Like other citrus fruits, lemons probably originated in Southeast Asia. The lemon was probably the first citrus to reach the Mediterranean. The first cultivation of lemons in Europe was in Italy. Cristopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to the new world and eventually Florida and California became the center of citrus production in the US.

Lemons were used medicinally thought history and to prevent scurvy for mariners in the 1700’s. Of course, that was because lemons are very high in vitamin C like all citruses. Today lemons are used throughout the world for both culinary and non-culinary uses. Some cultures use lemon leaves to brew tea. The lemon is probably the most versatile of citrus fruits. Lemons grow best in tropical and subtropical climates but can also be grown in containers outside and brought in to sit in a sunny spot during the colder months.

Meyer lemons have a thinner skin than regular lemons and are more of a winter citrus like varieties of  oranges. They are smaller and more round than regular lemons. They are less acidic and sweeter. They have a limited season in the winter months and are more perishable than regular lemons, thus more expensive.

Peak Time:  Available year round

Average Price: $.90 each

Tips for Selection and Storage: Choose regular lemons that are fragrant and heavy for their size with no bruises, soft spots or mold. The skin should be bright yellow with no tinges of green. Lemons best for juicing have a smooth, thin skin. When you give the lemons a gentle squeeze it should not feel hard. Large lemons with a thick skin will be dryer inside. Store refrigerated in a container or zip lock bag to prevent drying out. These will last up to a month. You can also store them in water if you have room in the refrigerator and they will last for months. You can also pour lemon juice into ice trays and freeze, then put the cubes into baggies. Lemon zest will also freeze well.

Tips for Preparation: Lemon juice and zest are used in many ways in almost every kind of tart, savory, and sweet recipe. From baked fish to pasta, pies and meringues, lemons add that refreshing zing. In sauces and creams, stews, marinades, and dressings, lemons add that small bit of acid that makes a big difference. It is a standard ingredient along with herbs for stuffing a roasted chicken and is a tenderizer for meats. Of course, because of the high content of vitamin C, lemon juice helps keep cut avocados, apples, pears, and other fruit from turning brown due to oxidation. One way to capitalize on the nutritional benefits of lemons every day is to add a squeeze of juice to your water. One medium lemon will yield about 3 tablespoons of juice and 3 teaspoons of grated zest. It takes 5 or 6 lemons to make 1 cup of juice.

Nutritional Highlights: All citrus is an abundant source of vitamin C. Vitamin C  helps your body make collagen for your skin, helps your body absorb iron, and supports your immune system. Lemons contain powerful phytonutrients in the juice, pulp, and peel. Lemons are also good sources of potassium, vitamin B6, and dietary fiber.

For a recipe for lemon ricotta cake, click here.