We’ve all heard to the point of tiresome the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Well, I have a better idea. When life gives you lemons, head for the nearest casino or buy a lottery ticket.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in my column about a friend who came into a goodly supply of California lemons and I gave, as usual some lemony recipes. Well, as it turns out, there is a good deal more to her lemon story than I thought, and after she called and told me of her crazy experience involving one of those lemons, I decided to share (with her permission) that story and pass along some other interesting lemon lore.
To protect her identity, (she’s laughing as she reads that, I know), I’ll refer to my friend with the lemons from hereon as simply L.
L drives a lemon yellow pick-up truck and, as it happens, is as fond of both lemons and the color of lemons as I am.
One afternoon not long after she had received her treasure of lemons, she was waiting in the parking lot outside a movie theatre complex to pick up her granddaughter and the granddaughter’s friend after a movie. In the open back of her truck was one of her lemons, a particularly huge one. It was, in fact, about the largest lemon L had ever seen, which is why she’d tossed it in the truck to show to a friend on her way back to the island.
As she sat there, a car pulled up very close in the parking space to her right and, as L watched, an Asian lady climbed out of the car, grinning hugely.
The lady walked around to L’s driver-side window, and tapped on it.
L opened the window and the woman began pointing to the lemon in the truck, asking, “What is, what is,” in, as L said, “rather broken English; I had some trouble understanding her.”
L told her it was a lemon; the lady said “Oh, I thought grapefruit; so big so big. But wonderful, it’s lemon.” She then asked L if she could please hold the lemon, because, as she eventually explained to L, lemons were very strong good luck and she only wanted to hold it for a few minutes. Puzzled and a bit taken aback, L said sure, that would be fine and L told me the woman then stood there for several minutes, in the parking lot, holding the lemon and rubbing it all over, grinning all the while.
She finally handed the lemon back to L, thanking her profusely and said, “Now I go to the casino; I have very good luck now because your lemon give it to me.” And she left.
L was both amused and surprised. As she said to me, “I’ve never had anything like that happen in my life before, but you can bet I’m not parting with that lemon now, that’s for sure.”
I was intrigued, so I did some research on lemons and, indeed, they are considered lucky in many cultures. In India, for example, a string of seven green chilies, one lemon and a small piece of charcoal, tied above the main entrance to a home, brings joy and good cheer to its occupants and wards off evil. A balm made of lemon oil and peel is believed to strengthen the mind, calm nerves, help heal wounds and promote longevity.
And in most Asian cultures, simply having lemons present in a room will guard against evil spirits and bring blessings and good luck.
In some European countries, a concoction of bitter lemon and vodka is thought to repel vampires, and those who drink it regularly swear it works because they’ve never seen a vampire. What other things they may have seen as a result of the vodka and bitter lemon wasn’t discussed. But, if you want to dream of your next love, rub lemon peel on the headboard of your bed, and if you also put a lemon under your pillow, you’re ensured of sweet dreams.
So, lucky L still has her huge lemon and last I heard, she, too, was planning a brief visit to a casino, with the lemon in her shoulder bag. She promised to let me know if, in fact, we can count ourselves lucky when life gives us lemons.
Naturally this calls for more lemony type recipes, which I have a lot of. Lemon is a wonderful ingredient, bringing out flavors in virtually any sort of dish from appetizers to dessert, and I’m never without them in my kitchen.
This first recipe is a type of cake many of you may recognize; it was very popular back in the ‘70s and a favorite of mine because you could create so many different cakes depending upon what cake mix and instant pudding you used. I still make this one often.
LEMONY LEMON CAKE
1 lemon cake mix
1 small package lemon instant pudding
¾ cup vegetable oil
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ lb. butter
½ cup limoncello (lemon flavored liqueur)
½ cup lemonade
1 jar lemon marmalade or preserves
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Beat together the first five ingredients for 5 min. Spoon batter into a well-greased bundt or tube pan and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45-50 min., or until top is set when you lightly touch it and sides just begin to pull away from pan.
About 5 min. before cake is due to be done, melt butter along with the lemonade and limoncello. After removing cake from oven, pierce all over with a long skewer or long-tined fork and pour butter/lemonade mixture over the cake immediately. Allow cake to cook in pan for 10-15 min.
In a small pan over low heat, melt the lemon preserves with the remaining fresh lemon juice. When the cake is cool, glaze it with this mixture.
Note: If this is too lemony/tart for your taste, use orange or apricot preserves and substitute brandy or rum for the limoncello. Also, because John loves lemon poppy seed cake, I often throw a half cup or so of poppy seed into the cake batter before baking.
I have perhaps a dozen recipes for lemon bars or squares, each a tiny bit different. This is, I believe, my favorite.
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ t. salt
½ cup butter
4 large eggs
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ t. salt
2 T. lemon zest, or ½ t. lemon oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling on top
Make the crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers or a mixer, cut in the butter, mixing until it form coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into a lightly greased 9×9-inch (or 11×7) pan. Bake the crust in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 min., or until golden brown.
Make the topping: In a med. bowl, beat together the eggs, granulated sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Stir in flour, salt and lemon zest or oil. Pour the topping over the hot crust and continue to bake for about 25 min., or until topping appears set. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar just before slicing and serving. Makes 16 squares, unless you cut really big ones.
Margaret Walton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.