Almost everywhere I look I see lemons in abundance; either ripening on trees, the fruit piled high on counter tops in Delis or in crate loads in our local supermarkets. It is a time when I am sure many cooks’ thoughts are turning to ways of taking advantage of this wonderful little fruit. I love lemons and for me they are the most versatile of kitchen ingredients. You can use them in almost anything, from cakes to pates, the list is extensive.
This beautiful sometimes lumpy, sometimes smooth skinned fruit also makes a lovely table decoration, its shiny skin ranging in tones of sunshine yellow colour. The rich, yellowy essential oil situated in the skin of the lemon, when finely grated with a zester, is wonderfully fragrant, mind clearing, and uplifting too.
My lemon tree is groaning under the weight of its fruit and will provide more fresh lemons than I can use, which is why when in abundance, I like to preserve my own lemons. For anyone who has not tried preserved lemon, once you do I am sure you will become a convert. Preserved lemons are just gorgeous and so versatile, a possible ingredient to be considered whenever you’re making anything savoury. Use some blended to enhance a savoury sauce, chop it into a vegetable dish, add to a stuffing for roasted chicken, or blend into a paste with olives and garlic, or sprinkle some finely diced bits into a salad dressing. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
It is not that difficult to keep a good supply of preserved lemons in your store cupboard. You can do it the traditional Moroccan way, where the preserving agents are salt and the lemons’ own juices, with or without added spices. The other is to pickle the lemons in salty brine including their own juices. I prefer to use the latter; however both ways produce good results.
My method tends to vary according to mood, spice preference or whatever spices are in my pantry. Most often used are whole cinnamon, peppercorns and bay leaf. Another excellent addition, only to be added once the brine mixture has entirely cooled, would be lemon leaves, freshly plucked from the tree and pushed down into the jar. I have also used kaffir lime leaves which add another fragrant dimension.
The lemons you use do need to be ripe for maximum flavour and if you have bought your lemons it is important to wash and dry them first as they may have been sprayed and or waxed. So wash and dry your lemons, cut into quarters almost all the way through, they should still be joined at the tip. Rub a good tablespoon of salt into the flesh; pack them down into a sterilised glass jar, pushing each lemon down firmly as you do so, this will help release some of the juices. Put in two or three fresh bay leaves, some peppercorns, a few cloves, and a whole stick of cinnamon. Sprinkle in some more salt, about 2 more table spoons, pour in boiled water to fill the jar, and to cover the lemons. Using a sterilised spoon or ladle, push the lemons down firmly to release more juice into the brine. If you are adding fresh lemon leaves remember to wait for the brine to cool before doing so. Seal container and leave the lemons to infuse for at least two weeks before use.