We called her Sexy Lexy. An exotic creature who came to our Manitoba town from Paris one summer. She knew everything there was to know about beauty. She always took lemons to the beach. We, of course, copied everything she did and by mid-July we all had wonderful golden sun streaks in our winter brown hair. We didn’t know then that lemon oil contains furanocoumarin compounds that act as photosensitizing agents, which increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light. We only knew that it bleached our hair in a most natural looking way. Sexy Lexy even understood aromatherapy before it had to name. The handkerchief in the pocket of her pedal pushers was always scented from rubbing it over of fresh lemon, extracting the aromatic zest from the tiny oil globes in the rind. She’d touch her hanky to her nose. “It clears my head and makes me feel good,” she’d say. “It helps me make up my mind.”
Don’t bother searching, because you’ll never find a lemon tree growing in Canada. It needs a hot dry climate. Lemons are thought to have originated in India, then spread to Persia and the Middle East. Throughout classical antiquity, lemons remained a rare luxury. Apparently, Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to the New World. They were probably saved from lemons eaten on his ship to prevent scurvy. But they didn’t do well anywhere except California, which now produces 80% of the United States’ national crop of this vitamin C-rich fruit.
The fresh antiseptic aroma of a lemon means purity, and manufacturers the world over are tuned into its uplifting, sparkling scent, using it in washing compounds, furniture polish, in soaps, shampoos and cleansers of every kind. As for food, a squirt of lemon aids fish as nothing else can. As a citric pallet cleanser between courses, classic lemon sorbet is the favourite. A lemon dessert means good taste and makes a sophisticated declaration about those who love its citric flavour. In fact, next to chocolate, it’s the most popular desert. The proof is in the pudding: as pies, cakes or cookies on many restaurants dessert menu will show.
Before you buy a lemon, smell it. It should have a fresh lemony scent. A fermented smell or even worse, no smell at all, means you should put it back. Next, examine the nipple. If it’s small, the fruit is immature and not very flavourful. Look for a heavy, plump, shiny, thin-skinned lemon.
As Sexy Lexy might say, “Listen, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade, then invite someone over to drink it with you.”
Spicy Jamaican Lemonade
two lemons squeezed to make 4 ounces juice
one 10 ounce glass of filtered water
one teaspoon grade C dark maple syrup
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients together, decorate with a sliver of lemon zest and drink cold with ice or hot with four thinly sliced pieces of fresh ginger root. Makes one very large glass.