I Love Lemons

Lemons may be the most underestimated and underrated of all fruit.  When someone is asked to name their favorite fruit, how often do you hear the answer: lemons?

I’m not even sure I thought of lemons as a “fruit” when I was a child back in Chicago, Illinois.  Sure, we enjoyed glasses of cold, sweet lemonade on hot  summer afternoons (always made from freshly squeezed lemons, there was none of that powdered stuff back then). We even sold the beverage from a little stand in front of our apartment building, but no one we knew ever actually ATE a lemon!

And I remember my dad once made a Caesar Salad in our big mahogany bowl. I watched in amazement as he rubbed the bowl with garlic. He mashed an anchovy, then squeezed the lemon and made a paste before adding the olive oil.  Tossed with crisp romaine leaves, it was a delight for my young taste buds.  I can’t imagine Caesar Salad without that burst of lemon.

I love lemons!  I don’t mean that I’m inclined to peel and eat one the way I would an orange, but I adore how their acidity wakes up a fillet of fish, or a chicken breast.  Lemons are essential to a great hummus and make all sorts of pasta dishes and vegetables sparkle. Don’t get me started on lemon desserts; they’re my absolute favorites!

I’ve been trying to analyze why I find lemon-flavored food so compelling.  Could it be because the acidity clears my palate and makes all the other flavors more pronounced? Perhaps it is the lemon’s refreshing quality?  Lemon in food, whether juice or zest, is much like salt. It brightens the flavor of everything it touches. I can forego the drawn butter for my lobster as long as I have plenty of fresh lemon. Swordfish grilled with lemons and capers brings a spot of summer to a cold winter day.

Which leads me to wonder: Where do lemons come from? Lemons have been with us since antiquity. They are included with other fruits in the tomb paintings of the pyramids in Egypt. They came to the New World with Christopher Columbus and were brought to California by Brother Junipero Serra in 1796, Today, California is the leading grower of commercial lemons in the United States and the fragrant trees thrive in home gardens from San Diego to San Francisco, as well as in other temperate to tropical regions of US.

Today my cooking is very “lemon-centric.” Where friends and colleagues reach for the bottle of Balsamic, I’m inclined to slice a lemon and squeeze.  I try never to juice a lemon before I’ve removed the zest for other uses. Almost all my summer salads are enlivened with lemon juice. I love to close a dinner party with a luscious lemon dessert, as it satisfies the sweet tooth at the same time that it cleanses the palate.

The lemon has been a favorite addition to recipes for as long as there have been cooks. Its versatility is incomparable, lending its flavor-enhancing abilities to both savory and sweet. Its ease in growing only adds to its popularity. The lemon is often taken for granted, for without its culinary mutability, so many delights would be lacking. It’s no wonder that I love lemons!

Grilled Swordfish with Lemon and Caper Sauce

makes 6 servings

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large lemon, peeled, cut crosswise into 8 1/4″ slices, seeded, with their juice
2 tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
3 swordfish steaks cut 1 1/4-inch thick (about 1 pound each)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish

1.       Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat.  Stir constantly until the butter is light brown, about 3 minutes.

2.       Cut the lemon slices into quarters.  Add them (with their juice), and the capers, to the saucepan.  Reduce the heat and cook, shaking the pan several times, until the lemon and capers are heated through, about 1 minute.  Taste for and correct seasoning.

3.       Light a grill or heat the broiler.  Brush the swordfish with olive oil on both sides.  Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste.

4.       Grill or broil the swordfish about 4 inches from the heat, turning once, until charred outside and still slightly underdone in the center (3 to 4 minutes per side).

5.       Transfer the swordfish to a large platter and cut into thick strips.  Pour the lemon and caper sauce over the fish and serve immediately, garnished with the chopped parsley.

Lemon Coconut Squares

makes about 36 bars


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar


4 large eggs
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
grated zest of 2 lemons
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Rumfords baking powder
1 cup warmed honey
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut


1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup warmed honey
4 tablespoons ice cold water
4 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon pure Vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey)
pinch of sea salt
shredded unsweetened coconut for topping

For the crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Mix , sugar and butter together as for pie crust.  Pat into a greased jelly roll pan.  Bake in the heated oven for 20 minutes.

For the filling:  Beat the eggs until very frothy.  Add all the remaining filling ingredients and blend well.  Pour over the baked crust.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Cool and frost.

For the frosting:

1.  Beat the butter and honey together with an electric mixer for 8 minutes.  Add the ice cold water and then add the hot water, beating well after each is added.  Add the vanilla and salt and continue beating until blended.

2. Frost the cooled bars and sprinkle with more shredded coconut.  You can cut them is small squares and serve them as cookies, or in larger squares and serve them as a dessert.  Either way, they definitely promote finger licking.


  1. Matthew Fries, September 21, 2011:

    36 lemon coconut bars? That will feed me. What about my friends! Sounds too good to be true…

  2. June, September 22, 2011:

    Matt, you can always make a double batch.

  3. Sheena, September 24, 2011:

    June! I am loving the updated site…Those squares sound amazing…

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