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When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.
- Dale Carnegie
Lemons (Latin name Citrus limon) are yellow, ovoid-oblong shaped fruits which typically measure about four inches (11cm) in size, and may possess thick rinds1 and sour juicy centres. The citrus fruit is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Sapindales, family Rutaceae (orange family). The word 'lemon' is thought to be of Persian origin. Lemons grow alongside fragrant, white star-shaped flowers and green, shiny, elliptical-acuminate leaves on small but prolific trees that can reach 6m (20 feet) in height and possess thorny branches which make an open crown.
The slang term 'lemon' has been used to describe various products/investments which have produce poor performance when bought. For example, the motor car that appears to have nothing wrong with it until the purchaser gets it home could be described as a 'lemon'. The reason for this use is that, like its fruity counterpart, the experience leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Around 50 varieties of lemon exist in the world today and can be divided into the categories acidic and sweet: acidic varieties are more commonly found than sweet. Below are just a few descriptions of the lemons on offer in the world.
Eureka Lemon - The Eureka variety is the most common lemon in the world. It contains a high amount of acid and juice, but is thin-skinned and contains very few seeds.
Lisbon Lemon - Similar to the Eureka lemon, the Lisbon lemon also possesses a thin skin and a high amount of acid and juice. Lisbon trees are thought to be more productive than Eureka lemon trees.
Meyer Lemon - These are named after FN Meyer, who imported the lemon hybrid into the United States from China in 1908. They are commonly found throughout the world but aren't true lemons, as they are a hybrid between a lemon and orange or mandarin. Ponderosa lemons are also hybrids and are not true lemons. They therefore possess a lower acidity level than the Lisbon and Eureka varieties, while also having a softer and less bitter internal texture. The Meyer lemon tree is hardier than those of true lemons, and so is easier to grow.
Fino Lemon - It is unclear where the Fino Lemon derived from, but it has been growing in Spain for a number of years. The lemon contains a high acidity level, has a thin rind and is very juicy.
Verna Lemon - The Verna lemon's origins are also unknown, but it too has been growing in Spain for a while. The trees are vigorous, possess thorns and like to spread. Verna trees usually produce lemons two to three times a year.
It is very difficult to say exactly where the lemon originated from, for it multiplies very easily. Many people believe that it comes from the region of Southeast Asia between India and Southern China. The lemon spread to Greece in around 300BC, where the Greeks believed that oranges and lemons were a symbol of fecundity and love. Meanwhile, people living in the Netherlands have always seen lemons as signifying wealth. Over the years, travellers such as the Crusaders returning from Palestine brought home the seeds of lemons to plant and carried lemons with them to quench their thirst during the holy wars. Due to the lemon's natural packaging in durable skin, lemons are easy to carry and travelled all over Europe, which is rather odd as during the Dark Ages, Europeans believed lemons were poisonous. The lemon, otherwise known as the 'golden apple', were also traded for other materials such as fine cloths, precious metals and artefacts.
It is questionable whether the Romans did in fact grow lemons, as Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa claims in her book A Taste of Ancient Rome: paleobotanical and literary evidence does not support this belief. There are mosaics in Carthage and frescoes in Pompeii that appear to portray oranges and lemons: however, the artists may have seen them on their travels to the east. Either way, oranges and lemon groves have been claimed to be first grown around the Italian Amalfi Coast in around 200AD. The famed Italian writer Boccaccio later wrote about them.
By 700AD, lemons had reached Iraq and just before 1000AD had started to appear in Sicily and Egypt. Egyptians are believed to have been the first people to have created the summer drink, lemonade, despite lemons having been grown further east. The earliest written evidence of lemonade comes from Egypt.
Lemons have also appeared in literature, such as Arabic Qustus al-Rumi's early 10th-Century book on farming, the chronicles of the Persian poet and traveller Nasir-i-Khusraw (1003 - 1061), Ibn Jami's treatise on the lemon, and the journal of a servant to French King Louis XIV.
Lemons have long been associated with long journeys by ship and slavery. The first travels lemons embarked upon were on Arab vessels in the early Middle Ages, which introduced the lemon to Europe near the end of the 12th Century. Genoa started cultivating lemons during the mid-15th Century and in 1493 Christopher Columbus brought lemons to Haiti from across the Atlantic, with the Azores starting to grownthem the following year. During the 16th Century, Spaniards visiting St Augustine, Florida started growing lemons there and then lemon-growing spread to California, which today provides about a third of the world's lemons and most of the USA's. Other commercial suppliers are Italy2, Sicily, California, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Argentina and Brazil.
Do Me A Lemon - Home Remedies
How do you treat sick lemons? Give them lemonade.
Due to their contents, lemons are widely known as an antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, antioxidant, bactericidal, diuretic, antiscorbutic, astringent, febrifuge, antihypertensive, antifungal, insecticide, immune-stimulant and antiviral. This is because one lemon provides 40 to 70% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C3 (ascorbic acid, also called anti-scorbutic factor), as well as containing citric acid and iron4. To find out a bit more about the modern health benefits of lemons, visit the Purdue University website.
In 1593, Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins cured an entire ship's company of scurvy by making them all drink lemon juice. This was apparently forgotten until 1747, when Dr James Lind, a surgeon in the Royal Navy in the mid-18th Century, proved experimentally that oranges and lemons cured scurvy, but various other things such as cider and vinegar did not. During Captain Cook's second voyage of 1773 - 76, Cook acted on Lind's advice and supplied oranges, lemons and pickled cabbage to his men. Of 118 men who commenced this voyage, only one man died from disease and it wasn't scurvy.
From 1795 onwards, daily rations of lemon juice were compulsory in the Royal Navy. However, some time later they were replaced by the much cheaper and inferior lime juice from British West Indies. This gave rise to the nickname of 'limeys' for British sailors and 'limejuicers' for ships.
Curing Colds and Burns
When it's cold outside and people are feeling run down, a Hot Toddy made with lemon juice will help people from looking and feeling like a clown. The high concentration of vitamin C in lemon juice can help boost the immune system and fight off the nasty colds, while the strong taste and smell of the lemon can help clear the airways a little.
One Researcher has found that a lemon will cure an accident with a car lighter.
My son stuck his thumb on a car lighter, a couple of years ago in the remote village of Baskinta in Lebanon. During the hoohaa of ice and screaming child, an old man came hurrying out of the monastery we were visiting with a knife in one hand and a lemon in the other, sliced the lemon in half and stuck his thumb in there. He told him to leave it in until it stopped hurting. By the time my brother got us to the nearest doctor, it was charred and puckered but didn't hurt - and it has healed without a scar.
Lemons are also also said to counteract the effects of narcotics, soothe sunburn, cure jaundice, reduce temperature and act as a substitute for quinine. They also find use as a remedy for epilepsy, an ingredient in toothpaste, invisible ink and bleaching agents - and are also used in Wicca.
Lemons and the Household
We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
- Alfred E Newman
So, lemons can be used to cure humans, but did you know they can also clean houses? Whether a house is suffering from dirty windows, filthy copper-bottomed cooking pots, unclean furniture and mucky cutting boards or contains stains, lemons can eliminate these problems as they are acidic and contain antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
Window Cleaner - mix water together with some lemon juice and apply to the windows. Then wipe the windows dry.
Cleaning Copper-bottomed Cooking Pots - cut a lemon in half, add some salt and apply to the pot before wiping dry.
Cleaning Surfaces - halve a lemon and apply it to the surface that needs cleaning. Lemons kill grease and if they are used on an oven will make the oven smell nice.
Cleaning Furniture - add ten drops of lemon oil to two tablespoons of lemon juice and a few drops of olive oil or jojoba and apply it to the furniture.
Preserving Flowers - Household flowers can be kept longer if lemonade is added to them.
Cedro Oil (extracted from lemons) - appears in soaps, detergents, perfumes and cooking.
Before embarking on the delicious recipes featured below, it is important to note that not all types of lemon are used in cooking. The Citron (Citrus medica), for example, is not used in this way but still serves a purpose when it comes to homemade medicine, scent and religious ceremonies such as Buddhist ceremonies and the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkot).
A lemon's parts can be used separately or together depending on the purpose they are to serve. Lemons are antioxidants and can be used on some fruit and vegetables to stop them from discolouring. Lemons can also help in the creation of many meals such as soups, salad dressings or sauces5, vegetable dishes, sorbets, meat dishes, summer drinks, baking (such as cakes), confectionery (such as Skittles) and are used to garnish fish6. Lemon juice is also used in cooking because of its sharp flavour and low sugar content, and can create marmalade and jellies as well as particularly mean pancakes.
Lemon juice can be frozen, dehydrated and powdered, with bottled and frozen lemon juice being readily available in supermarkets. Its primary use is to create lemonade7 and other drinks such as lemon tea, gin and tonic or tequila. It is also used in baking and flavouring and can be found in some pharmaceutical products. And if added to cream before whipping, it can flavour and give stability to the cream. Lemon juice, though acidic in itself, is digested and absorbed to produce bicarbonate which is alkaline. On balance, it has an alkalising effect on the body.
To extract juice from a lemon, first roll it on a hard surface, hard enough that your whole house smells like lemon, but not so hard that the fruit splits. This will break the small cells inside the fruit, and the result will be more flavour and a larger quantity of juice. For Christmas Cake choose an untreated lemon the zest will be extracted from and carefully wash and dry the lemon before creating the zest.
The peel can also be eaten and is full of bioflavinoids, which help with vitamin B and C metabolism. The tastiest lemon peel comes on overripe lemons. Lemon peel can also be candied and preserved in brine. It helps to create lemon oil8, Pectin and citric acid and can flavour hard candies and processed lemon juice.
Drinks associated with lemons are Coca-Cola, Tea, Shirley Temple, 'Collins' (this includes the whole family of tom, limoncello, Archers and lemonade, joe, vodka, etc), Dozens of 'daisys' (whisky, rum, etc), Greenwich sour, Le Cadeau ('The Gift'), 'Lynchburg lemonade' (named after Jack Daniels distillery/Lynchburg, Tennessee USA) 'Mata Hari' and some sangria drinks.
Grow Your Own
Don't just stand there like a lemon...why not try growing them?
Lemons produce seeds which can be planted in order to grow even more lemons, with lemon trees living for up to 80 years. A tree's lemons will differ from the tree's original source, due to the fact that the seeds will have been pollinated by another source and will therefore have characteristics of the lemons growing in both the tree which produced the seed and the tree which pollinated it.
Lemons grow best in coastal areas such as the Italian Amalfi Coast. It is important when planting lemon seeds to make sure that both the seeds and the soil in which they grow is fresh so that mould is not produced. The pH of the soil should be between 5.5 and 6.5. The seeds should be planted just under the top layer of compost and need to be watered thoroughly before being left to settle in temperatures of around 25°C-30°C. After a few weeks, the lemon seeds should have started to show signs of becoming trees and should have grown to six to seven inches in height.
When they reach this height it is important to re-plant them in individual 2.5-inch unglazed terracotta pots which contain the same original compost, and leave them to settle just out of direct sunlight. Using unglazed terracotta pots enables the plant to absorb water. If the pots are thoroughly cleaned before use, this will allow for the pot to take on more water and give the plant plenty to drink when it is potted.
Lemon trees are particularly fussy when it comes to watering. They like to be flooded at watering times and left until their soil becomes arid before another good watering. Lemons thrive in temperatures of 15–30°C (60–85°F) and hate frosts, which often lead to their death. With every third watering they should also be fed phosphorus and nitrogen-rich food such as phostrogen, and foliar feed should be used up to three times during the growing season. Lemon trees also like a tonic containing salts and minerals. To help them combat a deficiency in magnesium, Epsom Salt can be used.
When your lemon seedlings become a lemon tree, it is important that the tree can support 180g of fruit. If you let your lemon grow as a shrub instead of a tree, support for the fruit is much less of a problem. If they are not strong enough, then find a way of supporting them, for instance through attatching a stake alongside the trunk. Lemon trees commonly lose up to 95% of their fruit for no apparent reason. Lemons also bear heavily one year and then lightly the next in an alternating schedule. They will often have a secondary crop the same year if you treat them nicely, but the secondary crop is always lighter than that year's main crop, so don't panic! Often, bright white star-shaped flowers can be seen on the lemon trees even when the lemons themselves appear. Lemon trees are shrubby in appearance and it's important they are left like this - if you trim them then you will obtain lots of green leaves and a small amount of large fruit. In this way, the bi-yearly schedule may be reset unless the tree is very old and set in its ways. Furthermore, make sure that the tree receives plenty of sunlight.
Lemons vary in size (usually organic ones are small), shape (some lemons have very pronounced points) and skin type. But to know whether a lemon is right for consumption make sure that they possess no green tinge (a sign of under-ripeness), are heavy9, fragrant and taut, with thick (but not very hard) skins that when gently squeezed allow the lemon's contents to be felt.
Harvesting and Storing
How many times a year lemons are harvested depends heavily on the climate the lemons are grown in. As California and Italy have wonderful warm temperatures lemons are harvested more frequently, in fact up to six to ten times a year. The best times for harvesting in California are during the months May, June and August, while harvesting in Italy is done over a strictly seasonal 100-day period.
The best way to harvest lemons, wherever they are grown in the world, is to leave them on the tree until they are likely to be used and then cut them off at the stem just above the lemon. If the lemons are picked as soon as they appear ready to eat and are simply left they will rot. But if they are left on the tree they will not rot, but may become even bigger, riper and juicier, as well as resulting in a large quantity of readily-germinated seeds being produced. In mild climates it doesn't harm the tree or fruit if you leave the fruit for a year or more on the tree before harvesting: they will just grow bigger.
After the lemons have been picked from the tree, keep them unwashed until they are to be used. By leaving them in this state they won't easily become mouldy and their protective surface layer won't be easily bruised. They can even be kept in the refrigerator for up to two or three weeks.
For home canning follow these simple instructions:
- Select fruit for canning.
- Wash the fruit and canning jars10.
- Peel the fruit.
- Slice the lemons into segments.
- Create a syrup solution.
- Heat the syrup solution.
- Add the syrup and fruit to the jars.
- Seal the jars.
Lemons encounter various pests and diseases, such as:
All ants like lemons: there are scales on the tree which normally don't hurt the tree much, and the ants prevent finches from eating them off because they like the honeydew. You don't need to flood the field, though, in order to prevent this. Just put something sticky on the bark so the ants can't defend the scale from predatory birds and wasps and you are fine. In order to combat an ant which attacks the root system in Southeast Asia, the farmers douse their fields with water, which brings them out, when they're then burnt alive.
The red scale Aonidiella aurantii, a pest which has been brought under control biologically in some places and by pesticides in others.
Edible snails which are the same brown ones that were imported here in California for eating by some enterprising Frenchman, are a huge pest. Diatomaceous earth can be put around the trunk, or the snails can be picked off by hand, since they are really obvious against the bright green leaves that they are eating.
Lemons are prone to catching diseases, such as:
- Elsinoe fawcetti.
- Gummosis (Diaporthe citri).
- Botryosphaeria ribis and Diplodia natalensis cause melanose and die-back, and stem-end rot.
- Glomerella cingulata; greasy spot (Mycosphaerella citri or Cercospora citri-grisea).
- Colletotrichum gloeosporioides.
They may also be affected by:
- Branch knot (Sphaeropsis tumefaciens).
- Damping-off (Rhizoctonia solani).
- Leaf spot (Mycosphaerella horii, AIternaria citri, and Catenularia sp.; algal leaf spot or green scurf (Cephaleuros virescens).
- Tar spot (Cercospora gigantea).
- Felt fungus (Septobasidium pseudopedicellatum).
- Charcoal root rot (Macrophomia phaseolina).
- Root rot (Fusarium oxysporum, Pythium ultimum, and Phytophthora parasitica; heart rot and wood rot (Fomes applanatus and Ganoderma sessilis).
- Crinkly leaf and exocortis viruses.
- Green mould (Penicillium digitatum).
- Blue mould (P. italicum).
- Pink mould (P. roseum).
- Red Algae, which causes die-back unless controlled by copper fungicide during the summer.
Other problems lemons may have are deficiencies in zinc and manganese, and fruit cracking which usually affects lemons during dry periods followed by heavy rains, although the latter can be avoided through frequent light irrigation during the dry period and early picking. Although not externally shown, lemons can harbour stem-end rots and mould.
Some of us will recall making lemon batteries at school. These can be made using a lemon11, some zinc12and a piece of copper,13. Simply stick the two electrodes in the lemon and then fasten crocodile clips to an LED light bulb, and the light bulb lights up. Though this experiment works, lemons can't be used to start car engines or to keep battery-powered clocks ticking.
Recently, the Australian bush food lemon myrtle has become a popular alternative to lemons. The crushed and dried leaves and edible aromatic oils have a strong, sweet lemon taste, but contain no citric acid. Lemon myrtle is popular in foods that curdle with lemon juice, such as cheesecakes and ice-cream.
Lemons have also been incorporated into songs: