We may be a little biased, but in terms of versatility and usefulness, lemons are hard to beat. Of all the fruit we know, lemons are the most requested year-round. Fortunately, lemons are generally available throughout the year but become scarce in late summer. You may find the price will rise around this time and notice imported fruit appearing in supermarkets.
Lemons gastronomic uses are endless – here’s why:
-Used in both sweet and savoury dishes as a star or key backup ingredient
-The whole fruit is edible –prized for fragrant zest and flavoursome juice
-Colour preserver in other fruits and vegetables
-Acidity for drinks – gin and tonic, lemonade, and hot honey and lemon for the winter months
-Major baking ingredient
-Companion of seafood as a squeeze or sauce base
-Preserved lemons are particularly popular in North African cooking, adding a wonderful depth of flavour to winter tagines, sauces and casseroles
-One little trick we have been blasting out this hot summer is freezing lemon quarters free flow and then using them as ice cubes in drinks…effective in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages! (Especially good when you don’t want to water down that drink with an ice cube)
-Lemons are thought to have originated in Kashmar and by 2000BC were in southern China, from where they then moved into Persia, with the Arabs then introducing them to the Mediterranean. Lemons continued to spread far and wide, growing in Britain in the 16th century.
-The first lemon tree was thought to have been planted in New Zealand in 1818, brought over on a boat from Sydney. Early settlers placed much importance on growing fruit with vitamin C to ward off scurvy.
-A lemon tree is now generally found in most New Zealand home gardens, where the climate allows it to flourish.
-The two main lemon varieties grown in New Zealand are Meyer and Yen Ben.
The Meyer lemon is the most common or ‘backyard’ variety in New Zealand.
The fruit has a less acidic flavour, soft bright yellow smooth skin and is very juicy. The Meyer is thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin (or orange) and is the most cold hardy variety.
The Yen Ben is a true lemon and has a stronger lemon flavour than the Meyer due to higher acidity.
New Zealand’s main commercial variety, Yen Ben has a pale-yellow firm skin, is very flavoursome and has very few seeds.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
Choose brightly coloured lemons that are heavy for their size.
Lemons look great and store well in the fruit bowl for more than a week but it pays to put them in the fridge if you are planning to store them for longer.
Once in the fridge they will last for weeks.
PREPARATION AND COOKING
Most lemons are waxed during packing so require washing in warm water prior to use.
The pith can be very bitter so do try to avoid it when zesting.
When cooking citrus, always use non-reactive cookware.
The average sized lemon yields 2-3 tablespoons of juice and 1 tablespoon of zest.
Placing lemons in the microwave for a short burst or rolling back and forth on the bench top will help release more juice.