LEMONS: ANCIENT FRUIT WITH TIES TO BIBLE DAYS
Lemons were known to the Jerusalem Jews. Josephus, a historian in ancient Jerusalem, supposedly pelted an errant high priest with lemons during a festival . But scholars think that this was done with citrons not lemons. Citrons are a citrus fruit, but it’s the pith – that white part – that is useful – it’s candied and used in baked goods.
Where did lemons originate?
It’s a bit of a mystery still, but the consensus is the lemon is a native of Asia. It’s actually a hybrid between the citron and the sour orange. The origin of the word lemon may be Middle Eastern.
Lemons entered near southern Italy around the 1st century AD, during the time of Ancient Rome but were not widely cultivated. There’s a legend that says Nero drank lots of lemon juice to keep him protected from being poisoned by his enemies.
Lemon trees were mainly ornamental in Islamic gardens.
That’s true, and by 200 AD lemons were all over the Arab world and the Mediterranean.
When did they get to the Americas?
In 1493 Columbus brought lemon seeds on his voyages. Lemons were used more medicinally than for food.
In 1747, seamen suffering from scurvy added lemon juice to their diets, and the British made their sailors eat limes, and that’s where the name “limeys” came from.
In the 1800’s, lemons were planted in Florida and California.
What about the health benefits of lemons?
The vitamin C in lemons helps heal cuts and bruises, helps prevent cancer and heart disease. Lemons are good for reducing stress and good for the immune system and skin. Lemons allow your body to absorb carbs and calcium better, and it’s a gentle cleanser for your liver and kidneys.
Limoncello for Annie
The great thing about this is it keeps just about forever in the freezer. You can use all lemons for classic Limoncello. Each time we visited Italy I just had to sample Limoncello everywhere we went! Start this now and have it ready for gift giving (and yourself!) for the holidays.
Or make some with a combo of lemons and limes.
3 pounds lemons, thick skinned
4 cups good quality 100 proof vodka
3 cups sugar
3 cups water
Pour vodka in large gallon glass jar or container.
Wash fruit very well to remove wax coating: plunge each lemon into boiling water and remove it right away. Dry immediately with a towel and the wax will be rubbed off.
Remove zest/peel with a vegetable peeler. That’s the colored part. Now if some of the white part underneath the skin is visible cut that off. That’s the pith and it’s very bitter (though it is the most nutritious part of the peel). If you can’t get it all off, do the best you can.
Place zest in jar with vodka and cover. Let sit at room temperature for at least a week, or up to 3 weeks. The vodka will take on the color and flavor of the citrus as it steeps.
Bring sugar and water to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves and thickens a bit. Let cool and then add that to vodka mixture and stir. Strain and put in pretty bottles. Seal and chill in frig a couple of weeks at least.
To use, serve straight over ice chips, mix with sparkling wine or mineral water and a lemon curl, toss with fresh fruit, serve over ice cream, frozen yogurt or simple cake.