There are lemon people, and there are chocolate people. In mere weeks it will be February, and it will be all about the chocolate. This month, which is rapidly dwindling, cake and pie forks are poised above the lemon. (I understand there is also a good bit of escarole and sumac going on amongst the New Year’s resolution cleanse crowd, but my Metro card refuses to swipe at that station.) From a baker’s perspective, mid-winter citrus provides a welcome change from eggnog and gingerbread.
I am reminded of the importance of January citrus on a daily basis by means of incessant emails from a certain gourmet food, gift and cookware emporium. It has been many years since I worked for the company that required staff to don green logo aprons before venturing out to the retail floor. Right on the heels of the peppermint bark and winter jacquard tablecloth markdowns, we of the green apron brigade were responsible for stripping display windows and shelving units bare of everything Christmas. On January 2nd, the store was attired top to bottom in sunshine and citrus. Floor to ceiling window banners were splashed with montages of fruit juicers in action. Kitchen towels were stacked in varying stripes of lemon, lime and orange. We served up samples of lemon quick bread and offered spoonfuls of tart lemon curd. Soaps, hand lotions, and kitchen cleaning supplies were available in lemon, lime and pink grapefruit. The famous Pop-Up sponges in screaming yellow were overflowing the shelves adjacent to Cooks Tools, which featured more of the same citrus color palate. The entire store smelled suspiciously like Love’s Fresh Lemon, circa 1970. There were bowls of real lemons and faux lemons tumbling across wooden tabletops and Kitchen-Aid mixers the color of butter. In stark contrast to the fruit mayhem, inventory was taking place behind the scenes. The stock room was located through a pair of swinging doors directly behind Tabletop and Glassware. Working in the stock room required more circus expertise than culinary skill. You can’t fully appreciate a Kitchen-Aid K5 until you are dangling precariously from the top of a moving shelving unit, attempting to count the number of boxed mixers stacked to the ceiling. I needn’t have worried- I’m certain the cases of Christmas red rubber spatulas on the bottom shelf would have broken my fall.
The beautiful perk of working in January was being selected to unpack the February inventory. With each new product came a brief tutorial from the Merchandise Catalogue, a behemoth assemblage of information that weighed more than I did. In hindsight, it seems kismet that I was entrusted with cases of kitchen torches and fragile French porcelain ramekins. The floor plan indicated setting up a display opposite the butter-yellow K5 mixer. Didn’t everyone intend to prepare crème brûlée in the privacy of their own kitchen with their very own kitchen torch?
Once I had navigated the awkward boxes through the swinging doors past Glassware, I was practically in the clear. The only thing standing in my way was Bakeware. The combination of white ceramics and petite flame throwers, against a backdrop of canary yellow table linens made for a beautiful still-life. Had it but remained still.
In honor of National Pie Day and because it is January, I have chosen to bake a lemon brûlée pie this week. You may be surprised to note that my kitchen torch is not from Williams-Sonoma. It was purchased at Killian’s hardware store in Chestnut Hill many years ago and could probably burn the house down if one were not paying close attention. Might I suggest the next time you wander through Williams-Sonoma post-Christmas and pre-Valentine’s Day, check out the citrus displays. A bowl of faux lemons, accidentally knocked off their perch by a case of kitchen torches has the potential to create retail ramekin havoc. Trust me on this one.
Happy National Pie Day.