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Updated: Mar 8, 2019

“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.” 

These are lines from a popular folk song written by Will Holt in late 1950's and made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary, Trini Lopez and others in the sixties. What nonsense that last line is - what would we do without lemons in the larder? Of course you do have to add some sugar, unless adding a slice to your G&T, but life would be a sadder place without this sunny fruit. Close your eyes and picture a lemon meringue pie. Bite into that squidgy meringue and crisp pastry crust with the sharp lemon melting in the middle... ...scrumptious!

The Greeks grow lemons in abundance, throw them over every dish and even invented lemon soup. In the Middle East when the mercury rises above 30 degrees, the drink of choice is Limonana, a deliciously refreshing iced mint and lemon concoction. Moroccans think so highly of lemons they preserve them in salt and add them to their delicious Tagines and closer to home, how on earth would the National Trust cope without lemon drizzle cake on the restaurant counter?

Smell the aroma! Look at the lemons in my painting. Imagine yourself picking one up and holding it under your nose - inhale that glorious scent. Italian poet laureate Eugenio Montale summed it up in his poem The Lemon Trees: “ ...Even the poor know that richness, the fragrance of the lemon trees.”    

We in the Britain can only grow them indoors, but at least they are imported in abundance in winter, their sunny yellow skins brightening those dreary months. There are so many delicious ways to use lemons in recipes - from Shrove Tuesday pancakes or a zingy tarte au citron to savoury lemon chicken. I make a lemon sauce at Xmas to balance the richness of the festive pudding and often bake the following cake that never fails to please. It’s delicious, simple to make and has the advantage for many that it’s gluten free. 

Lemon Polenta Cake.

100g polenta

250g butter

250g ground almonds

250g caster sugar

1 tsp baking powder (gluten free if necessary)

3 lemons

3 eggs

Heat the oven to 160C/ gas 3.

Butter and base line a 23cm tin (ideally a springform tin)

Zest the 3 lemons and juice one.  

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one by one, beating between each addition.

Fold in the polenta, ground almonds and baking powder.

Mix in the lemon zest and juice.

Spoon or tip into the prepared tin.

Bake for about 40 - 50 mins until risen and golden. (Cover loosely with foil if it looks to be browning too soon). Test with a skewer - it should come out clean.

Remove from oven, leave in the tin but place on a wire rack to cool.

Topping: juice the other 2 lemons and mix with 175g caster sugar.

Serve warm as a desert with the syrup to pour separately and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Or to serve as a cake, prick the cake lightly and pour the syrup over whilst the cake is still warm. The sugar will form a sweet crust on the top.


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