The history and the origin of the lemon has always been uncertain. The actual word “Lemon” may in fact be Middle Eastern. “Lemon” also draws from the Old French Limon, the Italian Limone, the Arabic Laymnun or Limun and the Persian limun. According to Wikipedia, it is thought that lemons first grew in India, Burma and China, where they are believed to have been cultivated for more than 2,500 years. Who knew? The lemon was eventually introduced to Persia and then to Iraq and Egypt around 700 AD. Lemons are also believed to have entered Europe near southern Italy no later than the 1st century AD.
First used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens, as well as for medicinal purposes, the lemon soon became widely distributed throught the Arab world and the Mediterranean region between 1000 and 1150. Arab traders introduced the lemon to spain in the 11th century and by 1150 the lemon was widely cultivated in the Mediteranean. Indications also suggest that Crusaders returning from Palestine brought the lemon plant to the rest of Europe. The first considerable cultivation of lemons began in Europe in Genoa, Italy during the middle of the 15th century. In fact, Christopher Columbus introduced the lemon to the Americas in 1493 with lemon seeds brought on his voyages. In addition, the Spanish conquest throughout the New World also increased the spread of lemon seeds. During the 18th and 19th centuries lemons were planted in American soil, specifically, California and Florida. This bounty of handpicked citrus, which can be harvested throughout the year in appropriate climates, certainly has a history that is bursting with historical references and possibilities of its origin. Quite a fruit, and quite a history behind it.
Of the many varieties of the citrus lemon, the typical lemon found within the produce aisles are known as the “Eureka” Lemon. Aside from this lemon, another fantastic variety of lemons is the Meyer Lemon. Meyer lemons are a wonderful substitute for the real lemon and are the most popular of all dwarf citrus trees. It is actually a hybrid of sweet mandarin orange and lemon, which explains why the flesh of the fruit is a light orange-yellow color. The Meyer Lemon is not only a burst of color, but carries fragrant blossoms and glossy evergreen foliage. The Meyer Lemon, with its sweet and succulent juice and stunning style is one of the easiest and hardiest to grow. A high volume of juice without the tartness. Perfection in citrus! A productive and perfect addition to a home’s interior or exterior. Interestingly, it is said in the early twentieth century, that the Meyer Lemon tree is named after Frank Meyer who brought the plant to the United States from China in 1908 while working for the USDA as an agricultural explorer to collect new plant species. Interestingly, Meyer was originally hired as a gardener and worked his way up the ranks in the USDA by studying flora in Mexico at his own expense. By the time his career ended, Meyer had introduced more than 2,500 plants to the United States. Who knew? The Meyer Lemon tree quickly became popular and was widely grown until a virus attacked the plants in the mide 1940’s. Meyer Lemon Trees were soon banned in the United States in an effort to protect the safety of other lemon varieties from the virus. Fortunately, a new version of the Meyer Lemon tree was developed that was virus-free and this fabulous tree was said to be re-introduced in 1975 by the University of California. Since then, the Meyer Lemon tree was a favorite for home dwellings. The sweetest of most lemons is certainly a sweet addition to any space. Although it took a long time for the Meyer Lemon to make its grand entrance into the culinary limelight, the wait was worth it. Currently, the Meyer Lemon is commonly grown in California, Florida and Texas. Unfortunately, the soft, thin skin of the Meyer Lemon makes it difficult to ship as a plant. Alas, if you are in the United States, perhaps a road trip will allow you to acquire one…but there are surely other possibilities in which to obtain this extraordinary tree. When brought inside before the first frost, this tree will thrive indoors in winter months, adding the pop of fresh color while providing fruit in later months. A winning combination, indeed! A glorious addition of nature’s bounty to any interior, sun porch or patio.
The lemon first came into culinary use in Europe in the 15th century. How thrilled we all are that this bright burst of citrus has now graced our plates with savory and sweet indulgences of pleasure!
Alas, there are so many wonderful dishes and delicacies infused with lemon that are not included in the above compilation. Can you tell my favorites? In the world of baking and cooking, there are multitudes upon multitudes of recipes that include this glorious citrus. Both the standard lemon and the Meyer Lemon. The possibilities? Endless.
Oh, the Lemonade of childhood! Indeed, there are versions of lemonade that have certainly grown up….The beverages that incorporate the tart and sweetness of the lemon and its varieties are limitless. Perhaps a focus on the Italian Limoncello is at hand. Limoncello is the generic name for an Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur that is served chilled in the Summer months. Who knew that lemons, water, alcohol and sugar would comprise such an iconic drink? A zesty delight, indeed. In fact, Limoncello is now considered the national drink of Italy. Interestingly, the ownership of the original Lemoncello recipe is claimed by Sorrento, Amalfi and Capri, Italy in which the Lemoncello drink was widely consumed in those areas since the beginning of 1900. The lemons from the region of the Amalfi-Sorrento coast are known for their distinct aroma, are rich in essential oils and thick skin. Clearly, a perfect combination for the refreshing Italian Limencello.
Consider the lemon. Whether the tart and tangy or the sweet and juicy, the lemon and its varieties are an essential fruit to the culinary world, and I believe to the decoration of our spaces. Purpose and function, once again. Beauty in nature, a pop of a vivid hue and the benefit of its vitamins and sheer taste is enough of a reason to covet this fruit any time of the year…
Enjoy Summer…and add a Lemon!