When a recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, how do you know how many lemons to buy? The answer to that question is: it depends. It depends on how ripe it is and how large it is. It’s amazing the different amount of juice lemons can produce. One juicy lemon can give you as much as 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) but more often 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of juice. An unripe lemon (even a jumbo one) can give you as little as 1 tablespoon (thus you would need four lemons to get 1/4 cup of juice).
Then there’s the flip side of the question. How much lemon juice does a recipe call for when it says “Juice of one lemon”? To be a little dogmatic, to me that would indicate a poorly written recipe, but that aside, I would go for 2 tablespoons of lemon juice assuming an average lemon.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could select a juicy lemon just by looking at it? Well you can (or at least I can). Look at the five lemons above. Which one do you think is the juiciest? the darkest yellow? the lightest yellow? the biggest one?
Actually none of those factors are the first thing I look for. It’s the texture of the skin. Lemons with smooth skins are fresher (less pits and a fresher flavor) than lemons with pitted skin. Usually they are also lighter in color.
Although texture of skin is the visual cue, you must also give the lemon the squeeze test. If it is hard as a rock and has no give; it will not be juicy; and the pith (white part) will be very thick no matter how light or smooth the lemon is on the outside.
The darker, more pitted lemon in the front of the picture above will also have more seeds than the lighter one (usually the light lemons have no pits at all).
The last fact to consider is that the really old lemons, ones that are dark yellow with deeply pitted skins, can still be juicy but may have a bitter after taste.
So, when life deals you lemons – make lemonade – but choose the best lemons to make it with!