It’s mid-winter. My backyard lies dormant like a sleeping sprawl, saving energy for the burst of green that will appear in the weeks to come. Dormant, that is, except for the zealous lemon bush that fills one corner of the garden. In contrast to the rest of the scene, our Meyer lemon looks like Carmen Miranda come to the party. Where all else lies fallow, this bush is heavy with fragrant, soft-skinned yellow fruit–its abundance striking against the rest of the yard.
We are not alone. All around our neighborhood I see similar displays; trees and bushes bursting with citrus of all kinds: oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, and lemons waiting patiently for someone to find a use for the bounty.
I came home from work a few days ago to a heap of fresh lemons stacked neatly in one of my favorite rustic wood bowls on the kitchen island. My 14-year-old son, Ryan, had been busy. They looked lovely on the counter, but they wouldn’t last long. I needed inspiration.
Cruising by the display, I impulsively grabbed a specimen from the top of the pile. I turned the fruit gently in my warm hands, rubbing its smooth skin over and over. Then, instinctively, I pressed my face into my cupped palms and inhaled deeply.
Ah-h-h-h! Instant gratification–the naturally sweet, heady fragrance of lemon stopped me cold.
I glanced again, considering the pile, and knew instantly it was time to make lemon bars.
My friend Jean Haley introduced me to her lemon bar recipe a few years ago: a shortbread cookie crust topped with lemony baked custard and finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. They are the perfect complement to a cup of tea. During citrus season, I can depend on her to arrive at my door bearing a plate of these delicious sweet-tart treats. They always disappear quickly. Her recipe provides one possible solution for a bumper crop of lemons. It’s quick and easy to make, and is sure to delight kids and adults alike.
JEAN’S LEMON BARS
*Preheat oven to 350.
In a large bowl, sift together:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Cut in 1 cup unsalted butter with a pastry blender until mixture clings together.
Press mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 9″ x 13″ pan and bake on center oven
rack at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat together:
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
finely grated zest of one lemon
*Note: If using the milder, sweeter Meyer Lemon, consider adding 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract to punch up the lemon flavor of the finished cookie.
Sift the following ingredients and blend into the above mixture:
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup flour
Pour over cooled shortbread crust and bake at 350 for 25 minutes more. Cool completely.
If desired, dust with additional powdered sugar. Cut into bars.