I know what to do with bushels of zucchini and a cellar full of turnips, but when life gave me loads of lemons I was almost overcome by the riches. I’ve always coveted the lemon trees that grow in my sister’s backyard in California, the state that produces about 90 percent of the U.S. crop. When I visit her, I am baffled by how she seems to take those sunny fruits for granted.
Then a couple years ago my family moved for seven months from Vermont to the subtropical North Island of New Zealand. Early during our time down under, a friend and I ventured down the driveway of a vacant neighboring house and found a neglected lemon tree heavy with fat, golden orbs. Some had already fallen to the ground, soft and cracked, perfuming the air with citrus oil. The fruit had to be rescued, we agreed; it would be irresponsible to waste it. We picked armfuls of plump, fragrant lemons and carried them home—the first of a steady stream gathered over the next several months from that tree and others.
At home in Vermont, I was accustomed to buying lemons judiciously to accent seafood, brighten soups, stews and sauces, and flavor favorite desserts, but in New Zealand I used them with wild abandon. I made gallons of lemonade, grilled native, grass-fed lamb rubbed with lemon zest, roasted fish with herbs and lemon slices, whisked up citrusy vinaigrettes, baked soft-centered little lemon cakes and dolloped velvety lemon curd atop meringue to make pavlova, a favorite dessert in New Zealand. Our immune systems must have been dancing, and there was no chance that my family would suffer from scurvy like those vitamin-C-deprived sailors of yore. I also learned that C may improve heart health and even help reduce risk of cancer and stroke.