Life Gave Me Fifteen Lemons
April 23, 2019 9:49 PM   Subscribe

"I got fifteen lemons in the mail from a California friend with a lemon tree. This is what I did with them." An illustrated essay by MeFi's Own jessamyn (further story background on mefi projects). Includes secret messages, ideas for a lemon menagerie, and a variety of foods/meals. Also features community, and friends near and far. 🍋
posted by rangefinder 1.4 (52 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Candied lemon peel! Every time you use a lemon only for the juice, you can keep the peel and make candied peel. It takes a bit of time but the recipe is ultra-simple, it's better than the stuff you get in stores, you can make it in cool shapes, and it lasts for ages.

You can add herbs or spices and then people are all like "wow, you're really a chef" when all you did was boil some sugar. Or use very long, finely cut spirals of the stuff to top a cheesecake and then people are all like "such toothsome, very culinary" when all you did was boil some sugar. Srsly!
posted by ianso at 12:27 AM on April 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

I loved this! Thank you for posting it. It was such a simple story, but it had me hooked. I wanted to know what jessamyn was going to do with every single one of those lemons!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:55 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's gonna burn your house down... with the lemons! I'm gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!
posted by Segundus at 1:03 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Go in lemons, jessamyn!
posted by zamboni at 2:08 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

(Maybe this was a deliberate decision not to do this / too on-the-nose, but when I saw the 15 emoji lemons at the beginning, I half-expected there'd be a lemon emoji countdown throughout the essay.)

I grew up in a position of lemony privilege (lemon tree at my folks' place) and yet still feel like I could really broaden my knowledge of lemons and lemon utility, so I found the essay helpful. We shared lemons with other people in person, but it never seriously occurred to me to pack and mail them.

On another note - for various reasons, the origin story of this story + the story itself struck a chord with me in a strong way. The photos, different projects, creativity (e.g. the animals and lights were a nice touch, and I appreciated seeing the follow-up for the invisible ink) were all woven in an interesting way with the commentary and the encounters with friends. The foods sounded great and the lemon Dutch baby pancake photo made my mouth water. This would make a great book.

When I got here:

However the weather is great and Spring is in the air. I remember a thing I used to do in high school, back when I met the friend who gave me these lemons.

This -- and the rest -- unexpectedly got to me (in a good way). I had to stop here for a bit before continuing, and then after finishing the last couple of paragraphs I had to take another few minutes to gather my bearings.

Good friends from my youth have been on my mind a lot. Reading this reminded me of when I used to share apples with a friend in high school -- a simple, ordinary thing back then, and in retrospect it's turned out to be a cherished memory of a friendship that I miss. Within the past year or so, I've been fortunate to reconnect with other friends I'd met as a kid. Soon, I might get a chance to see another old friend I haven't talked to in person for almost 20 years. At this point in my life I'm especially grateful to remain friends with a few lovely people who accepted me during those teenage years -- even though we all then basically grew up in different places.

Sending the box of lemons was kind, and jessamyn's project was more than a fitting answer to "You know what to do." I'm going to share this with my friends.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:27 AM on April 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

New rule: When life gives you lemons, make lemontardigrade.
posted by skippyhacker at 4:05 AM on April 24, 2019 [17 favorites]

Despite being about lemons, this was very sweet.
posted by 41swans at 4:06 AM on April 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

I know that this is dumb but I never really knew that lemons grew on trees until I visited California about fifteen years ago. I'm not sure where I thought they came from, other than the supermarket, but I was a little taken aback to see lemons and oranges growing on trees. Even now they still looks fake to me, like you've just glued the fruit onto the branches.
posted by octothorpe at 4:09 AM on April 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

For those of us who have to watch out salt, lemon peel is often used in salt substitute. Citrus enhances the taste of salt so you can use less of it.

Lemon can replace red wine vinegar in a simple vinaigrette.

Lemon infused simple syrup is easy to make (simply drop lemon peel, without pith, in simple syrup as it cools-the heat in the syrup will release the oil-pick out the peels). You can use it in cocktails, lemonade, or to sweeten iced tea.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:27 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was thinking of doing a painting of twenty lemons. It only now occurs to me that if I buy twenty lemons to paint, I will have twenty lemons that I have to use.

I think I'm going to take a short cut and make lemonade.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:53 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

The lemon dutch baby was the yummiest looking.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:56 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hah! This was awesome. I have a friend who works for the Smithsonian and she's super passionate about not wasting food and cooking with leftovers - sent this on immediately.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:04 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: lemony privilege
posted by zamboni at 6:22 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a little lemon tree in a pot. It spent last summer on the front porch, and it was growing Two (2) lemons! They were still green, but quite definitely lemons. I was looking forward to using them in a martini to toast to the end of summer. But the squirrels got them. Apparently squirrels like lemons? Who knew? Not this Southern Ontario boy, who never grew up near a lemon tree.

Anyway, I enjoyed Jessamyn's story, even though it lacked lemon rind martinis.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:38 AM on April 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

In my experience in South Philly, squirrels *liking* something that one is growing is not a requirement for their choice to engage in wanton destruction of plants. I had a tomato plant once with a main stalk as thick as my thumb, and came out one day to find they had chewed through the stalk beaver-style, knocked over the decapitated remains, and left the tomatoes to rot. Fuckers.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:46 AM on April 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Metafilter: lemony privilege

My friend's sister had three Meyer lemon trees in her backyard in Mountain View. She had lemony privilege. When they were kids, they had a whole orchard of grapefruit trees in Arizona.
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:17 AM on April 24, 2019

A lemon of known origin, sliced thinly and nibbled on slowly without sugar (perhaps salt or pepper, though) including the peel is one of life's joys.
posted by scruss at 7:22 AM on April 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

A friend of mine who had recently moved to the Southwest rented a townhouse with a lemon tree in the back. Come January he has more lemons than he knows what to do with so he sends an email to 30 grad school acquaintances inviting them all over for a "Lemon Party."
posted by nestor_makhno at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

even though it lacked lemon rind martinis.

That's the trick, isn't it? I asked my friends on facebook what to do with all these lemons and so many of them were like "You surround them with alcohol!" I barely drink, my liquor cabinet is basically Frangelico, marshmallow vodka, and coconut rum, so that was a no go. Did not want to preserve lemons only to have to then deal with them later. Had a limited amount of sweets around the house (that pound cake lasted me weeks). Every time I used up another lemon I'd send a note to my sister who would say "You have HOW many left now?" and we started using the phrase menaced by lemons. I think I have seen every lemon gif there is because she's sent them all to me. I got these lemons over a month ago but I still have a jar of lemon vinegar cleaner (which smells amazing) and some suagr scrub in a peanut butter jar which is an accident waiting to happen but in the meantime smells amazing. I'm so glad people enjoyed this. It was fun to write.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2019 [23 favorites]

I had to google "tardigrade" and now that I know what one is, I'm both much happier and way more weirded-out.

I like this essay and when people do stuff like this.
posted by elmer benson at 7:37 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

menaced by lemons would be a killer sockpuppet name
posted by lazaruslong at 7:39 AM on April 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

I LOVE that lemon pig!
posted by BibiRose at 7:43 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Every year when our lemon tree comes in, well, it's lemon season in California, so if you get in fast you can maybe get a neghbor to take a grocery bag full and juice them, but... after I've zested and juiced and frozen the results of all my arms can stand, I start thinkng about the costs of shipping vs the costs in the grocery store.

I'm sure that my local grocery stores have lemons for way less than in other climes, but it's one of those "sending a USPS flat rate box costs about $20, is that really cost effective?"

Anyway, come the change of the year I'll be making that calculation again... Our little dwarf Meyer turns out hundreds and hundreds...
posted by straw at 7:45 AM on April 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've lived in California for twenty years now and am very familiar with the "holy cow what do I do with all these lemons?" problem. My sister solves it by making lemon-ginger marmalade to give away as holiday gifts. Me, I make a lot of salad dressing: I haven't bought salad dressing in several years. Also I bake a lot.

But what I learned this week was that you can freeze lemons and limes and juice them later! It's so great to learn this.
posted by suelac at 8:46 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure tardigrades qualify as a MeFi favorite
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:47 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this sweet, tart and juicy post. Also: lemon tardigrade FTW.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Food + narrative + pictures is basically my favorite thing to read. This was so charming! It read a lot like a picture book with the lemony countdown. I am now craving lemonade.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:15 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

*Eyes four-count-them-FOUR avocado trees in back yard. Eyes Jessamyn’s mailing address. Eyes trees...*
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 9:32 AM on April 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

This needs to be a counting book, with whimsical illustrations, like, today.

Also, my favorite community theater stage manager makes homemade limoncello, and it's SO GOOD. Requires all the rinds of all the lemons in existence and a lot of waiting, but very worth it.
posted by xingcat at 10:00 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

What a lovely journey.
posted by Splunge at 10:05 AM on April 24, 2019

> This needs to be a counting book, with whimsical illustrations

Yes, cosigned. Baby's first lemony countdown.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:18 AM on April 24, 2019

The evolution of Lemon Pig to Lemon Tardigrade (and eventual decline) was fantastic. This would be a really cute countdown book.
posted by Fig at 10:46 AM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is just to say
I have used all the lemons
that arrived
in my postbox

Which you probably
meant for me to
make into lemonade

Thank you
They were useful
and so tart
posted by zamboni at 11:17 AM on April 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

I had no idea that this was exactly what I needed to see today! 🍋❤️🍋
posted by bookmammal at 11:34 AM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you
They were useful
and so t art
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:09 PM on April 24, 2019

Lemon peels in vinegar as cleaning solution sounds way better than my normal cleaning solution: no lemon peels in vinegar.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:23 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Such a beautiful bitter-sweet story and a lovely presentation. Thanks, Jessamyn.

I think it is Gabrielle Hamilton who wrote some time ago that you can always use lemons, and I agree. I'm sure I go through at least a lemon a day. Today I ate out, but yesterday I used lemon juice in stuffed aubergines, and over my Greek salad. I could've and should have used some rind in the aubergine dish, come to think of it. The day before yesterday, I was really tired and just made some pasta with vegs from the fridge. And lemon juice. To me, it's like a seasoning. Try it with everything. And make citronfromage.
posted by mumimor at 2:40 PM on April 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Xingcat, I thought similarly; a 6- or 7-year-old kid's first crafty/cook-y book, with a familiar cadence for them from when they learned to count backwards: "Now I have four lemons."

Reading it made me feel that age, in a good way. It also gave me some ideas for future meals! Thanks, Jessamyn!
posted by droplet at 2:58 PM on April 24, 2019

a lemon with clove eyes, eight pushpin legs and some sort of weird metal thing for a mouth
The global sum total interested audience for this factoid is very likely to be zero, but the weird metal thing is Apple part number 076-1075, the retaining housing that secures the rubber foot on an iBook G4.

My extremely good cool brain forgets my own age all the time, but god forbid it ever let go of something important like this
posted by churl at 3:23 PM on April 24, 2019 [22 favorites]

posted by jessamyn at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Lemon is probably my favorite U2 song and video. I can't think of many other lemon songs, but they're all good... The Lemon Song by Zep, Baby Lemonade by Syd Barrett, WPLJ (White Port & Lemon Juice) by Zappa...

posted by not_on_display at 6:40 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've made my own lemon-pepper seasoning, and it's awesome. Needs a bunch of lemons to get enough zest, six supermarket sized ones, maybe four of these. Peel the rind from the pith with a vegetable peeler, and bake in the oven at 200 degrees for two hours until dried out and brittle. Pop 'em in a mortar with a bottle of mixed peppercorns (mostly black, with some pink and green mixed in) and a tablespoon of toasted corriander seeds. Zingy, fruity, much nicer than the readymade mixes, keeps well in the fridge.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:08 PM on April 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

→ WPLJ (White Port & Lemon Juice) by Zappa

ahem …

Others may include:
  • As Lemons Chop by Robyn Hitchcock
  • Black Lemon Sauce by Anton Barbeau
  • Blind Lemon Blues by Leadbelly
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson by Ramblin' Jack Elliott
  • Cast in Lemon & Sand by Heathered Pearls
  • Face Like A Lemon by Ivor Cutler
  • Iron Lemonade by Black Moth Super Rainbow
  • Lemonade by Ivor Cutler
  • Lemonade Grrrl by Joanna Gruesome
  • Lemon and Little Lemon by Deerhoof
  • Lemon Flower by Ivor Cutler
  • Lemon Horses by Casper & the Cookies
  • Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul & Mary
  • Lemon Yoghourt by Manitoba
  • My Friend Blind Lemon by Leadbelly
posted by scruss at 9:02 AM on April 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Preserved lemons in salt and lemon juice is one of my favorite things. I almost-quarter a bunch of organic lemons, stuff the insides with salt and put in a large Mason jar. Then, I zest the remaining lemons (and put the zest in the freezer) and squeeze lemon juice until I have enough to cover. I usually keep it in the refrigerator, but my food-scientist friend says that, between the salt and acidicity, I could probably leave the jar on the counter.

They're great on chicken or fish, delicious and unexpected in vinaigrettes, and really wonderful with steamed vegetables with the peel minced, and a little butter. They're also great with pasta.

(Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?)
posted by dancing_angel at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

So I just found this spicy lemon pickle while I was looking for another recipe and thought I would share it because it looks delicious.

Also I put lemon halves inside of a chicken before I roast it.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:42 PM on April 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is great and also to be honest in Jessamyn's place I probably would have just made 15 whiskey sours
posted by capricorn at 7:04 AM on April 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

My weird lemon tardigrade has been slowly rotting on the countertop. My sister has been having a little trouble at work, there's a renovation going too slowly and she's getting a lot of heat for it (for things not her fault) from a guy who is not her boss who has attitude problems. I have put his name on a little card in front of the rotting lemon and I sent her a photo of it every day. The lemons are still working.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 AM on April 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Swedish Lemon Angels

As soon as I saw this, I was taken back to a time when Penn & Teller were fun and not assholes, so thanks for that.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:03 PM on April 26, 2019

I can't think of many other lemon songs

Oranges and Lemons is a traditional English nursery rhyme (you might recognize it as playing a part in Orwell's 1984). It's also the title of an album by XTC (the one with Mayor of Simpleton on it).
posted by Chrysostom at 11:12 PM on April 26, 2019

  • Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul & Mary
A bit of trivia (which I can't find a citation for at the moment): At some point in their career, PP&M agreed among themselves that they wouldn't play songs that all three of them didn't believe in. One (or more) of them came to object to "Lemon Tree," in particular the line "Don't put your faith in love, my boy," and thus they never performed "Lemon Tree" after that.

As evidenced by this thread, the line "But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat" is also untrue.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:59 AM on April 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is an even better post considering the answer to jessamyn's recent AskMe ended up being "lemonhead."
posted by terrapin at 10:47 AM on May 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

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