On lemons, lessons, love.

Meyer lemons 2015

I don’t want to jinx things or tempt fate, but it’s looking like I will make it through 2015 and into a new year. Which means it’s about the time that I normally compile and share my 50 Happy Things list, the time-limited, year-in-review free-write that I started a couple of years ago to give me perspective during short dark winter days, to ensure that when “Larkey, pity party of one” came calling, I would have other plans.

And I would be sharing that list with you today, except that last year’s list sparked an idea for one of my blogging friends, and at her suggestion I’m going to do something different this year, a group thing, on Monday, which is supposed to be a surprise. So I can’t tell you anything other than that it’s coming Monday and I hope you’ll like it. And yes, I did say that it’s a group thing. If you know me in real life then you know I’m not much of a joiner. However, I do make exceptions, and this is one; so there.

Since I am now without an end-of-year post for today but nevertheless still trying to keep my weekly habit and also in an out-with-the-old/in-with-the-new frame of mind, we shall instead talk about lemons.

A few years ago Adam Holland (best known as the Unorthodox Epicure and one of my first blog followers), posted this great primer on Meyer lemons. And so I bought a Meyer lemon tree from Adam’s friend and former business partner Stan McKenzie, who lives in South Carolina and sounds on the phone exactly like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. I bought a lemon tree so I could make lemon curd and limoncello and salad dressing and French 75s. I bought a lemon tree so I could have lemons, which I love.

When the bare-root tree arrived a week or so later, Bernard said, what’s this; and I said, I bought us a Meyer lemon tree; and he said, you mean you bought yourself a Meyer lemon tree, because this is all you, Jennifer, your Meyer lemon tree, your project.

And then he proceeded to find a suitable pot and fill the bottom with gravel and scoop some compost from the deep part of our compost heap and some potting soil from when he planted the crape myrtles. And he potted my Meyer lemon tree and put it in a nice, warm sunny spot so that it would grow, because Bernard actually reads directions and had read the entire pamphlet that Stan the Citrus Man had sent with my tree.

The first year in the tree’s life, a pinball year when we bounced around through a host of ups and downs, my tree produced a bounty of fragrant blooms and not one single fruit.

It was the year that started with our downstairs heat going out during the polar vortex, the year my mother-in-law told me I wasn’t welcome in her house, the year we got Lulu, my favorite dog of all time ever, and Bernard totaled his car and Outstanding in the Field came to Memphis. It was the year I was constantly half in, half out, when I thought I might want to take my writing seriously but wasn’t sure how, the year I tried and failed at launching a second, food-oriented blog, the year I finally started leaving behind things I didn’t really need.

At the end of the year, with no lemons to harvest, I went to Whole Foods, bought 18 Meyer lemons from the Meyer lemon bin so we could at least make limoncello, a whole gallon, which I thought we could give for Christmas presents. And by we, I mean mostly Bernard, who, as I mentioned, actually reads directions.

My second tree year, the year that seemed to go off without a hitch, saw another bounty of blossoms, followed by a harvest of three fruit.

It was the year I took my son to Sacramento to visit Harriet. The year I hatched a host of ideas, when I was fat and happy and at the top of my game, cooking and writing and speaking and driving projects at work and at home. It was a year of mild summer and plentiful sun. And at the end of the year I had three precious, soft, lovely, fragrant Meyer lemons, the start of something good.

I put them aside carefully, considered what to do with them, what special treat I could produce. After a week or so Bernard said, if you don’t do something with them soon they’re going to end up in the compost heap; and I said, there aren’t enough to make limoncello and I can’t decide what else to do with them; so Bernard said, just juice the damn things and freeze the juice. Which seemed a bit unceremonious, but that’s what we (meaning Bernard) did, because those three lemons were both a victory and a quandary.

This year, our third year of tree ownership, the year that seemed full of dead ends, our tree produced another bounty of blossoms, which became, at year’s end, 10 beautiful, ripe fruit.

It was the year I turned 50 and the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death, the year my son struggled through seventh grade and my hair turned fully gray and Lulu died in my lap and my big dinner book/blog project fell apart and my boss retired and my company was acquired by another, bigger one. It was the year I was, for at least a short while, in the dark and unpleasant haze of depression.

Near the end of the year, just a week or so ago, we harvested an armful of plump, fragrant Meyer lemons from our lemon tree. The tree that Bernard carefully pollinated by hand, the one I watered and washed (to get rid of the scale), that he then rotated in the sun so it would grow evenly. Our lemon tree, a product of time and patience.

Last night we, meaning the two of us, wiped clean those soft lemon skins, carefully grated the zest (more than enough for one good batch of limoncello), then squeezed and bagged almost a quart of luscious juice.

I think I will make lemon curd for Christmas, I said, because I kind of feel like cooking. And Bernard said, how about I put the juice in the freezer, just in case; it will be there when you’re ready, either way.


P.S. – I had lunch recently with my 76-year-old friend David, the ornithologist and retired pilot whom I haven’t see in real life in almost eight years (who, by the way, after reading what I wrote about him, now declares himself a devout atheist and not just an atheist). After lunch and a discussion of many, many things, mostly related to books and the environment, David gently informed me that his bird-watching summer place is in Canada, not France. He said I didn’t need to correct my post, he just wanted me to know, wanted me not to be ignorant. But since he also made me feel like a blushing badass by paying me an overly-generous compliment (saying that I had grown up to remind him of a young Gloria Steinem), I figured the least I could do was set the record straight.

P.P.S. – I’ve just finished a book that was, just as Nancy Pearl promised, a lovely, lovely book: etta and otto and russell and james. I enjoyed every bit of it, even at the end when it reduced me to tears.


  1. Even when I have no frame of reference as to your topic, I love the rhythm and flow of your words… I find your thoughts and honesty refreshing… never failing to make me think… Thank you for writing 🙂

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  2. Today was one of those Alexander — no good, very bad, terrible, horrible — days, for no good reason than perhaps family of all generations being done in by the need for a solstice. This was the best bright spot. Thank you.

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  3. You are lovely. Your Bernard, your lemon tree, your full head of gray, your way of saying it all just so with neither too many or too few beautiful words lined up in delicious rows. I wish I could toast you with some of that Limoncello (she says in a very forward, New Jersey manner.)
    So glad I will be joining you on Monday with sweet Dawn.
    Here’s hoping that your three French hens and two turtle doves behave in the coming week. Very merry and happy 2016. Cheers to you, Jenny.

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  4. Wow! For someone who didn’t “have an end of year blog post” you take my breath away, as you always do with your wonderful words and beautiful heart! Love everything about your world, Jennifer and so glad you’re in mine! Happy New Year; Merry Christmas, and here’s to champagne in 2016.

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