About 8 or 9 years ago, I embarked on a lemon odyssey of travel, research and discovery.
I found lots of good company in my obsession. Like Pieter Claesz and other seventeenth-century Dutch still-life artists who loved painting lemons–not only because they’re beautiful but also because they symbolized exotic luxury and desirability.
Or Frank N. Meyer, an eccentric plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture who walked (yes, walked) thousands of miles across Asia to collect hardy plants — and in 1908 discovered the lemon tree in a Peking courtyard that’s now named after him. On one three-year journey, Meyer walked 1,800 miles on narrow mountain trails, weathering howling icy dust storms and snowstorms. In only three months, he wore out three pairs of boots. I didn’t get to actually meet him, but….
Eleonora Consoli in her kitchen at Viagrande, Sicily
I did meet Eleonora Consoli, an authority on Sicilian cooking when I visited her at her home in Viagrande, Sicily, on the slopes of Mount Etna. Signora Consoli loves cooking with lemons–juice, zest and even leaves– and has a lemon tree in her courtyard.
"I'm bullish on lemons," says Bob Grether. "I'm an optimist."
And Bob Grether, a delightful second-generation farmer in Ventura County, who has taken me on many tours of Grether Farming Company’s citrus orchards. His equally delightful wife, Sally, always has a pitcher of fresh lemonade in the refrigerator.
Mario at his lemonade stand, August, 2007
And Mario di Paolo, of Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street in Chicago, my hometown. Mario & co. make fabulous lemon ice, very much like the granita of Sicily.
Lemon and peach granita in Acireale, Sicily
For American lemonade, try my recipe in the page above.