Potted history in praise of lemons (+recipes)

By Paul Jobin

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There's a lemon for every occasion and although we may tend to take them for granted they are indispensable for the cook.

Paul Jobin. Photo / Supplied
Paul Jobin. Photo / Supplied

When I was a child, I remember my English Nana pouring the contents of the potty around the lemon tree every morning.

This, I might add, was one of the most fruit-bearing trees I have ever seen, and it was in a sunny area in a large pot. Warm fruit plucked from the tree squirted an abundance of juice.

Nana explained that the salts and nitrogen in urine were excellent fertiliser for the evergreen tree and, by the way, did I know that during the Renaissance fashionable women used lemon juice to redden their lips? The things you learn from your Nana.

The lemon is thought to have originated in India and China.

In about the first century lemons made an appearance in southern Italy but were not widely cultivated.

It wasn't until the middle of the 15th century that lemons were cultivated in Genoa and later introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus on his voyages.

In 1747, James Lind added vitamin C-rich lemon juice to seamen's diet to help offset scurvy.

The most common lemon varieties are the eureka and Lisbon which provide an abundance of fruit year round and have a good ratio of juice to pith and skin.

The Meyer lemon, although it has a limited harvest period, is the sweetest lemon variety and can be eaten as you would an orange.

The bigger-is-better mentality doesn't apply to the large ponderosa lemon, which is thick-skinned and very hardy. That means it's not much good for juice but great if you want to make candied peel.

The Yen Ben cultivar developed Downunder crops prolifically in winter on the central coast of New South Wales and in New Zealand.

In subtropical Australia, the hardy bush lemon grows wild to about 4m, with only the skin being used.

One of the most useful tips I can give you for using lemons is to microwave them for 15 seconds to extract the maximum amount of juice, and buy a wooden citrus reamer.

And if it's zest you're after, it's a good idea to invest in a microplane - a refined version of the workshop wood file - which is the best way to finely grate the peel.

To make a quick lemon butter sauce, rub a sugar cube all over the skin of the fruit so it absorbs the lemon oils. Dissolve the sugar in a pan with lemon juice and little water then reduce to light syrup.

Preserved lemons are a wonderful pantry staple, although they can be arduous to produce.

Try these boiled lemons as a quick alternative. In a heavy-based saucepan, put one litre of water with four tablespoons of salt and 12 lemons with the skin pricked.

Simmer until the fruit is tender, using a plate to keep them submerged. Allow to cool then store in an airtight container in the brine in the fridge. Use only the skin and discard the pulpy salty flesh.

- NZ Herald

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