Dad’s Lemon Tree
DAD’S LEMON TREE
The motel bathroom was warm and thick with steam, a veritable rain forest. It was 1959 and I was somewhere in northern Tennessee. My dad had sent me into the bathroom with instruction to turn on the shower. He wanted steam, lots of dense foggy steam.
He opened the door and said, “You can shut off the water now” then set the lemon tree in the bathtub. It had traveled all day beside me in the backseat of dad’s Ford along with a small bird of paradise and a couple other tropical plants that were in a shallow cardboard box.
Mom, dad and I were tired from riding all day, grimy and windblown from having the car windows open. Most cars back then didn’t have air conditioning and ours was one of those. Dad always said, “Why do we need air conditioning when we can roll down the windows?”
Mom and dad would wait until morning to shower before we headed north again to home in Michigan. The lemon tree’s care took precedent for the night and it had claimed the bathtub. Mom scrubbed me down with a washrag from the bathroom sink while dad settled his plants in for the night.
Dad was an amateur horticulturist. He’d built a greenhouse that connected our kitchen to a large room that originally had been mom’s tropical fish store and later became dad’s ham shack. In the winter mom would open the top half of the Dutch door leading into the greenhouse, letting in the warmth of the sun and the wonderful smells of earth and growing plants.
Dad passed away twenty-six years later and I inherited his lemon tree. Fifty-four years after its night in the motel shower, it is still with me bearing two to three lemons every year.
The tree winters in an upstairs southern window, biding time until early May when I move it to its summer home on the deck. There the lemon tree gets full sun from dawn right through mid-afternoon. During the summer it sprouts new leaves, has delicious fragrant flowers and draws confused bees to it pollen. Once or twice a leaf has been nibbled but our Michigan bugs don’t like the taste of my ex-patriot Florida lemon tree.
It takes almost a year for the lemons to ripen, which happens usually in late March. That’s when I turn them into lemon bars or lemon bread. The bread is made into small loaves. One goes to my neighbor across the street and one to my son. I take one or two to cut and share with my writers’ group. That leaves a couple loaves for me, one to eat fresh out of the oven and the other to be frozen for another day.
¼ cup butter, softened ¾ cup white sugar
2 eggs Zest of 1 fresh lemon
2 c flour 1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder ¾ cup butter milk
½ cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons white sugar 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan, or two small loaf pans. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in eggs, beating well, then stir in lemon zest. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Blend flour mixture into egg mixture, alternately with the butter milk. Fold in walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes (less for smaller pans), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar in lemon juice. Spoon glaze over warm loaves.