'Cut a lemon and taste its juice — it's as though the sun is exploding on the surface of your tongue.' — Stefano Manfredi on lemons, Seasonal (Fairfax, 2007)
There's so much truth in that quotation from chef, Stefano Manfredi, who added that when his daughter was small she had a thing for lemons: 'She would suck one wedge after another simply for the bracing kick of lemony acid. I loved the faces she'd pull, wincing against its force,' he wrote.
I can remember a group of my friends challenging each other to suck on lemon slices when we were in primary school, sometime back in the 1960s. We'd fall down laughing at those with the most puckered lips! These days I celebrate lemons, using them often in my kitchen. Regular readers will have noted that lemons have a starring role in many of my recipes, both savoury and sweet. After coveting a lemon tree of my own for what seems like my entire life, I can finally enjoy the pleasure of growing my own citrus in pots on our sunny verandah. There is almost nothing quite as nice as stepping outdoors to pick a fresh lemon or two, and even my Peter finds joy in doing so. Had I known how delicious they would taste and how easy they were to grow in a pot, I might have invested much sooner!
Lemons are versatile and indispensable in the kitchen and there is so much more to the fruit than simply adding a wedge of lemon to a plate of fish. A squeeze of lemon juice (and a dot of butter) brings out the flavour of steamed baby vegetables. Slices of lemon tucked inside the cavity of a chicken will keep the bird beautifully moist during roasting, as well as imparting delicious flavour. Lemon is a fragrant addition to sherbet, ice cream and custard, particularly when teamed with passionfruit and basil. It teams perfectly with pork and caper berries, and is a fresh and simple addition to chervil and asparagus.
In cooking, a dash of lemon juice will stop food such as apples, celeriac, bananas, pears and artichokes from discolouring; and the zest (with the pith) and juice add pectin to jam, as well as helping to keep the colour of the fruit. Lemon juice will tenderise meat, cook fish, and convert milk into soured milk for baking lighter scones. Health-wise, lemons are rich in Vitamin C and have antiseptic properties too.
Interestingly, in history, namely Renaissance art, lemons were apparently a symbol of fertility, and further research indicates that lemons featured in many still life paintings around the 17th Century, particularly in the works by Dutch and Italian masters. Indeed, I concur with Leslie Johns and Violet Stevenson, authors of Fruit for the Home and Garden (Angus & Robertston, 1979), who wrote: 'One could write an entire book in praise of the lemon.' Sounds like a good plan, no? I'm off to search Google for books specifically on lemons. Bye for now.
Tell me dear readers, do lemons take centre stage in the fruit bowl on your kitchen bench? Do you grow them? What are your favourite ways of using the zest, the flesh and the juice?
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.