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When Life Gives You Lemons

I love lemons … the way they capture the sun while still on the tree, the pop of color they bring to a bowl or basket on my kitchen counter, the way they brighten the flavor of freshly picked vegetables and salads. In Italy last summer, we fell in love with the dozens of dwarf lemon trees in terracotta pots and large concrete urns –lining gravel paths and guarding hundred-year-old gates — on the estate where we stayed.  This year, we are planting lemon trees in pots of our own, to grow in our hot and sunny front yard.

My husband and I both grew up with sprawlingly large lemon trees in our suburban backyards.  Our childhood summers were filled with ice cold lemonade and homemade lemon pies: lemon meringue for my family, and lemon chess pie for his.  We played outdoors amid the scent of lemon blossoms and the buzzing of bees as they traveled from tree to hive and back again.  Fresh lemons were ours for the taking, and were plentiful enough to share with friends and neighbors.  Lemon wedges seasoned iced tea, steamed broccoli, canned spinach, and fried fish.  Lemon zest added zing to syrupy cake glazes, and lemon juice made salad dressings sing.

Today, we live in a California valley filled with commercial citrus groves, whose factory fruit leaves town for processing.  The lemons we buy locally travel 100+ miles to be sorted, stickered, and boxed, before being sent to a refrigerated warehouse where they may sit for days or weeks.  Then they are purchased and trucked back to our valley, to be sold to us not by local farmers or grocers, but by large chain stores.  Wasted time and wasted energy, all to provide a no-longer-fresh lemon.  The sweetness of childhood lemons is a fast-fading memory.

And so we are adding lemon trees to our garden this year, to scent the air, to feed the bees who pollinate our vegetables, and to have juicy ripe lemons just steps outside our door.  We’re looking forward to our lemonade days.

Italian Lemon Cornmeal Almond Olive Oil Cake Gluten Free

Serves 6-10
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hour
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Dietary Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Meal type Breakfast, Dessert, Snack
Misc Child Friendly, Pre-preparable
Region Italian


  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cups brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 large lemons (zested & juiced)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 195g gluten free cornmeal
  • 80g almond meal (finely ground)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder


  • 1 tablespoon dried psyllium husk


Italian desserts tend to be simple, and not overly sweet.  This delicious gluten free lemon cake -- made with cornmeal and ground almonds -- is very moist, and makes a terrific dessert, breakfast or snack, served with coffee, tea, or Prosecco.  It can be made ahead, and travels well ... take it on your next picnic or to a tailgate BBQ before the big game.

Dried psyllium husk is optional, but adds to the texture and helps bind the cake together.  I use psyllium in most gluten-free baked goods, but the recipe will also work without it.  I suggest regular-grind cornmeal, as coarsely-ground polenta may result in a crunchy cake.


Step 1 Butter or oil a round 9" x 2" cake pan, or a 9" spring-form pan. Place the pan on a sheet of parchment paper, trace around the bottom, cut out the circle, and trim to fit. Place parchment paper circle in bottom of oiled pan, then butter, oil, or spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
Step 2 Combine eggs & sugar in KitchenAid mixing bowl (or use a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer). Beat eggs mixture on low approx. 3 minutes, until frothy.
Step 3 Add oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract to egg mixture. Mix until incorporated.
Step 4 Place dry ingredients in a separate bowl and stir with a wire whisk until well mixed.
Step 5 With mixer running, slowly add dry ingredients to egg mixture. Batter will be thick.
Step 6 Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake at 350 degrees F for 35 to 45 minutes. Cake is done when a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few crumbs attached, but with no wet batter on the skewer.
Step 7 Set cake pan on cooling rack for 30 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and place on plate. Slice and serve warm or room temperature. This cake is delicious as is, but may also be dusted with powdered sugar and/or served with fresh berries or fruit.
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