Winter may not be ready to wrap up but I am quite ready for it to be over. For California we have been having some pretty frigid weather, pounding rain and then, strangely, brilliant sunshine and thick fog interspersed randomly.
The inclement weather spurs people to hibernate and be surly, not to mention a general malaise that can only be alleviated by strong spirits and tasty treats.
Given this, I have been putting my produce delivery of mostly citrus fruit to good use in a variety of libations. Hey, it is vitamin C, right? It makes a fruit laden cocktail basically a health tonic. There is something quite decadent in using two Meyer lemons and an orange to concoct a refreshing beverage on a weeknight. Indulging mild decadence wherever possible is perhaps my only New Year’s resolution during these times of gloomy privation.
So when life give you lemons, I say make lemon drops!
You can also make preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are commonly used in Moroccan cuisine, they are becoming quite popular here on the West Coast. I think it is our similar Mediterranean climate that allows us to grow some of the best citrus in the world.
One of my favorite childhood memories was visiting my grandparents in Long Beach. At night in the summer it would be too hot to sleep even with a sheet on top, I would lie there in the dark, feeling very hot and flipping my pillow over frequently to the cool side, and smell the orange blossoms wafting in through the window. Back in those ancient times Southern California was filled with groves of orange trees and when they flowered the scent was incredible, sweet and very strong. Nowadays, the groves have been bulldozed and tons of ticky-tacky houses have been built over that fertile land. It is quite pleasant, when the rain and wind is pounding on the windows, to imagine myself back in that tiny twin bed at my grandparent’s home, smelling orange blossoms.
In addition to the orange crops we Californians are blessed with the ability to grow Meyer lemons, as well as the standard Eureka lemons that one finds more commonly in the grocery store. The Meyer lemon is far superior in terms of fragrance, sweet juice and a lighter more lemony flavor, in my opinion.
I am very fortunate to work for a very generous man who gifted me this holiday season with a vast assortment of goodies to make paella. Included in the assortment was a beautiful jar of preserved lemons from Tunisia. I have never cooked with preserved lemons before and was quite intrigued.
I mentioned the lemons to my dear pal Anna and she pulled out a gorgeous Moroccan cookbook she recently purchased and I began reading about making a tagine of chicken and preserved lemons, and a wonderful sounding warm pumpkin salad with preserved lemons. As soon as I can chop up a squash I will make some.
Meantime, we pulled out a basket of Meyer lemons and I read Anna the instructions on how to preserve them while she did the preparations.
First, you wash the lemons and be sure to use lemons that have never been waxed. Ours were from the farmer’s market so they were pristine and just off the tree. Then you cut into them stem-end in a cross shape, which fragrances the kitchen with a heady lemon perfume. The cut lemons are packed with coarse sea salt and plopped into a jar. Viola!
Behold, lemon porn:
Whatever jar you use you must pack it tightly with lemons, layering more coarse salt in between layers until you reach the top of the jar. Then, you can add a few peppercorns, a chili or a bay leaf, or all three, and top with water that was just off the boil.
Three weeks later, shaking the jar when you think about it, you will end up with perfectly preserved lemons that will keep for six months. To use them, you pull one out of the jar with a satisfying plop, rinse it well, and chop it up whole for your recipe.
I hope to share with you soon a recipe using the lemons. Which do you think I should try first, the warm pumpkin salad or the tagine of chicken?
6-8 Meyer lemons
1-2 cups coarse sea salt
Bay leaf, whole chile pepper, 1/4 tsp black whole peppercorns (optional)
2 cups hot water
Wash and dry the lemons. If your lemons are not from someone’s yard or have been treated with wax, scrub them well with a brush and warm water.
Cut the lemons most of the way through in an X fashion from the stem end.
Holding a lemon with the cut side up, stuff it well with very coarse sea salt and pack it into a sterilized jar*. Between each layer of lemons pack with more salt, and add optional herbs and spices as desired.
When the jar is full of lemons, boil a kettle of water, let it come to a full boil and then remove it from the heat for about 30 seconds. Then pour this hot water over the lemons until they are covered by about a 1/2″ and put on the sterilized lid. Shake the jar.
For the next three weeks, shake the jar to help the salt dissolve.
After the three weeks have passed the lemons are ready to be used. Once the jar is open keep it in the fridge.
****To sterilize the jar and lid, you can run the jar and lid through the dishwasher cycle and do not open the door until you are ready to pack the jar with the lemons. Remove the hot jar and lid from the dishwasher with clean tongs, also from the dishwasher. Or, you can place the clean and dry jar and lid on a cookie sheet and put it in at 250F oven for 15 minutes, remove carefully and use clean tongs to handle.
These lemons make terrific gifts for housewarmings, hostess gifts or Christmas presents. Oh dang, there goes that surprise!