The lemon (Citrus limon) is a wonderfully versatile citrus fruit has close to limitless uses in the kitchen. Its mouth puckering acidity adds balance to many savoury dishes, and when teamed with sugar, it provides a wonderfully tangy note to sweet dishes as well.


There are three main varieties of lemon. The Lisbon, eureka and meyer.

  • The Lisbon lemon is perhaps the most popular variety. It has a thin skin and plenty of piquantly sour flesh. The Lisbon grows to a medium size; that is around 120 mm in length. It grows on a moderately sized tree, of up to 3 metres, which bears an abundance of nasty thorns.
  • The eureka is a large lemon, which has a thicker skin than the Lisbon and contains sharply acidic juice. It is the most sour lemon variety. The eureka is the most popular commercial variety as it grows on a large tree (5 metres) which contains relatively fewer thorns and crops heavily in the summer months, making it ideal for mechanical harvesting.
  • The meyer lemon's slightly orange tinted skin gives evidence of its heritage. It is a lemon-orange hybrid. Meyers are almost round as opposed to the common oval shape of a lemon. They have a thin skin and sweeter juice than the other varieties.

Lemons are anatomically very similar to other citrus fruits. The outer peel or skin is almost always a vibrant yellow colour. Underneath this layer is the albedo, or white pith. Depending on the variety and growing conditions, this can range from very thin (1-2 mm) to quite thick indeed (20 mm). Inside is the juice bearing flesh that is broken down into segments that are known as carpels. These contain juice vesicles and the seeds. Each carpel is divided by a thin membranous layer.


The lemon is native to central and Southeast Asia. Sources vary widely between India, Malaysia and southern China. The citron (C. medica), a huge, thick-skinned super lemon was brought back to Europe in the 3rd Century BC, by Alexander the Great, but it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the lemon was introduced to Europe by returning Crusaders.

Ascorbic acid, or vitamin C is one of the principal nutrients in lemons, a fact long recognized by mariners. They would routinely issue lemons to their crew to ward off scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency.

On a flippant note, the ever-enlightening Larousse Gastronomique claims that it was tradition for pre-18th Century French schoolboys to present lemons to their master at the end of year. Try that today.

Flavour and uses

So what gives a lemon its delightfully sour flavour? Lemons have a fairly low pH. At 2.1, they are well into the acid spectrum. But most citrus fruits are the same. What sets the lemon apart is it's amazingly low sugar content. At 1% sugar, they don't have the ability to mask the perceived sourness as other citrus fruits can.

Many keen cooks would be aware that rubbing certain fruits and vegetables with lemon juice after cutting prevents them from browning. Artichokes, potatoes, apples and pears are the most usual suspects. Few however, are aware of how lemons do this. The browning of these fruits and vegetables is due to a bothersome enzyme, polyphonoloxidase, which causes phenolic compounds in the plant tissue to rapidly oxidize. Polyphonoloxidase is missing in citrus fruits, melons and tomatoes. More importantly, the enzyme responsible is inhibited by highly acidic conditions, particularly malic acid, but also citric acid and ascorbic acid, which lemons have in abundance.

In the kitchen, lemons are close to ubiquitous. Few cooks would go for more than a few days without including lemon in a recipe. A tip for maximizing the amount of juice extracted from a lemon (and indeed, all citrus fruits) is to warm them before juicing. A warm lemon can provide as much as twice the juice of a cold one. Try briefly microwaving or pouring boiling water over lemons before juicing to maximize your yield.

Lemon peel, or zest contains wonderfully pungent essential oils that will give a dish heightened citrus complexity. Try adding the zest to your next lemon recipe, be it sweet or savoury. There are several methods of zesting a lemon. A handy kitchen gadget is the citrus zester. It is a small handled tool that has a flat stainless steel protrusion at one end. This section is slightly tapered at the tip and contains 5 or 6 holes. Simply drag the zester across the lemon skin and the zest comes away in attractive strips. Alternatively, you can grate the skin on the finest holes of a kitchen grater. The third method is to peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Finely chop the zest, removing as much of the bitter albedo as possible.

If you want to try some lemon recipes, Everything2, of course, has them in abundance. Here are a few to get you started.

1. See Lemon game. 2. The human head. 3. Anyone or anything that is unsatisfactory or worthless; a traitor; a faker; an inept crook; a poor prospect for thieves; a prosecution witness who cannot be intimidated or bribed; an unprofitable criminal venture or racket.

- american underworld dictionary - 1950
  1. Derogatory colloquial euphemism for 'lesbian'
  2. A very pale yellow colour
  3. colloq. A person of sour disposition
  4. Related to 'a vehicle with mechanical problems': any mechanical device that doesn't work properly.
  5. A popular flavour of gelato, usually paired with chocolate gelato.
A novel by Seattle-based playwright Lawrence Krauser, published by McSweeney's Books. (Lemon was the first proper novel published by this small press with unorthodox contracts, itself a product of the immense popularity of the McSweeney's literary journal and its proprietor and editor Dave Eggers. Enough of that, now.)

Back when Spike Lee first made Do The Right Thing, I remember his saying in an interview that one of his goals for the movie was to have heat be a character - he referenced some Hitchcock movie where this was done - to have something intangible, or without a voice at least, be as meaningful an actor as any of the human actors. Krauser has done something similar in Lemon - in fact, he's not only done it, but he's made the act of doing so the biggest theme in the book. The titular inanimate object becomes the most important thing in a man's life without ever demanding much direct focus, not to speak of ever saying a line.

In Lemon, a professional memo writer named Wendell, whose longtime girlfriend has just left him, gradually fixates on lemons in general (first noticing the little bin of lemon wedges behind a bar), then on one lemon in particular, which he nearly trips over in the lobby of his apartment building. He becomes increasingly reluctant to be without the fruit, keeping it on his desk at work, in his pocket at the bar, and on the table at cafes (causing confusion with waitresses). He loses his job at a firm run by a descendant of Buckminster Fuller (what the firm does, exactly, is never shown, but Bucky delivers lectures via videotape in the office's entryway), and eventually shacks up with the lemon in a house-sitting gig by the beach, in the cold pre-season.

That's what happens. Wendell is not what you'd call an action hero. In fact, that most tempting phrase to someone writing a review of Lemon - "growing obsession" - is more or less rendered moot. Nothing grows; Wendell starts the book as an odd duck, and pretty much stays that way. Of course, I may also believe this because I already knew what was going to happen. The spring-1999 issue of McSweeney's essentially published an outline of the novel, in which each 2- to 10-page section (on average) was boiled down to a single, numbered line. If I have more to say about the way things are written in Lemon than about the way things happen, that's why: I was always dimly aware of my lack of surprise at the way Wendell's lemon encroached on his thoughts. The book's third-person-limited voice seems not to be surprised at anything that happens either. It lovingly paints every small contour and detail of the life Wendell finds himself passing through: "Obviously under normal circumstances there is no great danger of confusing a lemon with the ringing of a telephone, a fruit with a bell-like sound, but when it's just you, a lemon, and a ringing telephone in the middle of a tantamount nowhere, similarities magnify as much as differences, and the human nervous system attunes to minor variations in a minute theme ..." At times Lemon almost feels like a Nicholson Baker-esque novel of ideas, although one wonders if it's still a novel of ideas if the narrating consciousness is basically nuts.

Wendell's general passiveness would be irritating if it weren't for the sense of play the book's narrative voice grants him. And the stylistic quirks, like a chapter entirely in verse and brief flights of fancy about races of giant lemons roaming the earth, would be annoying if it weren't for the feeling of the protagonist (and the author) lurking behind them like quiet, weird, brilliant kids. In the book's second section, Wendell tells the lemon a story about his childhood attempts at flying: "I knew, as do many children, that the simple reason human beings do not just flap their arms and fly is a collective self-delusion that we cannot ... I could have done it, I could have flown all the way to the refrigerator and hovered there eating ice cream at a grownup's altitude. But Heisenberg prevailed; that event was completely, irretrievably altered by my folks' observation of it. ... No matter how lovingly they looked at me, their thoughts bombed me out of the air."

Wendell's "consummation" of the relationship with the lemon is simultaneous with his gutting and preserving it like a cross between a taxidermist and a schoolteacher leading crafts period. "Holding the sticky fruit at its ends between his thumb and forefinger, he dips it into a bowl of sea salt, rotating until evenly covered. He sets it down again, squeezes out some Cadmium alongside it, and pulls off the tiny plastic silo from around the bristles of a brand-new paintbrush." For the last three (short) sections of the book (there are five sections total), Wendell carries this made lemon with him everywhere, the relationship growing more intimate after the physical opening-up, of course. In this part of the book, it's hard not to think about the book's status as a made, crafted thing itself - the author hand-illustrated the cover of each of the 10,000 copies of the book's first hardcover printing, and (on the copies at my local bookstore, at least) a faint pink-orange ghost image of the drawing on the cover of the copy on which it rested overlays the back cover as well.

The really surprising thing is how readable and accessible Lemon is, given all its dreaminess and mannered passages. It helps that the other humans in the book have such distinct voices and characters - Nort the barkeep, Wendell's closest friend Bill and his mate Sally (whose voices have a normalcy which the rest of the book renders mysterious), his block's hallucinating beggar Gloria, his co-worker Michelle who mostly speaks in cross-cubicle glances and emailed limericks. Krauser's other vocation as a playwright is evident here. He's not a bad poet, either - the frequent drops into verse could have been cloying, but Krauser balances rhyme and rhythm casually and intriguingly. Throughout the book, he has a wonderful way of giving you clear images without just handing them to you. Listen to this: "I'll fill you with music now. Steady . . . Someday there will be the technology to bathe the whole earth in the same song, an earphone on each polar cap." (The ellipsis is in the original.)

If you have no patience for the lengthy ruminations of brilliant madmen, Lemon isn't for you. But you're on E2, so you're probably into that sort of thing, right? The point of Lemon is not that there is a point, a plot, or an epiphanic climax. The point is the journey, which takes you into and out of a very peculiar spot without ever making you feel like you're moving very much. It's got plenty of story, along with plenty of affably postmodern showmanship, and its language begs to be read aloud. If this novel is any indication, the McSweeney's house style of innovative prose surfaces, plus old fashioned wonder, plus fascination with very unorthodox opinions and states of mind, seems to be heading somewhere good.

Lem"on (?), n. [F. limon, Per. limn; cf. Ar.laimn, Sp. limon, It. limone. Cf. Lime a fruit.]

1. Bot.

An oval or roundish fruit resembling the orange, and containing a pulp usually intensely acid. It is produced by a tropical tree of the genus Citrus,the common fruit known in commerce being that of the species C. Limonum or C. Medica (var. Limonum). There are many varieties of the fruit, some of which are sweet.


The tree which bears lemons; the lemon tree.

Lemon grass Bot., a fragrant East Indian grass (Andropogon Shenanthus, and perhaps other allied species), which yields the grass oil used in perfumery. -- Lemon sole Zool., a yellow European sole (Solea aurantiaca). -- Salts of lemon Chem., a white crystalline substance, inappropriately named, as it consists of an acid potassium oxalate and contains no citric acid, which is the characteristic acid of lemon; -- called also salis of sorrel. It is used in removing ink stains. See Oxalic acid, under Oxalic. [Colloq.]

<-- Lemon adj. 1. of the color lemon-yellow. 2. of or relating to lemons, as lemon pie. -->


© Webster 1913.

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