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Putting the squeeze on lemons

April 21, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

When life gives you lemons, make lemon linguine. Or lemon meringue pie, or lemon poppy seed muffins, or lemony chicken.

Fill a decorative bowl with lemons to add scent and color to a room. Remove stains with a squirt of lemon juice. Make a zesty wreath with dried lemon slices. Cut calories by using lemon juice instead of salad dressing.

The versatile lemon can be used for much more than lemonade - boasting a rsum that includes everything from stain removal to fragrance to food preparation.

"Lemons are a most amazing fruit," Claudia Kousoulas, president of Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C., wrote in her review of a new lemon cookbook. "Equally at home as a sweet or savory, both skin and pulp full of flavor, good for drinks and food, a lemon's bright acidity can transform and even rescue almost any dish."

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Kousoulas goes on to describe the myriad culinary and practical uses - adding zing to green beans, balancing the sweet butteriness of elegant cookies, making mayonnaise taste even better, and bringing a natural twist to housecleaning and beauty care - that author Lori Longbotham offers for lemons in her book, "Lemon Zest."

The lemon, Kousoulas writes, "is indispensible for good eating."

And it's good for you.

One medium lemon has 18 calories, 10 milligrams of sodium, and no fat or cholesterol, and it supplies 35 percent of the daily recommendation of Vitamin C, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The thorny, evergreen lemon (C. Limonia) tree grows 10 to 20 feet high in relatively frost-free climates. The lemon is the berry of its tree, and its rind holds as much culinary value as its highly acidic juice. Lemon zest - the yellow portion of the rind without the white pith - contains tiny sacs of essential lemon oil, which can be used in recipes, commercial cleaners, toiletries and perfumes, according to the Saticoy Lemon Association in Santa Paula, Calif.

The nonprofit association, at www.saticoylemon.com on the Web, is an agricultural cooperative founded in 1933.

About 95 percent of the fresh lemons produced in the United States are grown in California and Arizona - but that's a small percentage of the total number of lemons grown worldwide, said John Eliot, business development manager for the Saticoy Lemon Association.

"The U.S. is a relatively small producer on the world stage," with Latin America, Spain and the Mediterranean region producing the lion's share of the world's lemons, Eliot said.

While the citrus fruit's origin is uncertain, its native home may have been southern China and adjacent parts of Upper Burma, from which it spread into India and westward, according to Botony.com, the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers, at www.botany.com on the Web. The Arabs brought lemons to Spain prior to 1150, and the Crusaders introduced the fruit to Western Europe between 1096 and 1271, the Web site states. When Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1493, he carried lemon seeds with him. And it's believed that the Spaniards brought the lemon to Florida as early as 1565 and to California about 1769, according to Botony.com.

British sailors also can trace the roots of their nickname - "limeys" - to the lemon. The British navy, which used Vitamin C-rich lemons to fight scurvy, mistook lemons for overripe limes, according to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia Web site at en.wikipedia.org.

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