Pity the poor lemon, the selfless workhorse of the kitchen. Chameleonlike, it hides its light under a bushel, its merits camouflaged by whatever it's enhancing. It brightens every beloved classic that crosses its path, from chicken salad to deviled eggs to strawberry shortcake, without ever taking the credit. Lemon peel contains essential oils, meaning its zest contributes perfume as well as flavor to anything it touches. Lemon just can't help but make everything else look good. Its acidity stops peeled fruit from oxidizing, helps jam gel, stiffens whipped cream, and even "cooks" the raw fish in ceviche. It's the backup singer...the Cyrano.
The fruit of the Citrus medica tree, lemons are indigenous to India and China and reached the Mediterranean in the first century A.D., when Romans discovered a direct sea route between the Red Sea and India. Cultivated extensively in the Mediterranean basin since the fourth century A.D., the fruit arrived in the New World with Columbus.
Know Your Lemons
From: California by way of China
In the kitchen: Sweet and floral, it's the secret behind many a cocktail.
From: California by way of Italy
In the kitchen: Its high acidity makes it the perfect foil for salads and grilled fish.
In the kitchen: This geographically protected organic beauty makes a fragrant marmalade.
Variegated Pink-Fleshed Eureka
In the kitchen: Rosy and refreshingly tart, this has lemonade written all over it.