Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Thin-skinned lemons

Photo of Persian lemons (sometimes called sweet limes or sweet lemons) at the La Cienega farmers' market, in Los Angeles, by Chotda, Flickr Creative Commons.

The lemons from Clear Lake, it turns out, were likely Ujukitsu lemons. They were and are wonderful, and I’ll be back soon with more information on citrus in unexpected places.
Here's the thing: With more than 70 varieties of citrus grown in Houston these days, and nearly 200 grown by one gardener 50 miles southwest of here, things in the tart and sweet scenario have grown confusing, to say the least.
Here's my piece on Houston Press's food blog, Eating Our Words, about my mistake in citrus ID-ing.
(Next, here's what I wrote, *before* doing the research for the Houston Press piece:)

When life gives you lemons in your very own yard, pick them gleefully. That is, do so if they’re Persian lemons. 

These lemons are a recent discovery for me.  Until this week, they were just the curiously round, thin-skinned yellow fruit that I picked from a friend’s back-yard. 

The yard ran down to a canal from Clear Lake, an arm of Texas’ Galveston Bay. It’s an area near NASA, so maybe space-age citrus was in order. Still, these lemons turned out to be ancient fruit. 

Like, Gardens-of-Babylon-age fruit. Or, at the very least, they’ve been popular in Iran and the Middle East for a long time, and people eat them at the first sign of a cold. 

We brought those decidedly lumpish fruits inside, thinking that they resembled ungrown grapefruit more than lemons. My pal sliced them in half, juiced them as we watched raptly, and handed me a glass an inch or so full of the opaque yellow juice. 

I looked dubiously, noticing that no sharp, lemon-fresh scent rose from the glass. What was this?
Cautiously, I allowed my lips to meet the juice and drank. Wha-at? The juice from these lemons was that strangest of all considerations: sweet. 

The juice was foamy, frothy, soft to the mouth. Its citrus flavor was delicate, like the kindest of grapefruit. 

We’d established that this was not a Meyer lemon – the yard had Meyers as well, on a different tree, which we had left alone.  I haven’t been a fan of Meyers from the store, although I’ve yet to have one fresh.  

I’m saying, though, that these lumpy lemons were different. 

At my pal’s urging, we each happily filled a carrier bag with the charmingly misshapen citrus, carrying them home like pleasing treasure. 

I waited a couple of days to juice one or two more. In the meantime, the thin-skinned darlings lay in a crisper drawer on their sides. 

A few times, I pulled open the drawer just to look at them. I waited, because I didn't want to sully them with the wrong approach. 

Then, I juiced. I filled the bottom of a glass once more with the opaque liquid. I tasted.

Would the lemons taste the same, away from the citrus trees along the leafy edge of the canal? 

Their flavor was…exactly the same. Even in my kitchen, they had the same beautiful and surprising mouth-feel.
But what were these lemons?

They remained a wonderful mystery. My mother, who works at a natural food grocery, insisted they were Meyers. 

I felt strongly that they weren’t, because I liked them so much better. 

A few days later, I found Chowhound discussing the topic, followed by a link to a blog with the LA Times.

Persian lemons.

They could be grown from seeds, the blog said. An Iranian-American kid in LA had grown some in a back-yard, from a seed from a local Mediterranean grocery. 


New lemon enthusiasm!

{p.s. Since then, I also ran across this cool So-Cal blog that also mentions Persian lemons.}

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