On August 1, 2020, I sat down in a little cafe in the heart of Franklin, IN. With an abundance of coffee and pastries by our sides, my Plus One and I wrote for six hours straight. He wrote a movie analysis and I wrote this, a little reflection on life and lemons. We were participating in a competition, hosted by the Franklin Creative Council, called Art to Finish — a challenge to create something from scratch within a six hour period and in the location restraints of the downtown courthouse square. Six hours seems like a long time, and it is, but that day I was tired and I didn’t have that creative spark that I normally like to have when I sit down for a long stint of writing. Nevertheless, we wrote. Very unexpectedly, I was awarded second-place in the adult writing catagory for When Life Gives You Lemons. Maybe it’s just my inner critique or perfectionism, I know it’s not the best it could be. When I read back through it a week later, I want to add, edit, and polish it up, make it perfected. However, I’ve given it thought and to preserve the challege — the time and location constrants that we were given — I’m posting this here in it’s original form it was created, untouched from that specific day. I’m so greaful for the oportunity to have had six straight hours to do nothing but create something souly from my immagination. It’s flaws and imperfections are apart of it’s story and charm.
When Life Gives You Lemons
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Can a saying be so cliché that it loops around to being original again? I guess it would depend on who you asked, but I’ll make the stretch and say yes, at least for this unusual year. For me, 2020 has been the year of the lemon. Within the past five months, I’ve made more with lemons than I have in all my 23 years. Not only have I made lemonade, but numerous recipes have called for the yellow citrus. Ever since I was little, I love cooking in the kitchen. From baking in an Easy-Bake Oven to creating dinners and pastry dishes in my suburban kitchen, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of cooking. Maybe it is just a way of coping through these times of uncertainty. Cooking and creating bright, zesty dishes to lighten the days at home have been a way to make the most with what this life has handed me.
Lemons are naturally acidic with a touch of tart sweetness by nature. Although the origin of the lemon is unknown, they are thought to have first grown in Assam, a region in northeast India, northern Burma, or China. Lemons have so many uses that they have entered into many cultures’ food and drinks. Juice, peel, oil, and leaves — all parts of the lemon can be used to create bright dishes. Here are the dishes I have made numerous times this year.
Lemon turmeric tea cake – This was my first lemon endeavor. I had been self-quarantined in my home for about 30 days, it was a rainy mid-week day and a pick-me-up was necessary for my mental health. I received Alison Roman’s cookbook, Nothing Fancy, in the mail from Wild Geese Bookshop, a local bookstore in Franklin, IN, in the mail just a few days before and took the opportunity to flip through its glossy pages. I landed on the lemon clad recipe that when baked in the oven, made my whole kitchen smell what I imagine would be the color yellow if it was a sent. Turmeric dotted the counter, lemons rinds were zested, then the fruit was sliced in half and juiced. In with the flour, non-fat Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, and salt a batter thick yet smooth was poured into a parchment paper-lined pan. Before placing it in the oven for an hour, I cut thin slices of lemons and placed them on top of the panned batter then sprinkled it with sugar. When pulled out of the oven, the lemon slices caramelized and the became a citrusy crust. It sat in the middle of my kitchen counter as a symbol of brighter days to come. I cake the whole tea cake in less than two days.
Lemonade – It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when my Plus One and I broke out the stash of lemons in my fridge, sliced them open, and juiced them to make homemade lemonade. It was the first time either of us has made lemonade since we were kids. Using the juicer to squeeze the lemons took me back to the time I had a homemade lemon stand when I was eight, although I had to look up the ratios, of sugar to lemon juice to water. Most recipes I found instructed to boil water and lemon juice on the stove then add the sugar in until it dissolved into a thick paste. In that process, there was the multiple hour wait for the mixture to cool before serving. Being impatient and unwilling to wait hours for the lemonade to cool, we found one recipe online that said you could just add the lemon and sugar together and whisk until the acid from the lemon juice broke down the sugar. Which is what we did, and then we added water and instantly had room temperature lemonade that we could pour over ice and enjoy at our pleasure. It was a perfect way to spend the mid-June afternoon.
Preserved Lemons – In Morocco, lemons are preserved in jars or barrels of salt. One weekend in the middle of July, I decided to bring the salty and sweet citric acid ingredient into my kitchen. Preserved lemons require whole lemons, salt, and then additional elements to add hints of flavor. The lemons are quartered yet left attached at one of the ends, they look like yellow flowers starting to bloom. Each lemon is placed inside a jar until there are so many that the juices start to leak and cover the rinds. With lots of salt added into the acid and over weeks of preservation, the granules of salt soak into the cut lemons through osmoses, they become soft and the juice lightens into a semi-sweet liquid. The salt brings out the sweet flavors and light aromas of acidic citrus. In the end, I fit ten lemons into a 24-ounce Mason Ball jar, piling on the salt between each layer and then adding into it some bay leaves and peppercorns. The next step is to find an original Moroccan recipe for my newly made preservations.
Blueberry lemon pie – My latest creation that has lemons in the ingredients is a blueberry pie. In the cold butter, flaky crust sat blueberries coated in a concoction of flour, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. The tartness of the lemon brought out the deep essence of the blueberries. When baked, the juices boiled out of the holes and leaked onto the top crust. After chilling for 24 hours in the fridge to solidify the juices in a jelly, served with vanilla Häagen Dazs ice cream, the pastry was the perfect way to end a summer night under the stars and comets.
Over the spring and summer, I’ve made many more lemon dishes, but these are just the few that have stood out to me in my endeavor to create with lemons in my kitchen. This year has taught me how to take even the bitter things and turn them into something bright.
Number of times I’ve mentioned lemons: 34