When I was a little girl, everyone had a lemon tree in their garden. Some might say, dinosaurs roamed the earth back then. Well, while dinosaurs may be extinct, I would be very sad if the days of the backyard lemon tree went the same way.
The thing is, people are busier, house blocks have become smaller and houses have grown in size, leaving little room or inclination for the lemon tree, not to mention the ubiquitous vegetable garden, fruit trees and chooks (chickens). After all, what are supermarkets for?
We were children of the post war era. Our parents and grandparents had been through wars and the Great Depression. They were from resilient stock whose frugal ways ensured pantries stocked with home grown produce and preserves, and you guessed it, lemons. Mmmm, just think: lemon butter, lemon meringue pie, home-made lemonade.
So what about the lemon tree?
I’m happy to report I have one! Yes, even in my little courtyard there is room for lemons to flourish. But it’s not the kind I’ve had in the past. There isn’t enough room for that. This lemon tree is a dwarf form of the Meyer Lemon, specially developed for small spaces. Called Lots A Lemons, it has sweetly-scented blossom and a steady supply of full-size, juicy, smooth-skinned fruit all year – perfect for pots and a tiny courtyard.
After a little research I discovered the lemon has an interesting and long history:
The lemon (Citrus x limon) is a fruit tree that belongs to the genus Citrus, Rutaceae family, to which belong also citrus fruit, such as oranges, tangerine, bergamots, citrons, grapefruit.
The common name “lemon” can refer both to the plant and to its fruit: it is an ancient hybrid, native to India and Indochina, typical of warm regions, halfway between the pomelo and the citron, but for centuries, an independent species which spreads through scions and grafts.
The lemon is native to India and Indochina: it was first described in Roman times since I century in some paintings from Pompeii, even though it seems that the first citrus fruit of the Roman world was citron, known among Romans as “Persian apple”. Another lemon’s description appears in some Indian wrights of the XII century: the word limun in Arab, refers to all citrus fruits. Therefore, it might be possible that in ancient times the lemon and its properties were already known to the Arabs and called, together with the other citrus fruits, limun .
The lemon arrived in Europe in 1200 b.C.: its first cultivation is known in Sicily (Italy); later in Genova (Italy) and in 1494 in the Azores (Portugal). (ref).
Little wonder the lemon has become so ubiquitous and been so highly valued; enough to take pride of place in the Australian backyard over the decades.
Its versatility for use as a food, in medicine and pharmacology, in the perfume, cleaning and liqueur industries, has ensured its place as a ‘king of fruits’. Claims have been made for the lemon’s therapeutic properties down through the generations.
Does anyone remember the warm lemon juice and honey remedy for sore throats? It was a highlight for me as a child and almost worth the pain of being sick. Oh, and what about the faces we could pull when sucking on a lemon!
“When life hands you lemonade, don’t try to make lemons”
― Vince Guthrie