“…try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.”
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 baked into something sweet, 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!