Although we’ve been living in our home for over 6 months now, I still call it new as there’s so much I keep learning. I have daily gardening lesson, and I can tell you Mother Nature is not the most patient of teachers. However, she (and the previous owner) blessed us with two bountiful lemon trees. I’ve stuck with the adage that everything is better with lemon and have not been wrong. We’ve had lemoncello, lemon confit, preserved lemon, lemon poundcake, lemon curd, lemon sorbet, you get the idea. The thing is (and its kind of bothering me) I have no idea of the variety of lemons. I’ve ruled out Meyers, but that is about it. There in lies the mystery, I am determined to solve.
For this girl from the midwest, I am learning a thing or two about lemons:
- We get fruit all year round (everbearing), unlike apples that only develop in the spring, I have a constant supply of citrus.
- Citrus trees have thorns (I found out the hard way). Not all thorns are created equally, the kefir lime branches were a force to be reckoned with, thankfully my lemons are not.
- Lemons can get really big – ours could be mistaken for grapefruit.
- Citrus trees need fertilizer, having a garden is teaching me that there is more work to do beyond the initial planting.
- They are great for bribing kids to pull weeds. You give them one and its amazing “my lemon smells the best E-V-E-R” Note: all the kids were under 10 and had their parental supervision.
Some of the Varieties Out There – Could They Be My Lemon?
My trees are dense with leaves and lemons from blossoms to fully ripe fruit the size of a grapefruit. They are almost seedless and the skin is denser than the store bought lemons I was accustomed to, and smoother too. So there’s a host of suspects and I am hoping to narrow down the possibilities. But first, can I just say, I had no idea so many lemons existed.
Armstrong – Discovered in a private grove at Riverside, California, about 1909. Patented in 1936 by Armstrong Nurseries. Resembles ‘Eureka’ except that it usually bears seedless or near-seedless fruits.
Avon – first noticed as a budded tree in Arcadia, Florida. It produces heavy crops of fruits highly suitable for frozen concentrate.
Bearss (‘Sicily’, but not the original introduction by Gen. Sanford in 1875, which disappeared) – Believed to have been planted in 1892, discovered in the Bearss grove near Lutz, Florida, about 1952. Closely resembles ‘Lisbon’. It constitutes 20% of Brazil’s lemon/lime crop. –
Berna (Bernia, Vema, Vernia) – Ripens mostly in winter; fruits keep well on tree until summer but become too large. This is the leading cultivar of Spain and important in Algeria and Morocco. It is too much like the ‘Lisbon’ to be of value in California.
Bonnie Brae hails from San Diego County and is oblong, smooth, thin skinned and seedless.
The Bush lemon, a naturalized lemon, grows wild in subtropical Australia. It is very hardy, and has a thick skin with a true lemony flavor. The zest is good for cooking.
The Eureka lemon grows abundantly cyear-round. It originated from seeds taken from an Italian lemon (probably the Lunario) and planted in Los Angeles in 1858. The fruit is tender, juicy, very acidic. Commercially grown in Israel, and one of two leading cultivars in California. It is also known as “Four seasons” (Quatre Saisons) because it produces fruit and flowers together throughout the year. – I THINK WE HAVE A WINNER
The Femminello St. Teresa, or Sorrento is native to Italy with zest high in lemon oils. It is the variety traditionally used in the making of limoncello. –
Genoa – introduced into California from, where else Genoa, Italy, in 1875. Almost identical to Eureka. Grown commercially in India, Chile and Argentina.
Harvey – of unknown parentage; was found by Harvey Smith in Clearwater, Florida. It resembles a Eureka.
Interdonato – a lemon X citron hybrid that originated on property of a Colonel Interdonato, Sicily, around 1875; crisp, juicy, very acidic and faintly bitter. Earliest in season; mostly fall and early winter. Tree are usually thornless, and account for 5% of Italy’s crop.
Lisbon – originated in Portugal; reached Australia in 1824; first catalogued in Massachusetts in 1843; introduced into California about 1849. Fruit are almost identical to Eureka juicy, very acidic, with few or no seeds. Main crop in February, second crop in May. While not well adapted to Florida and low-yielding/short-lived in India, it surpasses the Eureka in California.
Meyer – a hybrid, possibly a lemon X mandarin orange; introduced into the United States by Frank N. Meyer, who found it growing as an ornamental potted plant near Peking, China, in 1908. It is moderately acidic with medium lemon flavor; and small seeds. Grown for home use in California and Florida -has some commercial use for concentrate though the product must be enhanced by adding of peel oil from true lemons, since ‘Meyer’ peel lacks flavoring properties. It is also fairly extensively planted in Texas and in Queensland, Australia, and New Zealand.
Monachello (Moscatello’) – suspected of being a lemon X citron hybrid; elliptical, medium-small; peel yellow; tender, not very juicy, no sharp acidity. Bears all year but mainly winter and spring.
Nepali Oblong (Assam’, ‘Pat Nebu’)–originated in Assam; fruit resembles citron in some aspects; very juicy, of medium acidity, with few or no seeds. Everbearing. Tree large, vigorous, spreading, medium-thorny, prolific; foliage resembles that of the citron. Commercial in India.
Nepali Round–of Indian origin; round, juicy; seedless. Tree large, vigorous, compact, nearly thornless, medium-prolific. Successfully cultivated in South India.
Perrine–a Mexican lime X Genoa lemon hybrid created in 1909, but still a fairly typical lemon; tender, very juicy, with slightly lime-like flavor but acidity more like lemon. Everbearing.
Ponderosa (‘Wonder’; ‘American Wonder’)–a chance seedling, possibly of lemon X citron hybrid, grown in Hagerstown, Maryland around 1886; juicy and acidic. Everbearing. Grown for home use and as a curiosity in California and Florida and in small-scale commercial plantings since 1948. Rather widely cultivated as an indoor potted plant in temperate regions.
Rosenberger–a clone found in a grove of ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Villafranca’ trees at Upland, California. Fruit is somewhat like ‘Lisbon’. Became popular in California in the 1960’s.
Rough Lemon – perhaps a lemon X citron hybrid, but has been given the botanical name of C. jambhiri Lush. Believed to have originated in northern India, where it grows wild; carried in 1498 or later by Portuguese explorers to southeastern Africa where it became naturalized along the Mazoe River. From there it continued on to Europe, and brought by Spaniards to the New World; is naturalized in the West Indies and Florida.; It is medium juicy, medium acidic with a moderate lemon odor and flavor. The scant pulp and juice limit the rough lemon to home use.
Santa Teresa–an old tree discovered in a ‘Fermminello Ovale’ orchard in Italy that was devastated by mal secco, yet remained disease free. Budded trees from the original specimen were being commonly planted in the 1960’s wherever the disease was prevalent in Italy. I am guessing the name came from the fact it survived where other lemon trees were not so lucky.
Sweet Lemon (C. limetta Risso)–a general name for certain non acidic lemons or limettas, favored in the Mediterranean region. In India, they are grown around the Nilgiris, Malabar and other areas. The fruits are usually insipid. The tree is large, resembling that of the orange. One cultivar, called ‘Dorshapo’ after the plant explorers, Dorsett, Shamel and Popenoe, who introduced it from Brazil in 1914, resembles the ‘Eureka’ except for the lack of acidity. Another, called ‘Millsweet’, apparently was introduced into California from Mexico and planted in a mission garden.
The Variegated Pink is a varietal of the Eureka or Lisbon cultivars. The flesh and juice are pink or pinkish-orange instead of yellow.
Villafranca–believed to have originated in Sicily; introduced into Florida, from Europe around 1875 and later into California. Closely resembles ‘Eureka’; of medium size. One strain is everbearing; another fruits heavily in summer. This was the leading lemon cultivar in Florida for many years; is cultivated commercially in Israel; is low-yielding and short-lived in India. It is little grown in California.
The Verna is a Spanish variety of unknown origin.
The Yen Ben is an Australasian cultivar.
The true home of the lemon is unknown, though the clues point to northwestern India. From there perhaps southern Italy in 200 A.D. and cultivated in the Middle East by 700 A.D. It was prized for its medicinal virtues in the palace of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria in the period 1174-1193 A.D. Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds on his voyage in 1493. Lemon grew in California between 1751-1768, and Florida in 1839. Commercial cultivation to compete with Sicily took off in Florida and California after 1870 and grew to the point where 140,000 boxes were shipped from Florida alone.
In the past two decades, Guatemala developed commercial lemon culture, primarily for the peel oil for its essential oil industry and the dehydrating the fruit to a powder for reconstituting into juice. Lemons are rarely grown for the fresh fruit market in Latin America. In South America, Argentina leads in lemon culture with Chile a distant second. The world’s leading lemon growers and exporters are Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, South Africa and Australia. The Philippines even gets in on the action but only at medium and high elevations.
The marketability of lemons depends on the stage at which they are picked. Italian lemons for export are harvested as early as possible and are naturally “cured” in transit. Early on, California and Florida lemons were allowed to remain on the trees but they became too large. Growers soon realized that early picking was vital and California and Arizona growers adopted the practices of picking at any time after the fruits reach a 25 % juice content. Mechanical picking is impossible with lemons, as they are prone to oil spotting and cannot be handled roughly or picked wet.
Slices of lemon are served as a garnish on fish or meat or with iced or hot tea, to be squeezed for the flavorful juice. In Colombia, lemon soup is made by adding slices of lemon to a dry bread roll that was sautéed in shortening until soft and then sieved. Sugar and a cup of wine are added and the mixture brought to a boil, and then served. (Note: I tried to find a recipe, but could not, if someone has one I can post, I would love to share.)
Lemon juice is used for lemonade, in carbonated beverages, or other drinks. It is also used for making pies and tarts, as a flavoring for cakes, cookies, cake icings, puddings, sherbet, confectionery, and preserves. A few drops of lemon juice, added to cream before whipping stabilizes the whipped cream.
Lemon peel can be candied at home and is preserved in brine and supplied to manufacturers of confectionery and baked goods. It is the source of lemon oil, pectin and citric acid. Lemon oil is a flavoring for hard candies.
Other Uses (I bet you did not know some of these)
Lemon juice is valued in the home as a stain remover, and a slice of lemon dipped in salt can be used to clean copper-bottomed cooking pots.
Lemon juice has been used for bleaching freckles and is incorporated into some facial cleansing creams.
Lemon peel oil is much used in furniture polishes, detergents, soaps and shampoos. It is important in perfume blending and especially in colognes.
Petitgrain oil (up to 50% citral), is distilled from the leaves, twigs and immature fruits of the lemon tree in West Africa, North Africa and Italy. With terpenes removed, it is greatly prized in colognes and floral perfumes.
Dehydrated lemon peel is used as cattlefeed.
Lemonade, when applied to potted plants, keeps their flowers fresh longer than normal. But not on chrysanthemums as it turns their leaves brown.