My parents were never without fresh lemon in the kitchen, although as I grew up we started to use lime more frequently in dishes where lemon had previously been used. Nowadays I'm much more selective about my choice of citrus fruit for a given use.
Ripe lemons on tree
Buddha's hands lemons
Lemons ripening on tree
Probably Central Asia.
The origin of citrus species is unclear because of their ancient cultivation. The species c. limon is thought to be native in Central Asia and some wild populations of lemon can still be found in Iran. Today, lemons are cultivated in many tropical and subtropical countries, with the US and Mexico the main producers. In Europe, most lemons stem from Spain and Italy. The related plant citron is of comparatively little economic value and is mostly grown in Sicily, Greece and Corsica.
The peel (pericarp) of the fruit is used as a spice and the fruit juice is also of culinary value. The thick pericarp of the related citron is used to prepare candied lemon peel or succade.
Rutaceae (citrus family).
Lemon has a characteristic, refreshing and sour odour. The fruit juice is sour but very refreshing.
Genus name citrus is derived from Greek kedromēlon "apple of cedar". The Greek mēlon is cognate to the Latin malum "apple" but this name did not signify lemon but the related plant citron whose cultivation in Egypt was reported by Greek travellers.
The Romans shortened the Greek name to citrus and names for lemon in a large number of European tongues derive from this, e.g. German zitrone, Czech citrón, French citron, Latvian citrons, Polish cytryna and Hungarian citrom, all of which mean "lemon". Some languages have similar names for the more ancient fruit citron, which should not be confused with lemon: Croatian četrun, Polish cytron, French cédrat, Italian cedro, Russian tsedrat and Greek kitro. The botanical species epithet of citron, medicus, alludes to the Central Asian Medes, who supposedly introduced citron to the Mediterranean countries.
German zitronatzitrone "citron" is a simple tatpurusha compound with primary word zitrone "lemon" and determinative element zitronat "succade" meaning "lemon whose peel is used to make succade". The same applies to Hungarian cédrátcitrom and to Finnish sukaatti. In Dutch, citron is called muskuscitroen "musky lemon". The term succade "candied citron peel" is probably derived from Hebrew sukkot or sukoth, which refers to the Jewish "Feast of Tabernacles", a religious rite involving citron fruit, etrog and myrtle branches, hadas. Some sources trace the name back to Latin succus "juice" and a third possibility is to relate succade to sugar or a cognate (e.g. French sucre).
Lemons were brought to Europe during the Crusades. Medieval and older sources referring to lemons actually mean the highly aromatic, but juice-free citron, which was recognised as the biblical apple. Today, citron has still retained some cultic importance in the Jewish religion, where it is seen as s symbol of fertility. In antiquity, citron was more grown as an ornamental and medicine than for food, with the Romans preferring vinegar and occasionally sumac berries to establish sour accents in their cuisine.
Lemon is mostly valued for its juice, which displays a unique, intensive acidity which is at the same time tart and fruity. There is hardly a single cuisine in the world that does not make use of lemon juice or the similar, but more aromatic, lime juice. Lemon juice is especially popular in the Eastern Mediterranean, e.g. in Lebanese tabbouleh and also in Italian cuisine.
Lemon juice (and sometimes also grated lemon peel) is the key ingredient in the famous Greek yolk-lemon sauce avgolemono. In its simplest form, this is prepared from fish or meat broth, lemon juice, egg yolks and a pinch of black pepper. Possible elaborations include cornstarch or wheat flour as an additional thickener, or the addition of butter to make the sauce richer. Avgolemono is a wonderfully creamy, light and refreshingly acidic sauce, usually served with boiled meats or vegetables but also made into a more hearty soup by adding rice or noodles.
In Western cuisine, fried or grilled fish is nearly always served with a dash of lemon juice, which mitigates the typical fishy smell and makes it more pleasant. Lemon juice is also often employed to prepare refreshing salads, especially in the Mediterranean countries. It intensifies the flavour of many fruits and a few drops of lemon juice plus a dash of sugar creates a slightly sweet-sour tang that can make many vegetables more interesting. Outside of the tropics, lemon juice is often used as a substitute for lime juice.
Culinary usage of lemon peel (lemon zest) is less important. Lemon peel is good for types of food that are prepared with lemon juice, for example fish soups or fish stews. The traditional Southern Austrian stew ritschert, made from white beans, smoked meat and pearl barley, is prepared with a little lemon peel. In Southern Italy, where lemons are plentiful and always fresh, there are pasta sauces made from whole chopped lemons, or lemon juice plus lemon peel.
In Morocco, fresh ripe lemons are pickled with a large amount of salt and after ripening are used as flavouring. Pickled lemon peel is an indispensable spice of Moroccan cooking and frequently used in the meat stews known as tagines.
When lemon peel is grated, care must be taken to limit the amount of the white albedo "mesocarp" as the essential oil and hence the aroma is exclusively located in the outer thin yellow pericarp, whereas the mesocarp is bitter. It is virtually impossible to avoid the bitter mesocarp completely, so grated lemon peel will always display a slightly bitter quality. This bitterness makes lemon peel inappropriate for delicate dishes and sweets for which lemon essence or candied citron are superior.
The contemporary culinary importance of citron is due to its thick peel, which is cured in salt water and then candied. The product obtained, named inaccurately candied lemon peel or succade, is often used to flavour cakes and in Central Europe it is often employed for the cakes and biscuits served at Christmas. Besides the culinary types, there are also ornamental breeds of citron grown for their large, aromatic and often spectacularly shaped fruits. An example is the cultivar known as c. sarcodactylus, which is known as "Buddha's hands".