Whole Lemon Lemonade

(Updated 10/23/16. Originally posted on 03/08/07)

Southern Cross Lemons fruit crate label - from CHS on Flickr Commons
(Note: the Southern Cross constellation is probably not visible from San Fernando, which is north of L.A.)

The skin of a lemon is such a cheery hue. I’m fortunate to have a mature lemon tree in my backyard, and so when I look out my office window, I can see a few lemons hanging on the tree, little yellow orbs amidst the green leaves, and they can brighten my mood.

For designers of fruit crate labels many decades ago, I’m sure the skin was a major inspiration. For example, in the Southern Cross label below, the designer put lemons into the sky to make a constellation. The Comet label, which I included in my second post about the History of Fruit Crate Labels is another example of a lemon becoming an astronomical object.  (My History of Fruit Crate Labels, Part 1 looks at the purpose and creation of fruit crate labels.)

The focus of this post is lemonade, so why look at the skin?  There is a good reason:  in my favorite lemonade recipe, the skin is the secret.

I follow the approach recommended by Cooks Illustrated in the late 1990s: instead of pressing lemon halves onto a juicer to extract the juice and then discarding the spent halves, the whole lemon is used. Thin slices of lemon are mashed with sugar to release the aromatic and flavorful oils from the peel while dissolving the sugar. This gives a far more complex flavor than standard lemonade.

The photo below shows one lemon after it has been sliced.  I cut the lemon in half, place it down on one of its flat sides to provide a solid cutting setup, and then slice thinly. The slices go into a bowl with the sugar.

Photo of thinly sliced lemons to be used in lemonade

The recipe below calls for 10 to 12 lemons, but there is an easy rule of thumb if you want to scale it up or down:  2:1:1, for every 2 lemons, use 1 quarter cup sugar and 1 cup

Whole Lemon Lemonade

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, July/August 1998


10-12 medium organic lemons
1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
5 cups (1180 mL) water


Measure the 5 cups of water into the pitcher or jar you plan to use for the lemonade in and place it in the refrigerator. For extra quick chilling, make your 5 cup measurement using a combination of water and ice cubes.

Wash and scrub the lemons very well to remove dirt and other garden residue. Slice each lemon in half length-wise, then cut into thin (1/8″, 3 mm) slices.

By hand: Put the sugar and lemon slices into a big bowl or saucepan that has a flat bottom and that you aren’t worried about damaging (e.g., don’t use a pristine Le Crueset or non-stick pot) Use a potato masher to mash the lemon-sugar mixture. Keep mashing until it looks like most of lemon segments are all broken (i.e., juiced).

Using a stand mixer: Put the sugar and lemon slices into the bowl of the stand mixer (Do not put any ice cubes into the mixture! See note below.). Attach the paddle. Drape a kitchen towel or piece of newspaper over the mixer to contain any splattering. Turn the mixer on its lowest setting, and let it run for a few minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand.

Pour the water into the bowl and mix lightly by hand. Set a large strainer on top of a pitcher or mixing bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout). Pour the lemons and liquid into the strainer; scoop out whatever doesn’t pour. Let it drain for a few minutes, pressing lightly to release more juice. Transfer the liquid to the serving or storage pitcher.


  • Replace part or all of the sugar with honey.
  • Replace a few lemons with limes, oranges or other citrus.
  • Add thinly sliced ginger to the sliced lemons
  • Add mint or lemon verbena leaves to the sliced lemons, or infuse the water with lemon verbena leaves

Important note about using a stand mixer:  Although it is tempting to put ice cubes with the lemons and sugar to cool it down faster, do not do this! I tried it once and one of the cubes became stuck between the paddle and the mixing bowl, causing the mixer motor to make a hideous sound (and perhaps some internal damage).

Image Credit

Southern Cross fruit crate label from the California Historical Society’s collection on Flickr Commons, no known copyright restrictions.


  1. A friend made a fruit picker for me. On the end of a broom stick, a “fruit-sized” collection bag is attached, to a wire loop. Firmly attached around the metal loop and up from the bag are a series of upside down ‘u’s shaped from wire. To pick fruit , position bag over fruit from below and manouevre so that the stem to which the fruit is attached is caught between 2 of the u’s (the u’s are about 1/4 of an inch apart), twist to break and the fruit plops into the cloth bag. It works for all sorts of fruit and friends often borrow it. My mother had my friend make several to give to her friends. Strangely he never had any success selling them at the local market.

    Cheers from Waiheke Island, New Zealand where the fruit picker is getting used daily to collect peaches from the garden just now.

  2. There is also a commercial citrus picker available. It looks like the protective frame from a hanging work lamp (drop light) attached to the end of a pole. For lemon, with are smaller than many citrus, have you considered the tool they sell at home stores for changing light bulbs in cathedral ceilings?

  3. Hey Marc,

    Nice post on Ethicurean!

    I think you can probably get those lemons with one of those gadgets that are designed to change light bulbs in high ceilings.
    just a thought . . .
    The Ethicurean

  4. If you are looking for an alternative to sugar, I often use AGAVE NECTAR. You can find it in regular or amber. The regular is clear and tastes very much like “simple syrup”, and the amber tastes like maple syrup. I love them both because they are not simple sugars, and therefore much better on the glycemic index- think whole grain bread versus white bread- good for diabetics, and all of us really! Plus, you don’t have to worry about making sure the granules have dissolved because it’s already a liquid. They are all natural, no chemicals like sugar substitutes have, and they don’t have that “fake sugar” taste.

  5. Robyn, Nosher, and anonymous,
    Thanks for the tips on lemon grabbing. I’ll do some experimenting in the next few weeks.

    Agave syrup is a great idea. I went to the store last night and bought a jar. I also found brown rice syrup from Lundberg farms (Richvale, California), which is worth a try.

  6. Have you tried this technique with Meyer lemons? It strikes me that the sweetness (orsmaller percentage of bitter oils) might make them an ideal subject for such treatment.

    My mother has a small tree in her back yard, which sadly goes completely unpicked unless I schedule a mission to harvest… but what a treat.

  7. Richard — I have not tried making this lemonade with Meyer lemons. Sadly, I don’t have a local source. I bought a small tree a while ago, but it has yet to produce a single lemon (the snails and slugs in my garden are ruthless and numerous). When I do get some Meyer lemons, making the whole lemon lemonade is high on my list of things to make.

    1. It would probably be too bitter because of the pith of the peel–the white part under the yellow skin.

  8. My grandfather made a fruit picker for his pear trees kind of like what Robyn described… really simple thing that amounts to a really long pole with a big can attached to the end. It totally works! Though I’m guessing the cloth bag on the other version might be a little gentler on the fruit…

  9. I live in Bullhead City, AZ. I have a beautiful lemon tree. I am lucky to get about 50 lemons per year. My tree is now nine years in the ground. This year (January 2008) someone stole all my lemons not leaving me a single one. My tree is located in my front yard and they had to come onto my property to pick them. How sad that they felt they had to take ALL of my lemons. With the high winds we have, I lose a lot of blooms leaving me with little lemons. I hope that “FEMALE DOG” choked on my lemons. I do, get juicy sweet lemons and I don’t remember what kind of tree it is. I Love lemonade and had to buy canned lemonade this year thanks to that “FEMALE DOG”.

  10. I never have a problem picking lemons from the top of the tree. Borrow a truck and load it with about 3 cubic meters of soil. Dump the soil beside the tree using wood to stop the tree from being pushed over by the dirt. Wallah!! top of tree now waist height, picking no problem.

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  12. Simple DIY lemon picker (or apples, plums etc for that matter). you need a piece of dowel, or a yard broom handle, or a slightly-bendy thin branch like hazel/willow to the length of the highest fruits (in my opinion branch is best). You then need an empty (lid removed completely) washed and dried can (454gm size or bigger) with lid diameter large enough to get fruits in. With tin snips cut a 'V' approx 1" wide x 1 1/2"deep in top of can where lid used to be. Directly opposite to 'V' screw the can to the branch screwing from inside the can at top edge through into end of branch so can is hanging at 45 deg angle to branch (you may need to wire can on if very vigorous picking is planned ! Offer the can up to the fruit allowing fruit to fall into can and stalk into 'V'. A sharp gentle tug and the fruit is safely 'picked'.

  13. If you would like to pick the fruit higher on the tree, buy yourself an avocado picking pole. This is a long pole with a cutter attached to a piece of rope that you pull, and a bag to catch the cut fruit. We use them all the time.

  14. One of the homes I recently purchased had an orange picker in the garage. It is a long pole with a steel wire basket on the end. The basket is open and there are 4 steel hooks on the very end. Just raise it up to the lemon you want, hook the lemon and pull. Voila!

  15. Jolina,
    I haven’t tried any experiments to test how long the lemonade can be stored. I typically make it for picnics and parties where it is quickly consumed. My guess is that it is about as perishable as orange juice.

    It’s highly acidic and has a lot of sugar, so it might be fairly resistant to spoilage. But the oils or other solids from the peel and pulp could have an effect.

  16. I used a food processor to break down my lemons. I was concerned about the bitterness from the peel, so I only used 4 pink lemons. I love how it turned out!

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