About a month ago, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Ojai, CA to check out the Southern California lemon groves. The trip was sponsored by Sunkist, and so I got a true insider's glimpse of how citrus goes from those beautiful California groves to the shelf in my local market. I also got a chance to pick a lemon (quite a thrill for the girl who hasn't lived in LA since she was eight), see the Pacific Ocean and get a break from the frigid January weather.
I also learned a whole lot about Sunkist. Did you know that Sunkist is actually a cooperative organization, founded 115 years ago by a collection of growers, in order to better market their produce to a broader audience? There are current members of the co-op who are the fifth or sixth generation of their family to be involved with Sunkist. Knowing that certainly helped put a human feel on what had, in my mind, been a faceless corporate entity.
The trip also broadened my thinking towards using lemons in cooking. I tasted the most delicious fried lemon slices, that were amazing with fresh goat cheese (also made with the help of lemon juice) and am currently infusing a bottle of oil with lemons for some special salad dressings come spring. All the lemon tricks and recipes came from celebrity chef Jill Davie, who is Sunkist's official Lemon Lady and was a real treat to get to know.
For more facts about Sunkist lemons and some of Jill's recipes, check after the jump.
There are three major varieties of lemons: Eureka, Lisbon and Meyer (these are more of a specialty lemon and they will often be more expensive than your regular lemons).
Most of the lemons grown in California, Texas and Arizona head straight into the hands of the consumer. Fruit grown in Florida are most often turned into juice.
Citrus trees take about five years before they start yielding fruit, and can live up to 50 years. In commercial groves, the trees typically top out at 25-30 years. The older the tree, the smaller the fruit will be.
Most lemon trees spend their first two years in the nursery, getting grafted together.
Citrus doesn't take a whole lot of water to grow, making it a perfect crop for Southern California.
When the temperature drops below 28 degrees for more than four hours, citrus may freeze. Growers have larger propellers built into their groves that circulate air and help prevent freezing. They also use smudge pots on occasion, but as fuel prices rise, those have become less cost-effective.
All citrus fruit is handpicked, with the pickers taking great care to cut the fruit from the tree at the exact right point. A cut that is too low can cause the lemon to rot prematurely and cut too high, there's risk of damage to other fruit from the sharp stem.
Once lemons are picked, they continue to cure and turn yellow. They are often picked with large areas of green still on the fruit. While they are perfectly fine to use with a green skin, consumers are accustomed to buying yellow lemons and so they store the fruit to give it time to yellow up before taking it to market. When buying lemons, it's good to look for those with a greenish tip, as they will last far longer than the ones that are totally yellow.
In these times of food safety concerns, it's comforting to know that there has never been a documented food safety issue with citrus.
Quick Preserved Lemons
4 Sunkist lemons
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon black peppercornds
4 bay leaves
- Cut each of the lemons into 8 wedges, place them in a resealable plastic bag and freeze them for 12 hours.
- Remove them from the freezer and add the kosher salt to the bag. Reseal the bag and set aside for four hours.
- Remove the lemons from the salt and rinse them lightly.
- Dry the lemons and pack them in a quart jar with the peppercorns and bay leaves.
- Cover them with olive oil and let them sit at room temperature for three days; then refrigerate.
2 quarts whole milk goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Sunkist lemon, halved and seeded
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- Slowly bring milk and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
- Add the lemon and crushed garlic, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles (about 2 minutes).
- Pour the mixture into a fine mesh sieve.
- Remove the lemon and the garlic.
- Allow the cheese to drain for one hour.
- Reserve and chill the liquid.
- Chill the cheese.
- Cut the cheese into 12 wedges.
- Once chilled, store the cheese in the liquid in the refrigerator for up to four days.