Thursday, March 08, 2007

Whole Lemon Lemonade

I'm fortunate to have a mature lemon tree in the backyard of the apartment I rent, and most of the time there are plenty of lemons that can be reached from a normal sized ladder (for the higher ones, it would be great if I could find a "lemon grabber." Does such a device exist?). On warm weekend days, or when I go to a potluck or party, I try to make a batch of lemonade.

The recipe I use is a bit different from the standard method. Instead of pressing lemon halves on a juicer, I mash thinly sliced pieces of lemon with sugar, thus releasing the aromatic and flavorful oils from the peel and dissolving the sugar. The flavor is far more complex than standard lemonade. It's not for everyone, but I like it.

Whole Lemon Lemonade
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, July/August 1998

10-12 medium organic lemons
1 1/4 cups sugar
5 cups water

Measure the 5 cups of water into the pitcher or jar you plan to use for the lemonade in and place it in the refrigerator. For extra quick chilling, make your 5 cup measurement using a combination of water and ice cubes.

Wash and scrub the lemons very well to remove dirt and other garden residue. Slice each lemon in half length-wise, then cut into thin (1/8", 3 mm) slices.

By hand: Put the sugar and lemon slices into a big bowl or saucepan that has a flat bottom and that you aren't worried about damaging (e.g., don't use a pristine Le Crueset or non-stick pot) Use a potato masher to mash the lemon-sugar mixture. Keep mashing until it looks like most of lemon segments are all broken (i.e., juiced).

Using a stand mixer: Put the sugar and lemon slices into the bowl of the stand mixer (Do not put any ice cubes into the mixture! See note below.). Attach the paddle. Drape a kitchen towel or piece of newspaper over the mixer to contain any splattering. Turn the mixer on its lowest setting, and let it run for a few minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand.

Pour the water into the bowl and mix lightly by hand. Set a large strainer on top of a pitcher or mixing bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout). Pour the lemons and liquid into the strainer; scoop out whatever doesn't pour. Let it drain for a few minutes, pressing lightly to release more juice. Transfer the liquid to the serving or storage pitcher.

Replace part or all of the sugar with honey. I once tried using some piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar), and the color was an unattractive yellow-brown and the flavor was nothing special.

Replace a few lemons with limes, oranges or other citrus.

Important note about using a stand mixer:
Although it is tempting to put ice cubes with the lemons and sugar to cool it down faster, do not do this! I tried it once and one of the cubes became stuck between the paddle and the mixing bowl, causing the mixer motor to make a hideous sound (and untold internal damage).

Image Credit: Lemon photo from elroySF's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Random link from the archive: A Week of Eating (November 2006)

Technorati tags: Food


Robyn said...

A friend made a fruit picker for me. On the end of a broom stick, a "fruit-sized" collection bag is attached, to a wire loop. Firmly attached around the metal loop and up from the bag are a series of upside down 'u's shaped from wire. To pick fruit , position bag over fruit from below and manouevre so that the stem to which the fruit is attached is caught between 2 of the u's (the u's are about 1/4 of an inch apart), twist to break and the fruit plops into the cloth bag. It works for all sorts of fruit and friends often borrow it. My mother had my friend make several to give to her friends. Strangely he never had any success selling them at the local market.

Cheers from Waiheke Island, New Zealand where the fruit picker is getting used daily to collect peaches from the garden just now.

Anonymous said...

There is also a commercial citrus picker available. It looks like the protective frame from a hanging work lamp (drop light) attached to the end of a pole. For lemon, with are smaller than many citrus, have you considered the tool they sell at home stores for changing light bulbs in cathedral ceilings?

Anonymous said...

Hey Marc,

Nice post on Ethicurean!

I think you can probably get those lemons with one of those gadgets that are designed to change light bulbs in high ceilings.
just a thought . . .
The Ethicurean

Allison said...

If you are looking for an alternative to sugar, I often use AGAVE NECTAR. You can find it in regular or amber. The regular is clear and tastes very much like "simple syrup", and the amber tastes like maple syrup. I love them both because they are not simple sugars, and therefore much better on the glycemic index- think whole grain bread versus white bread- good for diabetics, and all of us really! Plus, you don't have to worry about making sure the granules have dissolved because it's already a liquid. They are all natural, no chemicals like sugar substitutes have, and they don't have that "fake sugar" taste.

Marc said...

Robyn, Nosher, and anonymous,
Thanks for the tips on lemon grabbing. I'll do some experimenting in the next few weeks.

Agave syrup is a great idea. I went to the store last night and bought a jar. I also found brown rice syrup from Lundberg farms (Richvale, California), which is worth a try.

richard-sparkletack said...

Have you tried this technique with Meyer lemons? It strikes me that the sweetness (orsmaller percentage of bitter oils) might make them an ideal subject for such treatment.

My mother has a small tree in her back yard, which sadly goes completely unpicked unless I schedule a mission to harvest... but what a treat.

Marc said...

Richard -- I have not tried making this lemonade with Meyer lemons. Sadly, I don't have a local source. I bought a small tree a while ago, but it has yet to produce a single lemon (the snails and slugs in my garden are ruthless and numerous). When I do get some Meyer lemons, making the whole lemon lemonade is high on my list of things to make.

glowray said...

Sounds like an awesome recipe. *skips to the kitchen to try it...*

Too bad I don't have a lemon tree outside in my Montana back yard.

Tara said...

Has anyone tried this with a power juicer, and just put the whole lemons in, peel and all? Any idea if that would work?

Emily said...

My grandfather made a fruit picker for his pear trees kind of like what Robyn described... really simple thing that amounts to a really long pole with a big can attached to the end. It totally works! Though I'm guessing the cloth bag on the other version might be a little gentler on the fruit...

Anonymous said...

I live in Bullhead City, AZ. I have a beautiful lemon tree. I am lucky to get about 50 lemons per year. My tree is now nine years in the ground. This year (January 2008) someone stole all my lemons not leaving me a single one. My tree is located in my front yard and they had to come onto my property to pick them. How sad that they felt they had to take ALL of my lemons. With the high winds we have, I lose a lot of blooms leaving me with little lemons. I hope that "FEMALE DOG" choked on my lemons. I do, get juicy sweet lemons and I don't remember what kind of tree it is. I Love lemonade and had to buy canned lemonade this year thanks to that "FEMALE DOG".

Anonymous said...

I never have a problem picking lemons from the top of the tree. Borrow a truck and load it with about 3 cubic meters of soil. Dump the soil beside the tree using wood to stop the tree from being pushed over by the dirt. Wallah!! top of tree now waist height, picking no problem.

Anonymous said...

Hey, tell that person that female dogs can be your friend; lemon-stealers maybe more difficult

Anonymous said...

Readers digest "Back to basics" book has a similar recipe. JFYI

Syd Kilbey said...


I have a blog on a related topic. I was thinking that it would be beneficial for both of us to exhange links. Please contact me at


Heidi said...

Simple DIY lemon picker (or apples, plums etc for that matter). you need a piece of dowel, or a yard broom handle, or a slightly-bendy thin branch like hazel/willow to the length of the highest fruits (in my opinion branch is best). You then need an empty (lid removed completely) washed and dried can (454gm size or bigger) with lid diameter large enough to get fruits in. With tin snips cut a 'V' approx 1" wide x 1 1/2"deep in top of can where lid used to be. Directly opposite to 'V' screw the can to the branch screwing from inside the can at top edge through into end of branch so can is hanging at 45 deg angle to branch (you may need to wire can on if very vigorous picking is planned ! Offer the can up to the fruit allowing fruit to fall into can and stalk into 'V'. A sharp gentle tug and the fruit is safely 'picked'.

Tandemann said...

If you would like to pick the fruit higher on the tree, buy yourself an avocado picking pole. This is a long pole with a cutter attached to a piece of rope that you pull, and a bag to catch the cut fruit. We use them all the time.

Edward Smokes said...

One of the homes I recently purchased had an orange picker in the garage. It is a long pole with a steel wire basket on the end. The basket is open and there are 4 steel hooks on the very end. Just raise it up to the lemon you want, hook the lemon and pull. Voila!