Late winter is a wonderful time in the San Joaquin Valley: leafy winter crops are in seasonal full force, and citrus fruits are in ripe abundance, their trees scenting the air with the blossoms of next year’s crop. I’m fortunate to have Meyer lemon and navel orange trees on the property I rent, and there are still the fruits of both to enjoy even as the fragrance of their pale blooms fills the house through windows and doors that can stand open on the spring-like days we’re having now.
Abundance is a blessing and a curse. These trees inundate us with their bounty, and sometimes keeping up with it becomes nearly impossible. Too often I find fruits that have spoiled on the tree or dropped to the ground. Resident birds and other animals share what we don’t harvest, but my goal is always to use or give away every fruit that ripens on these wonderful trees year after year.
It’s easy enough to pull fresh oranges and juice them—even on workday mornings. The lemons are a bit harder to use, however. Lemon–tahini dressing, lemon cakes, pies, and bars, a squirt of lemon on cooked kale, chard, or broccoli—all of these are options, but none of them uses quite enough. Lemonade is another tempting choice, but I don’t always want to take the time (or have it) to make a huge pitcher.
This year I decided to make good use of these lemons by the glass.
Recipes abound online, and I found a few to try. Using simple syrup seems to be the recommended approach, although I never made it growing up. My mother would give me lemons and sugar, and I’d squeeze the fruits and mix them with the right amount of tap water, then stir until the sugar dissolved. Neither of these approaches worked for me for by-the-glass lemonade, though. I didn’t want to have to wait for the drink to cool or add ice. I wanted a cold glass of the tangy beverage as quickly as possible.
So with the recipes as a guide, I decided to try stevia instead of sugar. I came to love stevia one summer on a long backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada. The amount of food needed for the trip crowded out the space in the bear canister needed for the granulated sugar I had planned to take to sweeten my tea for the duration of the trip. More than enough stevia packets fit easily into the can, however, and after daily teas sweetened with that lightweight and potent powder, I was converted.
I use the SweetLeaf brand, for whatever that’s worth. I found that I like its taste the best after trying every brand available in my area. And it works great for lemonade by the glass, too:
Juice of two lemons (pulp optional)
2 cups cold water
1/2 to 1 tsp powdered stevia (to taste)
Combine all ingredients and enjoy.
The bowed limbs of my little Meyer lemon, heavy with fruit, will soon be springing up again, empty of this year’s offerings and eagerly awaiting pollinators for its creamy new blossoms. I’ll be sitting nearby on the stoop enjoying a healthy glass of lemonade and breathing in the lovely scent that I anticipate just as eagerly each spring.