Life Gives You Lemons

Cape Cod Life

In our dining room window, there’s a Meyer lemon tree. It isn’t tall—perched on a stool, leaves and all, it sits maybe four feet high. We feed it water and compost,  give it an occasional misting, and in return it gives us sweet, juicy lemons: this year, 23.

If it sounds far-fetched, believe me, originally, I agreed. I saw it in the garden center on sale, and wondered what right-minded Cape Codder would imagine their home was a good place for a heat-loving citrus tree.

But a tag tied to the leaves made me hesitate. “A cross between a true lemon and a Mandarin,” it read. “Grow indoors in pots across the northeast.” My husband’s birthday was coming up, and we have a tradition of giving trees—out in the yard there’s a 21st lilac and a 23rd cherry and a big 26th orchard of pears and mulberries. Lemons were a stretch, but in a big sunny window I thought we could swing it, maybe.

Besides, I had the perfect cake to celebrate. It was a lemon Bundt cake, passed on from Doug and Dianne Langeland of Edible Cape Cod magazine. They hadclipped the recipe from Saveur, taken in by the mention of Maida Heatter—America’s great Queen of Cake—and made it several times before we got a taste. By the time we came over they had perfected the baking time—just long enough that the cake was cooked through but the top still moist—and settled on the best bread crumb for the crust—Panko, the dry, flakey Japanese kind. The second I bit in, I was sold: tart, sweet, moist—what else was there to know?

Dianne e-mailed the recipe the next morning and I copied out the head note. “Toni Evins,” I printed, “Maida Heatter’s late daughter, who lived on East 62nd Street in Manhattan, created this tart, sweet cake. It became a favorite of the chic set after Craig Claiborne printed the recipe in the New York Times.” Apparently, Bill Blass and Nancy Reagan were fans. Me too.

With that in mind, I went ahead and bought the tree. I made the birthday cake, and then a replacement after the dog stole the leftovers, and before long Toni Evin’s creation became a staple in our culinary repertoire.

You don’t need a Meyer lemon tree to bake yours, but if you have a sunny window, I’d adopt one. They’re bright, and cheerful, and fruitful, and most importantly, they’re an excellent excuse for cake.




Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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