One curious thing to know about lemons:
In the Middle Ages, cooks first got the idea to serve lemon with fish. Not because it tastes so good (which it does) or because the tartness of the lemon balances the oiliness of fish (which it does), but because they believed that if a fish bone accidentally got caught in the throat, the acidic juice of the lemon would dissolve it. I'm not making this up. Though we know today that lemon juice isn't powerful enough to melt bones, we also know it's a powerful flavoring that makes any time of year seem like summer. And while I'm all in favor of eating locally grown food, I'm grateful to the infrastructure that brings me lemons from warmer climates all year round.
Cooking or baking?
Both. The essence of the flavor resides in the zest (outer yellow part of the skin), which can be removed with a Microplane-type grater; both zest and juice are used in cooking and baking. Here's a tip: if a recipe calls for zest and juice, zest first. It's almost impossible to zest a cut lemon!
Whole fruits last for 1-2 weeks on the counter top (if you're buying just-picked lemons in California or Florida, they will last longer); cut lemons should be stored in the refrigerator, in a container with a tight-fitting lid, for up to 2 weeks. I didn't know that you can freeze whole lemons, but according to Still Tasty, you can.
Lemon lavender cookies
Our friend Lucia received a gift of culinary lavender for her birthday, and her first experiment with it took place in our kitchen, where she and my husband Ted made these scrumptious cookies. The recipe is adapted from Baking Illustrated, by way of When Harry Met Salad. If you don't have lavender, try making these with an herbes de Provence mix that has lavender in it. Makes 4 dozen cookies.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grated lemon zest + 2 Tbsp juice, from 1-2 lemons
2 tsp dried lavender
1-3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1-1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
In a food processor, pulse the sugar, lemon zest and lavender until the sugar looks damp and the ingredients are fully incorporated, about 30 seconds.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add this to the sugar mixture. Pulse 10 times to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, and pulse until the mixture resembles fine cornmeal, about 15 one-second pulses.
In a measuring cup, beat together the lemon juice, egg yolk and vanilla. With the machine running, add the juice mixture in a slow stream and continue processing until the dough forms a ball, 10-15 seconds.
Turn the dough onto a clean work surface, and gently gather into a ball. Working quickly, roll the dough into a cylinder 12 inches long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, twisting the ends together to seal (this helps the dough hold its shape). Chill the dough until firm and cold, 45 minutes in the freezer.
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking liners (Silpats) or parchment paper.
Remove the dough log from the freezer, and unwrap it. With a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 3/8-inch thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, spacing them one inch apart.
Bake until the centers of the cookies just begin to color and the edges are golden brown, about 12-14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the pans for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese
Lemon walnut yogurt dessert
Whole wheat lemon-lime yogurt cupcakes
Zucchini with golden raisins, pine nuts and lemon
Other recipes that use lemons:
Lemon-glazed madeleines, from David Lebovitz
Baked lemon pasta, from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Greek lemon chicken, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Lemon drop martini, from The Food Whore's Recipes
Lemon aioli, from Panini Happy
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.