I have a lemon tree and it is bearing fruit. This is the source of more satisfaction than a bald sentence might suggest. When we moved into our house there was no lemon tree, which seemed a mysterious absence given that the yards around my suburb still bear the traces of more productive times, when a veggie garden and some fruit trees were expected; the old and shapeless trees, dripping fruit and dropping it to the ground, glimpsed through back fences, are the most spectacular, juicy evidence of this past. Tantalising evidence too, with all the lemony deliciousness just out of reach and largely ignored and unloved, or at the very least unused by those who don't seem to know their luck.
I'm not sure why our own yard was missing this mainstay of suburban productivity. We live on what was the rich side of the street; maybe those posh folks didn't want to suggest they were peasants in their planting. It might be it was sacrificed to one previous owner's preference for straggling and inappropriately large natives. Possibly the people before us, whom we suspect have family ties to the big names in the state's forestry industry, chopped it down and pulped it. Whatever the reason, we had none of the easy abundance that a lemon tree offers a home.
I planted a tree - a Meyer - in the courtyard at the beginning of last year and have plucked off the blossoms with great self-discipline, in the knowledge that this leads to more impressive yields later on. Further, I manured, watered and trained Lucy to wee on the tree whenever she felt the need for some alfresco relief. And now that she'll only pee on flowers I've been known to stroll out after dark, perch precariously on the raised bed and offer up a little goodness. It's a very peaceful thing, squatting there and staring out over the lights of the suburb, and not without a charge of danger now that we have cut down the trees that once shielded us from the very tidy neighbours' view. All this care is working well: the tree is still small but it's hung with fruit that is bright and gold.
I need a lot of lemons in my life. Not so much for lemonade, which has never really thrilled me. When life sends me lemons I'm more likely to make lemon butter, to eat neat at the open fridge door so as not to dilute the sharp-sweetness (and so as not to share). But I'm more of a person who demands lemons; I don't wait for life to send them to me. I need them to eat with avocado and salt and pepper on toast, with steak, over salads, stirred into spinach with butter and salt, on chips, in icing for biscuits and no nonsense cakes. In my cooking, lemons are as much a seasoning as salt and pepper; anything that tastes really, really good is almost always finished with a lemon.
There are two iconic lemon moments in my cooking, repeated over and over again. The first: making wholewheat pancakes by myself on days of mizzle and drizzle, standing at the stove and looking out at the grey and the wind, eating each one with sugar and lemon as the next one cooks. The second is as yet repeated only in my head and draws from some grim New Zealand family drama, all marital dissolution and pedophilia on a bay in a small beach house a little like this. Before each evening's debauchery, the parents sit in deck chairs on the lawn, next to an enormous lemon tree, reaching out for fruit to squeeze into their gin. Seasonal eating at it's very best, I think, and the driving force behind my own small tree out the back. It's winter now, but the deck chairs are ready.