January 1, 1970Lemon has long been my second favorite flavor. (Chocolate is my first.) Even so, I never gave the lemon itself much thought until I grew my own lemons. The lemon tree now bearing fruit in my side garden belonged to Larry and Gil. When they moved and had a yard sale, my purchase was their lemon tree and its pot. (I have since moved it to a bigger pot.) It did not bloom or bear fruit the first year, partially in reaction to being moved and repotted. Lemons are finicky fruits. I was disconsolate. I could just taste those lemons.
My trees are Meyer lemon trees, a unique lemon developed 400 years ago in China and brought to the US by a Mr. Meyer in California in the early 1900’s. The lemons are exceptionally large, more delicate in flavor, and thin-skinned--much like a Valencia orange. The Meyer produces more juice than a standard lemon, but its peel is not quite as strong.
This past spring we were greeted with tiny blossoms. I counted them frequently -- Midas had nothing on me -- and anticipated lemons by June, ignoring all information that said they fruited between November and April. By June we had little green fingernail sized-citrus pushing through the flowers. Finally by September we had lime-sized green fruit. We waited and waited for them to turn fully yellow, exhibiting patience because we had no choice. We kept thinking it would take only one week more for them to turn color, going out frequently during the week to lift the yellowing fruit and see if they were still green underneath or were fully ripe. By Thanksgiving we had base-ball sized yellow-orange fruit all over the tree, which is less than 3 feet tall. With thirty or so lemons, it looked like an overly laden small Christmas tree.
The grandchildren picked most of them as table decorations. I had no time to use them for Thanksgiving. At week’s end, I sent four lemons home to the two families. (They ARE large.) Greed had seized me. I didn’t want want one drop to go to waste so I wouldn’t send more. My husband visited my daughter in law the next week -- who had used a recipe from one of my cookbooks to make lemon meringue pie from our lemons -- called by all the best lemon meringue pie they ever had. I missed it and felt guilty I hadn’t sent more.
Last week was my moment to relish them. Peg and Truman Moore, who have a much larger Meyer lemon tree in their garden, had already made a relish and shared some of it with me. This relish is particularly nice over grilled chicken or fish.
With the help of volunteers Judy Bernstein and Melanie Pucket, I began satisfying my lemon cravings. First, we candied lemon peel. Judy put up some preserved lemons so we could use them in Moroccan cooking next month. We followed with a lemon soufflé pudding, a lemon poppy seed pound cake and finally a veal scaloppini. I have twenty lemons left on the tree. I am tempted to leave them there to see how orange they ultimately become, Or will I make lemon curd, a cold lemon soufflé, and a hot lemon soufflé before I call it quits next week? If there are any lemons left, I will freeze them whole in a plastic bag. Meanwhile, I grate all picked lemons and juice them all, then use juice or zest as indicated in the recipe, and freeze them as well. I am wasting not one bit of juice or one tablespoon of rind.
My husband reads this and says, “Don’t wait long to make your own lemon pie.