Saturday, September 02, 2006


The plant of the day for Fructidor 16 in the French Republican Calendar is the lemon.
So I am drinking a lemonade (with watermelon ice cube thanks to my experiment for Fructidor 11) as I write this.

The lemon is a citrus fruit, like limes, citrons, mandarins and oranges (Notice that most of these citrus fruits are also the names of colors.). It was probably first grown in India but reached Europe via Persia, Greece and Italy. The American Heritage Dictionary traces its name back from its first appearance in English in a customs document of 1420-1, through its journey from Old French limon from Italian limone, from Arabic laymun to its origins in India as a limun. Lemons have been identified in the ruins of Pompei. The first written description appears in an early tenth century Arabic treatise on farming.

I love reading the really clinical descriptions of these fruits, as they don’t really sound like anything I would want to eat. Would you consider eating a hesperidium, that is a specialized berry, globose to elongated, 4-30 cm long and 4-20 cm diameter, with a leathery rind surrounding segments filled with pulp vesicles? I didn’t think so, but that’s the definition of a citrus fruit provided by Wikipedia, in the article on citrus fruit,
which also describes the plants, their fragrant flowers and their favorite growing conditions: warm. Florida, California and Arizona are their favorite places to grow in the United States. One type of lemon you can grow indoors, even in a cool climate like mine, is the Meyer lemon (it’s simply hardier). Chelsie VandaVeer has an article about Frank Meyer’s discovery of the lemon named after him which he found growing in a pot outside a door in China:

The Wikipedia article provided the great picture, plus the following information:
Lemons are 5% citric acid, which gives them their sour taste, and also makes them good for science experiments like the one featured in Wikipedia: the lemon battery.
Lemons have various properties which make them useful in cooking. The acids in lemons, when squeezed on fish, neutralize the amines, converting them to nonvolatile ammonium salts. Lemon squeezed on fruits, like apples, prevents them from oxidizing (turning dark). Also when lemon juice is a marinade for meat it helps break down the tough collagen fibers in the meat.

Mrs. Grieve in her Modern Herbal (1931)
writes “It is probable that the lemon is the most valuable of all fruit for preserving health.” English ships were required to carry an ounce of lemon or lime juice for every sailor to be taken daily to prevent scurvy. Mrs. Grieve says it is good for cooling fevers. Julia Morton (see below for citation) writes that it is widely known as a diuretic, antiscorbutic, astringent, and febrifuge. In Italy, the sweetened juice is given to relieve gingivitis, stomatitis, and inflammation of the tongue.

Whenever we are sick, my daughter and I both swear by the concoction we make by boiling lemon slices along with ginger slices and jalapeno peppers. Once this liquid boils down enough to get some color, we strain out the solids and drink it like tea. According to Ayurvedic medicine, a cup of hot water with lemon juice in it purifies and tones the liver. But several writers warn against daily use (or advise you to rinse your mouth after drinking lemonade) because it strips the enamel from your teeth.

According to Mrs. Grieve: “Lemon Peel yields its virtues to alcohol, water, or wine.”
The lovely liqueur Limoncello is one way the Italians capture the virtues of lemons. Here’s a recipe for it:

This article on the lemon in Fruits in Warm Climates by Julia Morton focuses on growing lemons commercially and includes a long and interesting list of the history of various lemon cultivates, through which one could, I think, create an interesting lemon family tree (I didn’t try):
It also includes some interesting suggestions for cooking with lemons including the mention of a lemon soup, popular in Colombia, made by adding slices of lemon to a dry bread roll that has been sautéed in shortening until soft and then sieved. Add sugar and a cup of wine to this mixture and bring it to a boil. For dessert after your lemon soup, you might like some candied lemon peel. Mrs. Grieve describes how to make it by putting the peels into boiling sugar syrup, then letting them dry until the sugar crystallizes.

Lemons are also used in house cleaning. This web site offers several suggestions for using lemons (along with other non-toxic common household items) for cleaning.

It’s going to be a hot in Seattle today. A perfect day for lemonade.

1 comment:

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