Last week, during our annual December trip to Southern California, Steve and I visited our lemon-grower friends in Ventura County, Bob and Sally Grether.
First they invited us to lunch. Mexican food (tamales, enchiladas, rice and refried beans) from a renowned little place in nearby Somis.
Then we climb into Bob’s Ford pickup (he always has a late model Ford pickup) and visit various blocks of lemon trees, stopping along the way for some picking.
For the fresh market, pickers use clippers to clip the lemons off the tree. But since we’re just picking a few for us to take home, we’re picking them without the clippers.
Even though the tree is full of mature lemons, there are also blooms and buds. Lemon trees in this region of California actually bear fruit all year long, a continual cycle of life defying the idea of seasons. Lemons are harvested four or five—even six—times a year here.
These mature lemons are on the same tree as the blooms. They have a green tinge but they’re ready to pick — since lemons are supposed to be sour, you don’t have to wait for sugar to develop. In the packing house, they’ll turn yellow before they’re sold to grocery stores or restaurants.
Bob said that Grether Farming Co., which sells through Sunkist, is planting a lot of Meyer lemons these days. “Chefs love ’em,” he says. The Meyer lemon is a natural hybrid of orange and lemon which was discovered by agricultural explorer Frank N. Meyer in China in 1908.
“They call this Walnut Avenue because there used to be walnut trees here, “ Bob says. “But in my lifetime, it could have been called Lima Bean Avenue and Lemon Avenue. And after I’m gone, it could well be Strawberry Lane.”
As we passed a strawberry field adjacent to a lemon orchard, the man on the left waved us down and offered us some strawberries. They were swollen from a recent rain and wouldn’t keep long enough to sell. They were tasty!
The last part of our lemon tour always takes us to the citron tree. Citron is a lemon ancestor which lacks juice but has a wonderful fragrance. Most citrons look like large bumpy-skinned lemons, but the Buddha’s Hand, with its segmented fingers, is an eccentric variety.
The scent of the Buddha’s Hand is said to evoke happiness.
They’re also used as a decoration. I think they did a lot to brighten up the table in our room at Motel 6!