Since childhood we have been admonished if we are given lemons we should make lemonade. But when you inherit a lemon tree outside your patio door that sprouts lemons like a patch of dandelion seeds thrown on the wind, you not only make lemonade but you make lemon curd, you make lemon loaf, you make lemon chicken, you make lemon chutney, you make lemon marinade, you make lemon sorbet, you make lemon panacotta, you make lemon marmalade, you make lemon surprise. And you eat lemon marmalade every morning for the next three months since you can’t bring lemon marmalade back home because of customs. You squeeze lemons on the electric juicer until you have frozen containers of lemon juice in your freezer which you know will never be used since when you return next fall the lemon tree will welcome you once again with its abundance. You know this to be true because before you have bared the tree of this year’s harvest the blossoms for next year’s lemons have blossomed and fallen to the ground.
In the annals of fruit lore the lemon has a very shadowy history. Not shadowy as in disreputable, but shadowy as in little is known of its beginnings. Some think it was first discovered growing in northern India where it has been cultivated for over 2500 years. Some suggest the possibility of Southeast Asia. Some give credit to the Arab traders for bringing the lemon to the Middle East and Africa sometime after 100 C.E. while other writers claim the Romans, after discovering a direct sea route from the southern end of the Red Sea to India, were responsible for it reaching the Mediterranean area about the same time. It was first brought to the New World - the West Indies - on Christopher Columbus second trip in 1493.
Its name ‘lemon’ is also the result of a tortuous journey. It is suggested that in China it was given the name ‘limung’ which in Persia became ‘limun’, in Italy ‘limone’. In France it became ‘limon’ which appeared in Middle English as ‘lemon’.
Whoever takes the credit, lemon trees went forth and multiplied. In spite of its abundance, the lemon has no place in Greek or Roman mythology. It can lay no claim to any history of sensuality or of playing the role of temptress in creating the awareness of good and evil or of luring any person from the path of righteousness. Lemons were primarily used for ornamental trees or medicines until the late 18th century when they became an ingredient in cooking.
And so, our inherited lemon tree has commandeered our waking moments - searching for new and exciting recipes, strengthening our arms to wield the lemon picker and finding willing recipients to share the pleasure of our lemon tree’s abundance.