Waverley Root in 'Food' tells of the Roman belief that eating a
lemon is the antidote for all poisons. This was reinforced by the
story of two criminals who were said to have been thrown to venomous
snakes but the one criminal who had eaten a lemon beforehand survived the
snake bites. This story doesn't seem that far fetched when you think
about the fact that although the existence of Vitamin C in lemons was not
discovered until 1928 by a Hungarian Scientist, its medicinal powers have
been used for centuries. Known by the 16th century to be a
cure for scurvy, Portuguese sailors would stop and plant lemon and orange
seeds on distant shores during their sea voyages. Women have used
the lemon for centuries to help relieve colds, sore throats, asthma,
rheumatism, upset stomachs, sweeten breath and whiten teeth. It was
even used by the ladies of Louis XIV's court to redden their lips.
A member of the citrus
family (citrus limon) the lemon is an oval or oblong-shaped bright yellow fruit
ranging in size from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) with a bulge at the blossom end.
The lemon consists of a
yellow outer rind (skin) that contains the fruit's oils and perfumes. This
outer rind, of varying thickness and graininess, can have either a bumpy or
smooth glossy texture that contains most of the lemon's wonderful tangy flavor.
This rind (zest) can be removed using a knife, vegetable peeler, grater
or zester depending on its use. The zest can be used in desserts for
its flavor as well as for garnishing. Inside the outer rind is a white membrane
(pith) that is very bitter and should not be used as it is inedible. Small
vessels called 'pulp vesicles' make up the inside of the lemon and contain the
pleasantly acidic lemon juice and seeds. Squeezing the lemon by hand or with a
lemon squeezer or reamer releases the clear tart juice that is used in
both sweet and savory dishes. It's acidity can: act as a flavor enhancer; a
little juice sprinkled over cut raw fruit (apples, pears, peaches, bananas, etc)
prevents browning; added to boiling water it can brighten the color
of broccoli, green beans or cauliflower; removes berry stains and garlic odors,
mixed with a little salt makes a good cleaner of copper; and contains
potassium and vitamin C.
When choosing lemons
look for ones that are fragrant with brightly colored oily yellow skin, no green
spots or blemishes, firm, plump, and heavy for their size. Avoid lemons that
have blemishes, soft spots, or are hard and wrinkled. If removing the outer
rind (zest) make sure you wash the lemon thoroughly (soap and water is best) as
some commercially sold lemons are sprayed with insecticide. If possible, buy
organic lemons when using the outer rind. Some are also sprayed with a
color dye and an edible wax to slow the loss of moisture. Lemons can be stored
at room temperature up to a week or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for
Although you can buy
bottled lemon juice this is artificial tasting and a poor substitute for the
The commercially grown
lemons found in most grocery stores in North America are either the Eureka or
Lisbon. Although the different varieties are distinguished by size, shape, and
thickness of skin they are not usually labeled because the quality is pretty
consistent. A relatively new hybrid is the Meyer lemon, prized by bakers, but
primarily available in California. Said to be a cross between the lemon and
orange, it can be identified by its round yellow-orange color. It is less
acidic than other lemons and has a sweeter taste.
Whether the lemon
originated in Southeast Asia or the Middle East is debatable, but it is now
grown in tropical and temperate climates throughout the world. Although
available year round in most places, the quality and cost of commercially sold
lemons is best in the winter months (in North America).
Lemon zest is the most
aromatic and flavorful when first removed, so use immediately.
Lemon juice may be
stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for a few days or else frozen
in ice cube trays for future use.
Always remove the zest
first before halving and squeezing the lemon.
Thin, smooth skinned
lemons at room temperature yield the most juice.
To extract the most
juice first roll the lemon on a flat surface, exerting light pressure. This
squashes the membranes.
Use a fine strainer to
remove the seeds and pulp from the juice.
Thick, bumpy textured
cold lemons give the maximum amount of zest.
Lemon zest, depending on
its use, comes in many forms: long wide strips, julienne, or finely grated. Use
a potato peeler for strips, a zester for julienne, and a grater for finely
When removing the outer
rind (zest) do not remove the white pith, which is very bitter and inedible.