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Exploring Lemons: Recipes to Help You Harness the Power of Sour

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

This article explores the amazing things you can make with lemons!

This article explores the amazing things you can make with lemons!

What Thoughts Fill Your Dreams?

What is the stuff of your dreams? What images fill your daytime reverie or invade your thoughts during sleep? Perhaps you drift to far-away places—strolling on white sand beaches glistening below azure skies; or maybe you envision hiking in wildflower-strewn alpine meadows beneath sapphire-blue glaciers. I have a friend whose thoughts drift to sailing across a tranquil sea—destination nowhere. My husband’s passion is pushing it to the limit on a switch-back road with the top down on the Miata.

I dream of food, or more specifically, I dream of cooking food.

So, here is a sampling of what I've been dreaming of:

When life gives you lemons... add melted butter, toasted paprika and dip some lobster in it!

— Stuart J. Scesney



Here Are a Few of the Things That Filled My Dreams

  • Light and delicate cream scones—triangle-shaped breakfast pastries studded with fresh blueberries, adorned with crunchy sugar crystals, and drizzled with a citrus glaze.
  • A thick, luxurious creamy chicken soup with a hint of lemon zest.
  • Tender, boneless chicken cutlets quickly sauteed in butter until the interior is cooked to a moist perfection and the exterior is golden and crisp. A bright drizzle of butter caper sauce provides just the right balance of briny zing and lush creaminess.
  • A luxuriant cream pie—the crust is buttery, flaky, crisp. The filling is a bright yellow hue, sweet, tart, and creamy. Billowy, cloud-like puffs of egg white meringue cover the filling. And as an added blessing the meringue has been gently kissed by flame to impart a subtle golden color and crisp texture to the soft egg-white blanket.

Are You Getting Hungry?

We’ve covered all of the bases—breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. And what is the common thread?

All of them are flavored with and enhanced by lemon. Is there any one food (other than bacon?) that appears in so many different types of foods and cuisines?

But Once Upon a Time...

Lemon was nothing more than a pretty face.

In researching this article, I learned that the lemon plant is extremely adaptable and hybridizes easily—that’a good news (unless, of course, you are a horticulturalist or food historian). However, many think that the lemon was first cultivated in China. From there it gradually migrated westward from China, India and southeast Asia to the kingdom of the Medes and the Persian Empire.

Despite its versatility, which we recognize and embrace today, the lemon was nothing more than an ornamental in early Islamic gardens. The first clear evidence of the lemon tree in writing is a 10th century work by Qustus al-Rumi in his book on farming.

a ridiculously fragrant lemon blossom!

a ridiculously fragrant lemon blossom!

Speaking of Farming

Are lemon trees easy to grow?

Well, it all depends on where you live. They have pretty strict standards. The lemon tree wants:

  • Climate zone—Lemon trees grow in tropical and subtropical humid regions. In the subtropics, citrus grows between sea level and 2,450 feet; in the tropics it grows at elevations below 5,250 feet. Lemon trees thrive in temperatures between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit. (In the U.S. they are best suited to USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.
  • Light requirements—Full sun
  • Soil—Must be well draining (lemon trees HATE having wet toes), pH 5.5 to 6.5
  • Spacing—Must be at least 12 feet apart and 12 feet from fences, buildings, or other large trees
  • Mulch—Mulch with organic compost 6 to 12 inches away from the trunk, just beyond the drip line
  • Water—Water regularly. New plants must be kept moist (but not soggy) until established. Then allow top 1 to 2 inches of soil to dry between waterings.
  • Feeding—Lemon trees are heavy feeders. The first application of the year should be in March (after any chance of frost has passed but before the tree begins to bud out). Thereafter fertilize again in May and June. Don’t fertilize after August.
  • Winter protection—Wrap the trunk with several layers of cardboard and secure with duct tape. String outdoor lights on the branches.
map of where lemons grow

map of where lemons grow

Types of Lemons

Eureka Lemon—A knobby, thicker-skinned lemon than the Lisbon lemon. The Eureka lemon has a short neck at the stem end and contains a moderate amount of juice. This variety of lemon generally contains some seeds. The Eureka and Lisbon lemons are very similar in flavor, aroma and acidity.

Lisbon Lemon—A smoother, thinner-skinned lemon than the Eureka lemon. The Lisbon lemon does not have a definite neck at the stem end but the blossom end tapers to a slight point. This variety of lemon is generally seedless and contains more juice than the thicker-skinned Eureka, but otherwise the two varieties are similar in flavor, aroma and acidity.

Meyer Lemon—Meyer Lemon is a variety of lemon that is known for having a sweeter flavor, tasting mildly like a tangerine. It is often used as a seasoning for fish, providing a fresh aroma and a sweeter flavor than the standard lemon. This lemon is often used to season fish and seafood. When a Meyer lemon's flesh or juice is added to a dish, it adds a sweet and only slightly tart flavor. Meyer lemons are more difficult to find but as they increase in popularity they are becoming more available in specialty markets.


But What If You Don't Live in the Tropics?

You can grow lemon trees from seeds, in your house.

What You Will Need

Seeds—Obviously, you must have some lemon seeds, but they are pretty easy to obtain--they are as close as the produce section of your market. Purchase an organic lemon, cut it in half, and remove the seeds. Don’t bother with any that look shriveled. Choose the plumpest seeds you can find.

Potting Soil—A bagged soil blend of peat, perlite, and vermiculite is best. Please don’t even THINK about using soil from the garden.

Pot/Container—A pot that is 5 to 6 inches deep and a few inches in diameter is a good start for sprouting your seeds. However, the seedlings will need to be repotted. Mature lemon trees prefer a container that is wider than it is deep—10 to 16 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches wide is a good choice. Remember, all containers must have drainage holes.

Light Source—A grow light or lots of sun. Lemon trees need a plenty of light, especially when they are sprouting. They need 10 to 14 hours of light each day for survival.

And one more thing, unless you have an active hive of honey bees indoors, you will need to pollinate your tree by hand if you want fruit. Here's how:

How to Pretend That You Are a Bee

Collect a small amount of sticky pollen with a cotton swab from the anthers that are held up by filaments and surround the pistil in the center of the bloom. Identify the male anthers by looking for the pollen-covered oblong shapes held up on tall, thin filaments. A circle of these filaments, each supporting a separate anther, surrounds the female pistil in the middle of the flower. The single pistil on each flower is composed of the stigma at the very top, which is supported by the style, which is thicker than the filaments holding up the anthers.

Roll the cotton swab over the top of the pistil on another flower on the lemon tree to transfer the pollen and pollinate that bloom.

Repeat collecting pollen from the end of the fuzzy-looking anthers and putting it onto the central pistils of each flower on the tree until all the flowers have been pollinated.

Back to Reality

OK, so maybe you don't want to hand-pollinate lemon blossoms or grow a 6-foot tree in your house. I will admit that I don't have the time, patience, or space to do so. But lemon seeds are easy to sprout--easy enough that this could be a fun project to work on with a child in your life. Or maybe it will bring out the kid in you.

There is something enchanting, miraculous about seeing a plant emerge from a tiny seed.

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

Blueberry Scones with Lemon Glaze

These sweet-tart scones were created by Tyler Florence and were featured on his show on The Food Network.

Carb Diva's Velvety Lemon Chicken Soup

Velvety Lemon Chicken Soup

Velvety Lemon Chicken Soup

How to Make Carb Diva's Velvety Lemon Chicken Soup

A luxurious, creamy, chicken soup with a refreshing hint of citrus.


  • 1 small lemon
  • 3 cups good quality chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • garnish--2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley and 2 tablespoons fresh dill weed


  1. Cut two 2-inch strips of lemon peel (zest only—not the white pith which is bitter) from the lemon. Place in medium saucepan. Squeeze 1 teaspoon fresh juice from lemon and set aside. Add broth to the saucepan. Cover and simmer over medium heat about 20 minutes. Remove zest.
  2. In a second saucepan heat the butter over low heat; when the foam subsides stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Gradually add warm stock and cream, whisking constantly, until soup is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in lemon juice; add garnish and salt and pepper to taste.

How to Make Chicken Piccata

My recipe for chicken piccata, boneless chicken cutlets with a butter caper sauce, is pretty enough for company but quick enough to make for a weeknight family meal.


  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half (see note below)
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • flour, for dredging (see note below for explanation)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced


  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge (see note below) with flour and shake off excess.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Melt over medium-high heat. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate.
  3. Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in the same manner as described above. Remove your pan from the heat and place the chicken on the plate.
  4. In the same pan add the lemon juice, broth, and capers. Return to the stove and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning.
  5. Return all chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a platter. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon meringue pie was always my Dad's favorite. It takes a bit of time to make—the crust must be pre-baked, lemon curd is cooked to just the right consistency on the stove top, and egg whites are whipped to a billowy lightness, swirled atop the pie and then quickly browned. It's definitely a dessert full of love.

© 2016 Linda Lum