Joey gave me a lemon tree for my last birthday. It went right into the kitchen next to the sunniest window, and ever since then I’ve been feeding it, singing to it, and showing it off to guests like a proud parent. My reward was an explosion of blooms that released a smell so sweet and full of life as to make me drunk enough to sit down when it filled the kitchen. Those flowers turned to lemons, and, confused as they may have been by cloudy and frigid New England, they still slowly changed from dark green to marbled green and yellow until finally yellowish orange. The whole time, I was sure I would fail the tree. I’d put my fingers into earth of the pot and curse myself for its over-dry or wetness. I started saying things like “Close the door! It’s too drafty for the tree!” I worried that the lemons would get knocked off their branches or plucked by one of the many curious toddlers who come through. I obsessed over the tree as much as I loved it.
As the lemons came into their glorious and buxom yellowness over the course of the Spring, the tree started to lose its leaves. I was glad that way back when the tree had come, my friend Lisa, who has had a lemon tree for ages, laughed at all my worries and questions. I told her I was pretty sure I would kill the tree within a year.
“It will be fine. And be prepared–when the lemons are ready, that tree is going to look entirely dead. But let it be. It will come back. Don’t give up on it.”
I don’t think I’ll really believe it until I see it. But I sweep up the leaves every day, and I give the tree its special food that I carefully measure in the watering can. I’m doing my best to have faith in the ability of the tree, even though the poor thing probably wishes it were in some hot and sunny grove in California instead of just the sunniest and most wonderful corner of my kitchen. Only one section of the tree still has its leaves, and even those are, like the one runty lemon left, a mix of green and yellow. Every day that last lemon loses a bit more of its grasshopper green and moves toward yellow. Today I found myself talking to it, or maybe rather more to myself.
“Well look at you. Aren’t you doing such a good job growing.”
I have no idea how to keep this tree happy, but but if I’m lucky, the tree itself will keep teaching me how. In the mean time, I’ll keep feeding it, watering it, and giving it the best corner of my kitchen. And I am surprised and happy for every little globe of pure sun that it grows.
Happy Mother’s Day, friends. To all mothers, others, and everyone celebrating the day.
(loosely adapted from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook)
The lemons matter quite a bit here, and if you, like me, don’t live in a citrus state, you might have to search out just the right fruit. Meyer lemons are ideal as they’re a bit sweeter and more delicate, and if you can get organic or unsprayed lemons, do. You’ll be using lots of the zest. The flavor of the eggs comes through too, so if you have access to fresh eggs, this is a good place for them.
makes about 3 cups
just over 3/4 cup lemon juice, from 4-6 lemons
the zest of 4 lemons
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
just over 3/4 cup beaten eggs (4-5 eggs)
1. Set up a double boiler or put a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Combine the lemon juice, zest, butter, and sugar in the bowl of the double boiler over medium-low heat and stir occasionally just until the butter melts.
2. Add the eggs to the bowl, pouring them through a thin-meshed sieve–then whisk to combine.
3. Stir, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go, until the mixture thickens and gets creamy, about 10 minutes. Pour through a sieve into a jar, and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
How lovely! I LOVE lemons! I do live in a citrus state, but within this sunny state of CA, I reside in a tiny apartment! No lemon tree for me, but there are plenty around. I have been known to show up to a friend’s house with a bag and a smile.
I’m jealous of your California street trees! When I’m in the state, I’ve been known to (shhh) steal lemons from trees, just so I can hold them and smell them and remember what a real lemon is really like.
Reading this now, it strikes me how your outlook on caring for the lemon tree–learning with it, learning from it–is such a beautiful picture of mothering. Happy Mother’s Day to you, Alana!
Thank you, Shanna. It’s true- I think especially this year I’ve been thinking about how we all mother so many different things in our lives. We create meals and books and moments and gardens. And I think, for me, I come at each of these things in similar ways–in my case, probably we could characterize it as neurotic jewish mom alternating with laid-backness. 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day to you, too (in celebration of all the wonderful things you create and nurture!)
Grace @ Forsythia Root says
This is lovely! Just the other day, I was wondering what I could do to keep a citrus tree in Michigan. I’m rooting for you and your tree — if yours makes it, maybe I’ll give it a shot next year!
Funny, I just planted a lemon tree in my front yard, because despite living in sunny CA, only one corner of my back yard gets the required 6+ hrs/day, and that corner already houses an apple tree of some kind and something else — maybe peach? maybe apricot? Can’t tell yet. I hope the neighbors don’t mind. I don’t mind if they help themselves to fruit!
Elizabeth Beattie says
You must do Preserved Lemons!!! They are wonderful!! I asked for a dwarf meyer lemon tree for Mother’s Day. I hope to pick her out this weekend. I talk to my plants too and my lemon tree will be no exception. I am sure I will fuss over it just as much as you, even though I live in California. I am currently trying and miserably failing at growing Japanese Indigo. I won’t give up!
Oh, as I am typing this I am seeing a picture of Preserved Lemons below. I guess you have already made them then. 🙂 I need to set some time aside and peruse your lovely blog.
Oh- preserved lemons are just about my favorite thing I have in the kitchen. And congrats on the new lemon tree!
I’ve been a fan of your blog for about two years now, ever since a post you did on freezing your own corn kernels. I’m always in awe of the way you make the things that seem so difficult to me just something you do on a daily basis.
Of course you have a lemon tree in New England and manage to not kill it! I can’t even grown native squash here! Oh, your post warmed me up, made me feel sunny and happy; lemon curd has a way of doing that to me too.
I love lemon curd! I make mine in the microwave with a recipe very similar to the one you posted; whisk it every 20-30 seconds, keep tabs on it with an instant read thermometer, push it right up to 180°, sieve it. Takes 5-6 minutes all told. But – LIME CURD. Wait, even better – PASSIONFRUIT CURD. I’ve made it with a bottled passionfruit concentrate from Brazil; I used 1/4 cup (my recipe calls for 1/2 cup lemon juice). TANGERINE curd, even. Tangerine juice is a little wimpy for this; use lemon juice & LOTS of tangerine zest. Love your blog! (btw, you’ve mentioned preserved lemons several times – do you like Indian lemon (or lime) pickle? Basically the same thing with Indian spices. I can send you a link to a terrific recipe if you’d like)
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Hi, I’m a big fan of your book and your blog, though I don’t think I’ve commented before. How cool that you have your very own lemon tree!
I have tried making lemon curd in the “traditional” way, like you describe above, with no success at all. But a few weeks ago I came across this recipe at King Arthur Flour, and it worked like a dream: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/easy-microwave-lemon-curd-recipe
It never “mounded” as I stirred it, but after 9 minutes, I decided it had to be done, and sure enough, it thickened up beautifully while it cooled. So when your lemon tree comes back better than ever next year and you have more lemons than you know what to do with, give this one a try!
Oh, yes- King Arthur always wins! I’m a big fan. I don’t have a microwave, but I’ll definitely file this one away. Thanks so much for saying hello 🙂
After a wonderful surf through homemade foods I found your blog and the lemon tree got my attention big time!I have wanted a lemon tree for decades and never got one til 2 years ago hen a friend brought back one from Florida. It was so tiny! Barely had more than 3 leaves on it but I potted her (Miranda) and prayed for the best. This year same friend got me Meyer that was quite a bit bigger, maybe even 3 feet tall with a lot of blossoms. So Carmen joined with Miranda and the competition was on. Both are doing pretty well, got one whole lemon growing on Carmen!. With strange weather in New Jersey, both trees have been outside full time for only a week or two. Before that they spend many days and every nights . inside Thank you for telling us about the leaves dropping, I’m sure I would have had fits. Can’t wait to use my lemons for your recipes, so I’ll have to go buy some fore now.
Kelly Fox says
My mum makes this and it’s delicious. Last time she made it we used it as a filling injected into sponge cake pops! Sadly some tiny leafhoppers keep eating my lemon trees leaves and they are very hard to eradicate!