“I fear you’ll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree.” Peter Paul and Mary.
The lemon tree in the front of my garden has been nurtured for ten years. For the first few winters I lovingly covered it with shade cloth to protect it from the frost. In summer I watered it daily, religiously pissing on it whilst keeping a weather eye out for morning walkers – or approaching vehicles – which occasionally resulted in an alarming case of urina interruptus. I fed my Eureka twice yearly, once in spring and again in late summer, a few weeks earlier than recommended given the sub alpine climate here in Jamieson that results in early frosts. For five years the poor thing struggled, but then it started to bear fruit. As each season came and went more and more fruit appeared, until a couple of years ago I achieved my goal – a year round supply of delicious, juicy lemons within ten meters of my kitchen door.
Last spring the air was heady with the intoxicating scent of lemon blossoms and clouds of bees worked the tree’s pollen for weeks, and as summer came the tree became heavy with fruit. Fruit production for the first time overtook kitchen usage, supply exceeded demand. Something had to give. In high winds an overladen branch snapped and fell to the ground, followed by another a day later. A third of the tree gone in just 48 hours! The lemons I picked from the fallen branches filled three empty cardboard wine boxes, which I gave to the Jamieson General Store to accompany their excellent fish and chips.
The rest of the tree had to be thinned lest all the branches snapped. What a great excuse for topping up the larder with one of the most versatile and easy to prepare staples – Preserved Lemons.
The lemon is thought to have been first grown in Asia, and its ancestral species are supposedly the pummelo, the citron and the mandarin. They first appeared in Europe during Roman times and were introduced to Persia around 700 AD. Whilst preserved lemons are found in many cuisines around the world, they are best associated with Morocco. It was the Berbers who introduced the tagine and couscous, the Arabs who brought in spices, the Moors citrus, but it was the Jewish Moors who gazumped the lot and introduced the advanced pickling techniques that gave rise to Moroccan Preserved Lemons.
I love to cook with preserved lemons. Whilst the preserving takes a good deal of the sharpness from the lemon, it creates a whole new full lemon flavour. In my book Oceans – Recipes and Stories from the Coast I included a recipe for bonito with the sublime combination of saffron, ginger, tomato, coriander and preserved lemon. I love preserved lemons on top of pizza with minced lamb, pine nuts, coriander and yoghurt. They go tremendously with bean salads, or simply tossed in a parsley and mint salad with a simple dressing. Buy them in a shop and expect to pay…too much. Make them at home simply and easily.
Recipe: Preserved Lemons
Summary: An easy way to preserve lemons
- Lemon Juice
- Bay Leaves
- Chilli Peppers
- Star Anise (Optional)
- Corriander seed (Cilantro) (Optional)
- Saffron (Optional)
- Wash lemons to remove any dirt and dry with tea towel.
- Sterilise glass jars by placing clean dry jar in oven and bake at 125C for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool
- Cut lemons vertically leaving 1cm at base intact
- Pack lemons with salt – about 1 tablespoon per lemon
- Pack lemons into sterlised glass jars tightly, it is OK to force them, until jar is full
- Juice enough juice to cover
- Add any herbs or spices
- Seal with greaseproof paper and lid
- Store in cool dark place for four weeks
Ensure lemons remain submerged whilst curing. If a white mould appears on any surfaced lemons, scrape it away and resubmerge, it is harmless.
Preparation time: 1 hour(s)
Diet type: Vegetarian
Diet tags: Low calorie, Reduced fat, Reduced carbohydrate, Gluten free, Raw
Culinary tradition: Middle Eastern