The exact origin of the lemon is unclear but it is thought to have originated in Southeast Asia where they have been cultivated for around 4,000 years. The citron was carried to the Middle East between 400 and 600 BC but it was the Arab traders in Asia who introduced lemons to eastern Africa and the Middle East between 100 and 700 A.D.
By 1193 they were prized for their medicinal qualities in the palace of the Sultan of Egypt and by the mid fifteenth Century were being cultivated in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.
By the late 1800’s the British Navy also appreciated the virtues of citrus fruit to combat scurvy and all sailors were given rations of citrus whilst on long voyages. Although this gave rise to the British being given the nickname “limeys”, some believe that in fact they were using lemons which they believed to be overripe limes. Perhaps then we should be called “lemonys”?
Good old Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds from Europe to the New World in 1493 and now about one quarter of the worlds lemons are grown in the USA, primarily in California and Florida.
When buying lemons, go for brightly colored firm fruits which feel heavy for their size. Avoid any which look shrivelled or have with blemishes or decayed spots and those that feel soft.
Whole lemons will keep for up to ten days in a plastic bag in the fridge although they may well last much longer. You can usually tell when a lemon is reaching the end of its storage life as the skin becomes more pitted and it starts to shrivel.
You can freeze lemon juice and the zest. Bear in mind that you will probably only use smaller quantities of lemon juice in most recipes, so it's a good idea to freeze the juice is usable amounts. Ice cube trays are very useful for this purpose.
Lemons are used in many many cuisines worldwide. In South America the juice is used in salsas and in the preparation of Ceviche, in Africa (particularly North Africa) the whole fruit is pickled and sometimes dried and added to savoury dishes and in North America and Europe the juice is often added to marinades, salad dressings, fish dishes and many other savoury and sweet dishes as well as many a cocktail. It also gives an extra lift to steamed or boiled vegetables especially when used with a little melted butter.
What is your favorite way to use lemons? Please share your methods and ideas and recipes.