Even though lemons are very rarely peeled and eaten out of hand, they are one of the most popular and
important fruits. Today, lemons are used in numerous food and drink recipes including grilled chicken,
swordfish, salad dressings, marinades, oysters and clams on a half shell, Bloody Marys, Singapore
Slings, whiskey sours, or martinis with a twist. Lemons are also very popular in desserts like sorbets,
where lemons perk up the flavor of just about every other fruit, lemon meringue pie and tarts. Lemons
also make great preservatives too; their acid slows the oxidation on fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. I
recommend using lemon juice to stop the browning on cut fruit peaches, nectarines, apples and quince.
Lemon trees produce year-round with blossoms, buds, and mature fruit appearing all at once on the tree. If
not picked when mature, the fruit may grow to 12 to 17 inches in diameter, and the peel colors can
sometimes get quite freakish blends of green, yellow, and brown. Lemons are usually hand picked when
they are about 2½ inches in diameter and still relatively green.
The top-five lemon producing countries are the United States, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and India. Lemons
are more partial to the subtropical in part because they are quite susceptible to disease if grown in
wet climates. California, with 30 percent of the world market, produces almost all the lemons consumed
domestically. Arizona is a distant second.
Selection and Storage
Look for firm lemons that have a glossy, bright yellow color. The skin should also have a fine-grained appearance. Ripe lemons should feel heavy for their size, but avoid lemons that are hard, or spongy and soft. Larger lemons should also be avoided because they tend to have a thicker skin, resulting in a smaller fruit core and less juice.
Lemons will keep on the counter at room temperature for a maximum of two weeks, depending on the temperature and humidity, and will keep in the refrigerator in plastic bags for up to six weeks. If you have extra lemons, squeeze and freeze the juice in ice-cube trays and transfer cubes to plastic bags for long-term storage. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice is a much better alternative than bottled lemon juice as a food enhancer.
Prior to preparing lemons or their skin, it is important to wash and dry them well to remove the dirt and any chemical residue. The outermost skin of the lemon, the zest, is a valuable culinary resource for a number of dishes and is most often used grated. I recommend freezing the lemon before using the smallest holes of a four-sided grater to grate the zest of the lemon. The zest can also be cut into strips and used to flavor poaching liquid for fruit. It can also be cut into julienne strips (matchstick size) or minced. To remove the zest for any of these purposes, use a vegetable peeler. Try to avoid getting too much of the bitter, white pith (the inner skin).
There are numerous ways to juice lemons without using an electrical appliance. The most effective and least expensive way is to use various forms of citrus juice reamers. These are usually ridged cones set atop dishes that catch juice or allow juice to filter into a container below. There is also a wooden, hand-held reamer sold in many upscale cookware stores. In a pinch, squeezing the juice through an upturned hand, with fingers split just enough to let the juice go through, but still catching the seeds, will do.
To get maximum juice, up to 30 percent more, make sure the lemon is at room temperature. Then roll it around on a countertop with the heel of your hand until it softens before juicing.
Tony's Favorite Recipe
Frozen Lemon Souffle
Sweet lemons or Limettas are a hybrid of the
Mexican lime, sweet lemon, and citron. It is grown on a small scale in India and around the
Mediterranean, as well as by home gardeners in the United States.
Eurekas have a medium thick, pitted skin with
a short neck at the stem end. They contain a few seeds, are abundantly juicy, and are grown
Lisbons have a medium thick skin that is
smoother than the Eurekas, without a distinct neck. Its blossom end tapers to a pointed nipple, usually
seedless, and is abundantly juicy. The Lisbon type lemon is grown in some parts of Florida.
Meyer or Improved Meyer lemons are slightly
sweeter than acidic lemons, but with sufficient acidity for good flavor. They are popular in home
gardens in California but not widely available commercially, although it's a favorite of many chefs
because of its fragrance and flavor. The Meyer is generally thought to be a cross between a lemon and
an orange, so not surprisingly, it has a noticeable orange accent.