On a recent trip to California, I was running out the door of my mother and step-father’s home, I remembered my step-father mentioning that the lemon tree out back was overflowing with ripe fruit, so I turned around, heading into the kitchen to grab a couple of shopping bags and then out to the garden where I pulled as many lemons off the tree as I was able to reach. I was dressed in business attire, as I should have already been on my way to a meeting in Los Angeles, but instead, I was tangled in the tree branches and thorns with lemon blossoms falling in my hair, getting caught up in a brief moment of nostalgia that was too delicious for me to ignore.
This was a link to the secret garden of my past, where intimate stories, laughter and tears were shared between a daughter and a mother whose spirit, at least in my mind and heart, still lingered amongst the foliage and humming birds, even though it had been over five years since she had passed away.
Somehow, picking a lemon off of my mother’s tree and then smelling it as we drove to LA gave me comfort, keeping me a little closer to my lovely memories and warm feelings that can be stirred by a subtle site or aroma. My husband looked at me with a bit of wonder and amusement in his eyes, as he is used to my unpredictable and sometimes irrational behavior. When he asked me what I was going to do with the lemons, I told him that I was planning on cramming them into my suitcase and taking them back to Texas to make lemon squares, like the ones his mother had made for us on a recent trip to her home in North Carolina. He then enquired if there was something exceptionally unique about these lemons from California? “Yes,” I said, “they are special because they came from my mother’s garden”. I didn’t need to say anything more as he completely understood that while it really didn’t make sense to drag a bag of lemons from Los Angeles to San Antonio, because of their sentimental value to me, making lemon squares with those particular lemons was meaningful. The next morning, he thoughtfully packed the lemons in my bag.
And now, as I sit with a cup of tea, munching on a scrumptious tart and sweet, sugar dusted lemon square, I am reminded of the southern hospitality that was extended to me by Ric’s family in North Carolina, but mostly, I think of my mother who was, as one friend described her, “simply intoxicating”.
For the crust:
1/2 cup cold butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the custard:
1 ½ cups white sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (3 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a food processor mix together the butter, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar and salt. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden.
In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 ½ cups sugar and 4 tablespoons flour, eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven.
Remove from oven and let cool. Refrigerate for 3 or more hours.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares and enjoy!