy indeed! Coincidentally, I just made a batch of lemon curd the other day and today made my family's favorite lemon bar cookies. All this in spite of that fact that lemons are $1.00 each around these parts. As you can tell, I am fond of lemons.

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    1. Hello slf,

      Oh, what joy, another lemon curd fan! I, too, adore lemon bars and have been known to scoff more than my fair share when situated dangerously close to a plate full of these scrumptious treats.

      I am still in shock at the cost of a single lemon. My loyal commenters have spilled the beans and made me even more grateful (if that is even possible) that Lady Luck has shone down upon Old Faithful for so long.

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    2. Dear CD,
      Your Old Faithful is indeed a treasure and reminds me of the Eureka lemon tree we had in our yard when we lived in Fresno. It, too, was a prolific producer of the most juicy and tart citrus fruit. We just adored that tree and regretted leaving it behind when we moved back to Boston. Much to our chagrin and dismay, the new owner chose to cut down that wonderful tree. Six months later, said owner defaulted on the mortgage and had to vacate. I'd like to think our beloved lemon tree got its revenge but it was probably just the housing collapse of 2007-2008. I still miss that tree so please hug yours for me.
      Best,
      KL Gaylin

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    3. Oh, what a sorry tale you relay here today. I cannot imagine why anyone should cut down such a beautiful, and useful, tree. Your tragic story reminds me of the blithering fools that purchased the house behind our property, lived there for a year, then moved on only after having felled two mature fig trees. Their branches over-hung into our garden and we enjoyed both the figs and the leaves (ever made fig leaf tea?). I am so glad the people that moved in after them are such a lovely family, which is the upside of this sad tree story.

      I shall make sure to hug Old Faithful this evening in honor of your tree (RIP).

      Delete
  5. CD,
    Years ago we lived in an area that sported groves of citrus trees. The fragrance at night of the trees in blossom has always stayed with me. Unfortunately, I've not had very good luck with the Meyer lemon tree I tried to grow several years ago and as a result, I took the tree out and have yet to replant. This post has me thinking maybe I should try my hand at an Eureka. I love lemon anything.
    xo,
    Karen

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    1. Hello Karen,

      I've read that Meyer lemons do very well in pots so you might consider that as an option.

      Growing citrus fruit is a funny old business. Before my daughter was born, we planted a Moro blood orange tree thinking that we'd surely have some success, seeing as Old Faithful provides so much fruit. Well, I finally had enough and gave it the chop last year to my husband's horror. We saw not a single blossom or fruit in the years it was standing, only a black sooty substance, which at one point had spread to Old Faithful.

      Do let me know if you end up with a Eureka lemon tree and how it does. My curiosity is piqued.

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  6. My friends have a large lemon tree which they move in and out of the house in its large pot. Last year, they had more than 50 lemons which ripened at the exact same time. So we made curd, limoncello and lemon tarts. It was such fun to have so many lemons right in the deepest part of winter.
    xo

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    1. Hello Meg,

      Limoncello, that sounds like a fabulous idea, thank you.

      How wonderful that a potted tree can produce so much fruit. Your friends are such attentive tree guardians. They deserve every lemon.

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  7. Until quite recently it was well nigh impossible to get lemons here in Bangkok, outgunned as they are by the locally grown limes that feature prominently in Thai cooking. But gradually lemons are being made more available in upscale supermarkets, but their prices are a bit alarming, and I bite that bitter taste to enjoy them in a number of forms, including peeled and juiced in the morning's combo; their addition makes juiced kale much less bitter, (and is aided even more by the other ingredients - apple, celery, ginger, carrot, beetroot etc). In Thai the word for lime and lemon is the same, but they distinguish lemons by the addition of "yellow" as the adjective. Seeking them out is not always fruitful, so to speak!

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    1. Hello columnist,

      I found it interesting to read that lemons are not readily available in Bangkok, but can quite understand due to the popularity of limes. Since my commenters have made me aware of the price of a single lemon (a dollar), I can tell you that limes are about ten to a dollar here, which to me says that limes are far more available than lemons. Makes me treasure my loot that much more.

      Your morning combo sounds intriguing and delicious - bar the beets - the only vegetable I cannot tolerate in any form (long story stemming back to school dinners as a young girl I'm affraid).

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  8. Hello CD, Lemons are available in Taiwan, the prices ranging from expensive to a large bag for about US$1.50. One oddity is that here all lemons are bright green, without a tinge of yellow. Green is considered the normal color, so that even lemon candy usually has green color and packaging. A further consequence of green lemons is that they do not distinguish them from limes, so true limes are difficult to locate (kind of the opposite of what Columnist wrote).

    I agree with you that lemons enliven almost everything you make, and I consider it absolutely essential for shan fen yuan: http://roadtoparnassus.blogspot.tw/2012/09/shan-fen-yuaneasiest-of-all.html

    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim,

      I had no idea lemons were sold green in Taiwan. I wouldn't dream of picking mine green as they'd still be considered unripe. I can see, however, where the confusion with limes would occur.

      I have just read your fascinating post on shan fen yuan, a drink I was unfamiliar with until now. I must seek out those little basil seeds and make this at Halloween, as you suggest. I can see it being a big hit with both children and adults, thank you.

      By the way, I never seem to receive email notifications whenever you post a comment, and I'm wondering why. Very puzzling!

      Delete
  9. Love lemons. Grew up on them as there was no shortage of the real fruit in Russia, even when there was a real shortage of pretty much everything else. :) We used to preserve them - a very rough way of preservation by slicing the fruits into 5mm circles and layering them in a jar, tightly, shrinking plenty of sugar between the layers. These tasted so good in winter months!

    Having a tree of my own is one of the dreams, I must admit. Especially such a mature tree. I'd adore everything about it, from the fragrance of the baby blossoms, to the smell of its leaves (you know when you rub them between the fingertips) and, of course, the lemons - oh, that amazing fragrances... just wonderful!

    P.S. And how amazing is that lemon tart?! I make them too, not often, but they are one of the few desserts that I could eat daily. :)

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    1. Hello Natalia,

      How fascinating to discover that lemons were available in abundance in Russia when not much else was. I find your way of preserving sliced lemons interesting as I've not heard of the sugar method before. My husband just purchased a jar of preserved lemons for the first time, and those are preserved in salt, Moroccan-style. He saw them and was curious to experience their flavor so that we could possibly replicate them with our lemons. I've not tried them yet, but the sugar method you write about seems like my kind of thing!

      Oh, and yes lemon tarts - delish! We are of like mind there.

      Delete
  10. I love this post. Lemon are my favorite - Meyer lemons always seemed magic before I knew they were a different species:). If and then this drought passes, I will be sorely tempted to plant something. But if not, I guess I could just come back here and read this;).

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    1. Hello LPC,

      I do hope you seriously consider planting a Eureka lemon tree. Once established, they don't require that much water actually, and their heavy fruit production is well worth a few gallons of water per week.

      Yes, Meyer lemons are divine but as you say, they are not a true lemon, unlike the Eureka. I shall have to set a few aside for you when we eventually make it to the farmers' market one of these Saturday mornings.

      Delete
  11. Old Faithful does bring in a bountiful harvest and all these cleaning up in a flash multi-taskings unfortunately never fell on my mum's ears as once upon a time when little GSL used 'language' she used one of those commercially available cleaners to rid the salty tongue.

    I wonder if Jeeves uses Old Faithful for the restorative that always puts the spring back in Bertie's step?

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    1. Hello GSL,

      I have absolutely no doubt that the highly competent and resourceful Jeeves would have found countless ways of employing the benefits of Old Faithful and could probably write a short book on the matter.

      Your sorry tale of salty cleaners reminds me of a time long ago that a much beloved older cousin employed the benefits of shampoo to rinse this cheeky author's mouth out - I must say it was quite effective and not soon forgotten!

      Delete
  12. Dear CD,

    In the not-too-distant past it was virtually compulsory for every Australian back yard to have a lemon tree. Indeed many Australians would resent having to pay for a lemon (many of us still do!).

    Some forty years ago my late father gave his parents-in-law (my grandparents) a lemon tree. A few years later they died and their home was to be sold. I remember my father agonising over the unknown fate of the tree. His solution was to uproot and transplant it to his own garden. Today, that tree is enormous and continues to bear an abundance of fruit year in, year out. In gratitude, perhaps?

    Our lemon tree is about ten years old and produces a good crop. I use lemons virtually every day. Nothing beats a simple mix of lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning to dress a salad or steamed green veg. I also use frozen lemon and lime wedges in lieu of ice cubes for cooling and flavouring beverages. To do this, lay the fresh wedges or slices flat on a plate or tray and place in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a bag or container for long-term storage.

    Have you heard that human urine makes lemon trees grow faster? It’s the nitrogen apparently. Whether myth or fact, generations of Aussie blokes wouldn’t dream of using a loo if there’s a lemon tree nearby!

    Spud.

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    1. Dearest Spud,

      Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of your late father's, and grandparents', lemon tree. It is funny how we get attached to trees and how they enhance our surroundings and our lives with their beauty and, if we are fortunate, their fruits too.

      I must try your idea of frozen citrus wedges and slices as a substitute for ice cubes, thank you. Oh and thanks for the tip on how to hasten a lemon tree's growth. I had no idea!

      Delete
  13. Wonderful creations from your backyard. We have a few lemons planted 4 years ago - Meyer, Lisbon and Villa Franca I think. They are not old enough to be old faithfuls, but have borne some hefty fruit so far. Please do share your recipes for your citrus treats... DLC.

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  14. Hello Lord Cowell,

    Four lemon trees should certainly provide quite a harvest for WBP. I've not heard of Villa Franca lemons and just looked them up - adore their elongated shape.

    I use the following recipe for the curd I make. To me, it is the best one I've tried and the one that closely approximates the lemon curd I remember from England. Do give it a try (double the amount, as I do), and let me know what you think of it:

    http://www.marthastewart.com/348239/lemon-curd

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  15. Thanks for the recipes. I can't wait to try the limeade and curd.

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    1. Do let me know if you enjoy the Lime-o-nade. You can adjust the sugar to your taste but I find the quantity just right for a refreshing drink that isn't overly sweet.

      Thank you for stopping by today.

      Delete
  16. I have been away and missed this post. The tip for using cut side of a lemon to clean the odors from the cutting board is a winner for me! I had no idea. Not a day goes by that I don't use a lemon of lime, either in cooking or on my vodka with a twist at night. Unfortunately, I HAVE to buy them and sometimes they are prohibitively expensive, as in 50 cents apiece. In Cuba we did not have the lemons only lime. I think it's the same in Mexico as every recipe calls for limes and not lemon. You are a lucky lady. I just made lemon bars last week. The best. Will post soon.

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    1. Hello lindaraxa,

      I adore lemon bars so look forward to the recipe you shall share with your loyal readers, thank you.

      Limes are very inexpensive in these parts. I can get them as cheaply as ten for a dollar - what a deal! However, I had no idea how expensive lemons were until writing this post. I know it is all relative but we are so used to grabbing a lemon from a bowl in the kitchen when needed, or directly from Old Faithful, that I'd find it difficult to part with fifty cents to a dollar for each lemon we use. I'm a lucky gal indeed!

      Happy to read you'll be using the cut side of a lemon to clean your cutting boards and at the same time giving your 50 cent lemon more value for money. When you are done, throw it down the food dispenser of your sink (I don't have one), much like AD does, and inhale deeply and enjoy the fresh smell. Divine!

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