Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Life Gave Us Lemons

Huh. I just realized that I never posted about my lemons. I KNOW YOU'VE ALL BEEN SHAKING WITH ANTICIPATION. 

So, as you may recall, one of my earliest observations about our new house was that it had a fully-grown Meyer Lemon tree in the backyard that was positively full of lemons. I might have campaigned for us to get this house just because of that tree.

You see, when we were doing our whole yard renovation in Phoenix, we pulled out our dud orange tree and put in a Meyer Lemon tree. And ooooh, how I looked forward to one day having a crop of lemons to enjoy! (Meyer Lemons are known for being a sweeter, milder lemon.) 

I nurtured that thing like you wouldn't believe to try to get it through its first crazy Arizona summer. I was adjusting watering schedules, I was buying citrus tree food, I was cuddling with it at night. I was going against my instincts and pruning some of the lemon buds so our little plant would put its limited energy into a few promising lemons. 

And then we promptly moved to Sacramento.

So when we found a house for rent with a lemon tree that looked like this...

I shouted "WE'LL TAKE IT."

And let me tell you, I had plans for these lemons! But it was starting to get colder outside at night and I knew these guys wouldn't hold up in the upcoming freezes, so I had to get on my #1 project immediately, which was preserving lemons. 

Preserved lemons are a big part of Moroccan, Middle Eastern and North African cooking, and I was once given a jar of them by a coworker. I fell in love and swore that one day I'd make my own.

I went out back and picked three baskets worth of lemons, which seemed like a lot until I stepped back and realized the tree looked like I'd barely picked any.

Then I brought them inside where my 24 sanitized quart-size mason jars were waiting.

(The funny thing is that making a single jar of these from lemons you got at the store would take only 15 minutes. But because I set my sights on making 24 jars of them, it was a tad more time consuming.)

If you're interested, you can check out some background on these lemons, how they've been used historically and the recipe on this website.

The only ingredients are lemons and coarse salt. (And the amount of salt you go through...whoa.) But the salt and the juice from the lemons seeps into the lemon rind and softens them until they are the component that is used in the cooking. Most of the sites I've read about don't even use the fruit of the preserved lemon...you use the peel. 

And once the jar has set for a few weeks, you just pop out a segment of the lemons, cut it up and put it in anything. Anything you'd normally make with lemons, except preserved lemons have a sort of mellowed-out taste, not really the bite of normal lemons. 

I've been using mine for lemon pepper chicken, I put some in with asparagus I was sauteing, you can make salad dressing, use it with fish, put some in with crock pot recipes, anything really. And they stay good for over 2 years!

I ended up making 20 jars worth before the holidays. The problem was that I wanted to give them to everyone I knew for Christmas, but by the time I got around to planning the trip back to Arizona, it was a little late to think about shipping them. So I only managed to bubble-wrap and pack about 6 jars into my suitcase before the size and weight limits indicated that it was enough. (Not surprisingly, I got one of those cards in my luggage saying that TSA had searched inside by bag.)

So now I have about 14 jars of preserved lemons here in Sacramento and no one to give them to. I might just start bringing them with me on outings and forcing them on strangers. I want to share my love with someone! (Delivery room nurses - you've got a treat headed your way! A salty, citrusy treat!)

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