Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wonders of Lemons

I’ve been thinking about lemons lately. Partly because I was remembering all those little tiny lemon trees everyone seemed to have in their foyer when I was growing up. And partly because I read recently about some uses I’d never heard of for lemons. I’m not sure why lemons are synonymous with faulty equipment and grumpy people, because in reality they are incredibly versatile and amazingly useful. There are many more uses for lemons beyond keeping your guacamole from turning brown or the water in the fancy restaurants from tasting bad. I’ve uncovered all kinds of information on and uses for lemons, so read on.

First, buying a lemon. A lemon with some green on it is not a bad thing. Temperature change is what makes a lemon’s skin turn from green to yellow, so just because it’s showing some green, doesn’t make it a bad lemon. Lemons should feel heavy in your hand and give a little when you squeeze them. You don’t want a lemon with thick, hard skin – it will be less juicy.

Lemons are powerful sources of Vitamin C. If you eat a whole lemon (not just the juice), you’ll have your day’s supply of vitamin C. The juice contains only about a third of the days supply. I remember making myself drink the juice of 2 lemons dilluted with water as a part of scheme to cleanse my system. It was not an easy feat, I made all kinds of odd faces and noises, but I did it. I'm not sure I felt particularly "cleansed", but I did feel a sense of accomplishment. I've never tried it again.

Lemons contain citric acid. If you’ve ever done any canning, you’ve probably used lemon juice as a preservative. (Maybe that’s why it’s so good for you – maybe it preserves us too.) It’s good for keeping raw fruit from turning brown. Spritz a little lemon juice on apples when you pack them in your kids’ lunches and they won’t turn brown by lunchtime.

Lemon peel is a great way to liven up a salad, dessert, sauce, or soup. When a recipe calls for lemon zest, it’s best to stick with real live lemon rather than the dried version in a bottle. The taste just doesn’t compare. Same goes for the “real lemon” you see in the store in those green bottles or plastic lemons – it’s juice that has been reconstituted and mixed with preservatives. The taste is not the same at all. Stick with real lemons or your recipes will suffer. If you’re going to eat the rind, you should opt for organic lemons whenever possible.

And here’s a tip for juicing. To get the most juice out of your lemon start by rolling a room-temperature lemon under your palm to break down the fruit a little inside. If it’s really hard, heat it in your microwave for 20 seconds. Another trick is to freeze the lemons overnight and then thaw them out. Each lemon should produce 2-3 tablespoons of juice.

When cooking with lemon juice, add it at the end of the cooking time or after the dish has cooked to minimize the loss of vitamin C. Here’s a completely aesthetic use - when cooking fresh vegetables, squeeze lemon juice over them to keep their colors bright.

Love this tip from recipes.com: If only a few drops of lemon juice are required, poke a toothpick through the skin of a lemon and squeeze out the small amount needed. Insert the toothpick back in the hole and place the lemon in a plastic sealable bag. Refrigerate to use at another time.
Another beauty from recipes.com: For fluffier rice, add lemon juice to the cooking water. (Fluffy rice is not generally a concern of mine, but maybe you like your rice fluffy. Just trying to be helpful.)

Lemons will keep about 2-3 weeks in your fridge. If you think your lemons might go bad before you need them, consider juicing them and freezing the juice in ice cube trays. You can then pile them in a bag and keep them in your freezer for future use. Before you juice those lemons, you can also grate off some zest and freeze it in an airtight container for future use.

Now, on to the lemon’s amazing cleaning abilities!

1. Cut a lemon in half and dip it in salt for a gentle abrasive you can use on brass, copper, or stainless steel pots, pans, and sinks.

2. Rub a lemon (without salt) on aluminum to brighten it.

3. Lemons tossed in the disposal will deodorize it.

4. To remove stains from a Formica counter top, squeeze fresh lemon juice over stain to cover it and let it soak 30-45 minutes. After soaking, sprinkle spot with baking soda and scrub softly. Rinse with clean water.

5. Remove food stains and odors from hands by rubbing with a cut lemon.

6. To remove laundry stains from whites, mix 1 part lemon juice to 1 part cream of tartar and apply the mixture to the stained area. Let it stand for a few minutes and then remove with a wet sponge.

7. To remove rust from a surface, sprinkle the area with salt and then squeeze fresh lemon juice over it. Allow to sit for several hours (over night if necessary).

8. For rust on washable clothing, apply salt and lemon juice to the rust stain and then place it outside in direct sunlight. Expose it to the sun until the stain disappears, keeping it moist with lemon juice during this time.
9. Add 3-4 tablespoons to your humidifier to deodorize it.

10. Dab lemon juice on a cotton ball and place in your fridge to deodorize it.

11. Use a cut lemon half and rub it over your cutting boards to deodorize and help sanitize them.

12. To get rid of ants in your house, squeeze lemon juice on your thresholds and window sills and any cracks or crevices where the ants are getting in and scatter lemon peel outside your door.

13. Here’s another great one from Reader’s Digest: Lemons are effective against roaches and fleas: Simply mix the juice of 4 lemons (along with the rinds) with 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water and wash your floors with it; then watch the fleas and roaches flee. They hate the smell.

14. Remove underarm stains by rubbing them with equal parts lemon juice and water.
15. To remove rust and mineral deposits from cotton t-shirts, add one cup lemon juice to washer during wash cycle. Heck use it as a whitener on any laundry – it’s safe and effective and better for the environment than bleach.

The things lemon can do for your health and beauty:

1. Use as a cough suppressant, mix 1 part lemon juice and 2 parts honey. Do not give to children under the age of 1 (that’s a honey thing).

2. To sooth a sore throat, drink honey and lemon tea. (also helps a cough)

3. To create highlights in your hair, add ½ cup lemon juice to ¾ cup water, apply to hair and then sit in the sun. (this seems like a much better option than chemically highlighting your hair. Plus it’s a heck of a lot cheaper!)

4. To lighten dark spots on skin, apply lemon juice directly and allow to sit for 15 minutes before removing.(If this works you could save a lot of money on the dermotologist!)

5. Clean and whiten your nails by soaking them in a lemon juice bath (juice from half of a lemon with 1 cup of water).

6. Use as a mouth wash. Swirl lemon juice around in mouth. Swallow it if you’re game for longer lasting fresh breath and lots of vitamin C.

7. For poison ivy, apply directly to affected areas to reduce itching and rash.
8. Apply lemon juice directly to warts for several days. The acid in the lemon juice will eat away at the wart and remove it.

I’m not sure all of these modern lemon miracles work, but lemons are cheap and won’t hurt you, so it’s worth a try! Anyone have some more lemon tips?

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