When Life Gives You Lemons

by Mark R. Vogel

            Where and when the lemon became popular in various parts of the globe is a controversial topic.  While researching this article, I discovered that agreement amongst sources was, well, the pits.  Depending on whom you ask the lemon originated in India, China, or Southeast Asia.  From there it made its way to the Middle East, Europe, and eventually America but diversity of opinion exists as to the timeline as well.  We do know that Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to the New World as did other Europeans.  America now produces one quarter of the world’s lemons, most of which are grown in California.  The Meyer lemon, (an orange-lemon hybrid), has a more certain lineage.  It was imported to America from China by its namesake Frank N. Meyer in 1908.  Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than their traditional counterparts.

Lemons are available year round with a peak season in the summer.  Choose specimens that are firm, smooth, brightly colored, heavy for their size, and devoid of any blemishes or green splotches, a sign of underripeness.  Store lemons in a bag in your fridge for up to 2-3 weeks.  Lemons are high in vitamin C and provide some potassium. 

Lemons are a botanical multi-tasker in both superstition and reality.  They have been rumored to treat an array of medical ailments and are a common ingredient in witchcraft related concoctions.  Lemons and/or lemon oil is used in furniture polish, soaps, cleansing creams, perfume, and pharmaceutical products to name a few.  As far as the culinary world is concerned, they are a flavoring agent in a wide variety of preparations, both savory and sweet.  Water mixed with lemon juice is ideal for holding sliced artichokes, avocados, pears, or apples and prevents them from browning.  Instead of vinegar, use lemon juice to make your next vinaigrette.  Or squeeze a little on your sautéed vegetables after cooking for a little more zip.  To facilitate the harvesting of the juice, roll a lemon on the counter as you apply pressure with your palm. 

One of the best ways to incorporate the flavor of lemons, or any other citrus fruit for that matter, is to utilize the zest.  The zest is the outer layer of the fruit’s skin.  It harbors the highest concentration of the fruit’s natural oils and thus, has a more intense flavor than the juice.  A microplane grater is the best tool for the job but there are other types of zesters.  Make sure you do not go deeper than the outer layer.  Beneath the zest lies the white, bitter tasting pith. 

 

SAUTEED SCALLOPS WITH LEMON FETTUCCINE

 

1 dozen scallops

Salt and pepper to taste

Wondra flour, (or substitute all purpose), as needed

Olive oil as needed

¾ cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon lemon zest

12 oz. fettuccine

Chopped parsley to taste

2 tablespoons butter or more to taste

 

Boil the fettuccine until almost done.  Drain and mix it with a little bit of olive oil to prevent sticking and set it aside.  Season the scallops with salt and pepper and dredge them in the flour.  Sauté the scallops in a large skillet in the olive oil until browned on each side.  Make sure the pan and oil are very hot.  As soon as they’re browned on each side they’re done.  Remove the scallops and deglaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice.  Reduce the liquid by half.  Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the partially cooked fettuccini.  Season with salt and pepper and cook the pasta in the sauce until al dente.  Just prior to the end of cooking, add the parsley, butter and scallops and cook until butter melts. 

 

CANDIED LEMON RIND

 

4-5 lemons

1 pound sugar plus extra as needed

1 pint water

 

            Cut the lemons in half from end to end and scrape out the pulp.  Use it to make lemonade or sidecars, (see recipe below).  Cut the lemon rinds into half inch strips.  Place them in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Drain, add new water and boil them three more times, changing the water after each boil.  This softens them and eliminates the bitterness in the pith.  Mix the sugar with the pint of water, bring to a boil, add the lemon rinds, return to a boil, and then simmer until the rinds are soft, 30-45 minutes.  Cool the rinds in the syrup.  When cool, drain the syrup and spread the rinds out on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with more sugar and allow them to dry and cool to room temperature.

 

SIDECAR

 

1 ½ oz of brandy or cognac

¾ oz. triple sec

¾ oz. lemon juice

 

            Add ice and the above ingredients to a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass.  Garnish with a twist of lemon. 

 

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