My life in Lemons
My life is in lemons. I mean this literally, at least for a short period, this summer. We have a Meyer lemon tree that bore many large fruit—larger than those I’ve seen in Berkeley Bowl. For a while, the fruit weighed the tree down. So, taking pity on it, I picked most of its fruit and pruned the tree a la Japonaise—opening “the inside” of the tree—to allow more light through it.
I filled two baskets. And faced a momentary dilemma: What to do with two baskets, full of lemons?
I remembered a song from ages ago that went:
Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.
The lemons looked so beautiful that my first impulse was to paint them. So, I did, in oil.
I had almost forgotten how to paint in oils. Lately, my medium of choice has been digital or pastel and two years ago, when I last did an art class so I could paint nudes with a group, we were only allowed acrylics. But I love the “unctuousness” of oil and, since I am an inveterate “tweaker,” I’m grateful that I can keep reworking it for days. Here’s the result.
A propos of the second line of the song: that isn’t true, in my experience. I use lemons in dishes in so many ways, starting from its rind. Lemon rind smells wonderful and Meyer lemon is especially complex and heavenly. I grate lemon rind, all the time—a cinch, with a zester. The rind flavors cakes, sauces, lemonades, and savory dishes. Put some in your everyday coleslaw, for instance, and you take it to a yummier level. Use lemon juice, with a few grates of rind, in place of vinegar and you get a fresher tasting sauce.
Aroma is a huge part of how we define delicious. Remember that experiment from long ago? The one where tasters couldn’t distinguish between an onion and a strawberry when both were divested of their characteristic odors? That is where lemon rind comes in. Its taste is actually a little bitter and astringent but the essence of lemons can get you salivating, and you only need a little for it to do so.
I make lemonade, complete with grated rind. My choice of sweetener is honey. I also like lemon tart, without the meringue. Here’s my favorite recipe: Tarte au citron. I swear it’s the best because of the added heavy cream baked into the filling. It’s also made with a cookie-type crust which the French favor for sweet tarts. But here’s a French tart dough from David Lebovitz rather unusual for Americans.
Did you know that you can reduce the fat in tart crust but keep it tender by adding acid? Diana’s Desserts suggests one teaspoon per cup of flour. Acid (lemon juice or vinegar) prevents gluten strands from being too long, which happens when you work dough for a while (good for bread, bad for pastry crusts). I use either lemon juice or totally substitute a sour dairy product like yogurt or sour cream for the water needed.
Here’s a low-fat crust recipe I’ve worked out that gives me tender crust all the time. It’s a breeze to make in a food processor. I confess, I have neither the skill nor the patience to make this by hand. Besides, this method never overworks dough. I also choose taste (butter) over flakiness (lard); and add whole wheat for a bit of nuttiness and fiber.
Ev’s Relatively Low-Fat Crisp Crust
1 ½ cups unbleached flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
7 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp sour cream or whole milk yogurt (or use 2 tsps. lemon juice plus cold water as needed)
Cold water, if needed
Pulse all dry ingredients in a food processor. Stop motor. Cut butter into chunks and add to processor along with oil and sour cream. Whirl just until dough holds together, adding cold water a little at a time, if needed (I never do). Remove from bowl, shape into a “ball,” wrap in wax paper and refrigerate at least an hour. The dough may be frozen at this point. Roll out and use according to pie recipe. This makes a double crust.
I’ve used this crust for tarte au citron, in which case, I add sugar (2 tablespoons) and lemon rind.