Lemons Key facts Lemons are first thought to have been cultivated in India and were used as an antiseptic and antidote to poisons. They were introduced to Europe in the 1st century AD. To yield more juice from a lemon, lightly press it with your hand while rolling it on a worksurface, or put it briefly into the microwave.

Imagine a world without lemons, or a kitchen that didn't always have a lemon tucked away. Can there be a more widely used fruit or absolutely essential ingredient in cooking in the Western world?

Lemons, which are available all year round, contain lots of sharp, acidic juice, but also a fragrant oil that's found in the zest (the coloured outer layer of the skin). In a drink such as a dry Martini or gin and tonic, this pared-off outer skin releases its fragrant oil to give a subtle lemon hint. In cooking, lemon zest is every bit as treasured as the juice, and our heritage of rich fruit Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat all contain not only lemon juice and zest but candied lemon peel, giving extra fragrance and flavour. It's always best to use lemons as fresh as possible, but I find extra lemons keep better if they're stored in a polythene bag in the salad drawer of the fridge.

Squeezing: It is said that rolling the lemon with the palm of your hand on a flat surface using a bit of pressure will ensure you get more juice. When my mother made pancakes on Pancake Day, she would put plates to warm in the oven and pop the lemon in, too, as this, she said, produced more juice. Either way, I think a wooden lemon squeezer inserted into a half lemon and squeezed and twisted is a wonderfully easy way to extract the juice.

Zesting: If you want finely zested lemon, a grater will do the job, but you need to take care not to include the bitter pith just beneath the zest. Best of all is a lemon zester, which removes only the outer zest and the fragrant oils.

A great lemon recipe is Grilled Lemon Chicken Kebabs with Gremolata.

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