When life hands you lemons …

by Amanda McInerney on 14/07/2010

“…try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.”
Ron White

Citrus season is in full swing here in the Land Downunder and there are huge amounts of exceptional quality lemons, oranges and mandarines available in the stores, on roadside stalls and in back yards in most parts of the country.  Commercially, Australia produces over 600,000 tonnes of citrus per annum, with 76% of it being oranges and, because of our wide range of climates in this big country, we are able to grow citrus from winter through to summer somewhere or other!

Orange and lemon trees used to be almost standard in Aussie back yards and we are in the fabulous position of being in possession of two of the most brilliant lemon trees in the Adelaide area. These trees consistently yield high loads of good quality lemons with the bare minimum of care and water, providing luscious, juicy, golden fruit for me and pretty well anyone else that I can get to take them!  Lemons can be, and in this house are, used almost daily in the kitchen.  Whether it is sliced up into a gin and tonic, squeezed over some fish, as part of a salad dressing, in mayonnaise, squeezed into vegetable water to stop cut and peeled veggies from oxidising, in jugs of drinking water or squeezed over smelly fingers after dealing with onions or garlic, the fruit, rind or juice of the versatile lemon is something that we rely on all year round.

Citrus fruit has been around for a very long time and the lemon is believed to have originated in Kashmir, making its way to China by 2000 BC, from there to Persia and on to the Mediterranean where it was first grown in Genoa in the 15th century.   Romans used to use lemons to keep moths away from their clothes, lemons were served with fish in the middle ages as the juice was thought to dissolve any bones that were inadvertantly swallowed and  by the mid-18th century lemon juice was being used to prevent scurvy in sailors.

Lemons are used a lot in my favourites – Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking – and pickled lemons are commonly found in  North African foods.  Pickled lemons have a very intense flavour and are a wonderful way to add an extra zing to salads, couscous, rice and, of course, any chicken or fish dishes!   You can pay a small fortune to buy a jar of them, but it is dead simple and much cheaper to do it yourself.  I like to preserve them in two different ways.  To pickle them in salt and juice, simply quarter clean lemons lengthways, without cutting all the way through.  Sprinkle the cut sides of the fruit liberally with salt and pack tightly in a sterilised jar.  When the jar can hold no more fruit fill it with fresh squeezed lemon juice until the fruit is covered and seal.  The fruit will settle over the first day or two and may be topped up with more juice or a layer of olive oil.  Store for 5-6 weeks before using.  When adding to dishes discard the pulp and just use the rind.

The second method uses olive oil to preserve them.  Wash and slice the lemons thinly, layer in a colander and sprinkle with salt; leave to stand overnight.  The next day arrange the slices in a sterilised jar, sprinkling a little paprika between layers.  Cover with olive oil, seal and leave for 6 weeks before using.  With this method  both the rind and pulp can be used, as can the now intensely flavoured oil.  The olive oil I used for the pictured lemons is a very green local oil – I can’t wait to try it in my cooking!

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate July 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

I am having everything with lemon at the moment – I have the mother of all lemon gluts !!!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella July 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

I didn’t realise how much I loved lemons until a friend pointed out how many lemon recipes I have! and my fridge seems to be never without one! :P

Gastronomy Gal July 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Oh I am so jealous of your lemon tree- living in a unit does have big disadvantages when it comes to the garden.

Sarah @ For the Love of Food July 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I too am blessed with a very productive lemon tree (it’s as old as the house – about 60 years) and I usually preserve lemons in the way you describe (I once bought a tiny jar for $10! before I learned how simple it is to do it yourself). How would you use the lemons done in oil (they look beautiful by the way)?

admin July 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I use them in much the same way as the others, but the flavour is different. They are very good with lamb – especially the greek slow cooked lamb with lemon and oregano – and with fish or chicken. They look good on the plated up dishes, too.

Celia July 16, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Amanda, love the photos, and the preserved lemons. I’ve had lots of luck with making the salted ones, but never any with the olive oil version – I always end up with mouldy lemons and limes! I followed a method in the Claudia Roden book. What am I doing wrong? Thanks..

admin July 17, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Not sure, Celia. I first made these a few years ago and they have always been fine. I wash the lemons first, sterilise the jars and lids and use plenty of salt. I always use a new bottle of olive oil, not a previously opened one – maybe that’s the problem? If this lot go wonky, I’ll let you know.

Hampers July 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Amanda, just letting you know I bought lemons this week for $1.70kg – it is the lowest price they have been for quite some time – usually priced more like 60c each. Have made a sour lemon tart with them so far.

admin July 20, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Yum! I love a lemon tart!

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