How do you measure, measure all the things you can do with lemons? Thanks to Bay Area Blind Mom, I’m figuring that out. Inspired by my last post musing on the miracle of citrus and all my associated memories, including her Meyer lemon tree, she went the extra mile to harvest the ample winter crop that exploded recently on her tree, including all those hard to reach ones at the top. her visiting mom juiced, froze, kept the house in pitchers of lemonade, and took a measurable amount of them home with her to Southern California for more of the same. And me? I was gifted with 22 lbs., 7.5 oz. of this liquid joy, and I set to work immediately, washing, sorting, and thinking about all the lemony deliciousness I’d not gotten to with the last batch. For several weeks, my kitchen counter, table, and refrigerator were home to a rotating and changing array of bowls full of lemons, sorted into different categories of ripeness and for different purposes, and I’ve mostly been zesting, juicing, and freezing to stay ahead of the imminent citrus death that happens as fast as an avocado ripens then rots, and started with the nicest ones to produce a quart of salt preserved lemons, and a quart of preserved lemons that add sugar, cardamom seed, clove, and turmeric to the brine, and a quart of peels is soaking for limoncello, and a quart of peels is soaking for extract.
Of course, after juicing, I’ve been soaking the rinds in sugar to make syrup, and I’ve been playing with just exactly what might be done with those sugar soaked rinds rather than going directly into the compost bin. I’ve tried twice in the past to bake them into Lemon Blueberry Bread, subbing frozen mixed berries because that’s what I had on hand, totally unhappy each time. The first attempt, I didn’t realize my blade was in my food processor backward and wasn’t chopping the rinds, rookie. So I put them in as is, and as I feared, they were too lumpy and chewy, and I realized seeds were still in there, and even the seeds from the berries were annoying my sensitive teeth. I blitzed the pulp appropriately the second time, only to realize all the seeds were still a problem and I just wasn’t happy, so I searched instead for recipes that were explicitly designed for repurposing pulp, of which I found two I wanted to try. Properly pulverizing the pulp and being more mindful to remove seeds as I went,
The first produced a pleasingly dense and chewy loaf with good lemon flavor, though my only concern is that it is difficult to balance the bitterness of the pith. The second recipe was simply bulkier in the quantity of other ingredients relative to the pulp called for, and by this time, I was using pulp I’d not wringed the absolute life out of by muscling it through a tea towel—all my tea towels were in the laundry, and I figured this batch might benefit from the extra syrup trapped in all those rinds. This loaf was noticeably improved, even if that rind bitterness is difficult to shake entirely. Moister than the first, dense and still delicate, there was just too much batter and it billowed over the top of the loaf pan, which I’d thankfully placed on a baking sheet. Some hybrid of these two recipes, that leans toward the second, with a little less quantity of ingredients is something I may still tinker with, though repurposing the syrup pulp is an experiment I was nearing a pause on, until I used the butter. Remaining pulp from the batch just prior, drier and not as finely pulsed, got whipped into butter and cream cheese respectively, and in a flurry of throwing together quick dinner, I fried up a few salmon patties and mashed some of that pulpy lemon butter into some leftover roasted sweet potatoes for a pretty delicious mash. Remaining pulp from that syrup-laden batch has been stripped of its seeds, truly blitzed finely, and frozen for future tinkering. I will say that as I processed the last few pounds of lemons, I completely lost patience with the tedious process of removing seeds and have back-burnered these experiments beyond the pulp I have in the freezer.
I even made a Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Lemon that was pretty good, though I think neither my SO nor I really like green olives all that much,at least not in the quantities called for in this recipe, so I’m already thinking about how to adjust the recipe more to our taste. My new favorite cocktail for toasting all these lemon victories is about a tablespoon of that no-cook lemon syrup, a shot of rum, and some lemon sparkly water over ice.
My refrigerator and freezer are both now packed out with the fruits of my labor—jars and jars of lemon syrup, jars of salted and preserved lemons, jars and jars full of frozen lemon juice in teaspoon portions for easy measuring into future recipes, and a tub full of zest. Quart jars on my pantry shelves full of peels soaking in. Vodka for limoncello and extract. Now that all that sunshiny goodness has been put into stasis, the really fun part of purposing them into recipes still lies ahead.
Having this treasure prepped and at the ready has already proven valuable, when a friend recently coordinated a socially distanced gathering in a park for a whole lot of friends who’ve not been gathered together in person, well, for at least a year. Other than we just all miss each other, two attendees had birthdays, one of whom was visiting from out of state. This gathering in the park coordinating friend has a significant sweet tooth, and more than once has proclaimed a love of lemon curd, so when the text invite came in, I quickly jumped to offer a lemon dessert as my contribution to the party and started searching my saved recipes for just the right one. Mini Lemon Curd Tarts not only gave me an opportunity to showcase some gooey and luscious lemon curd, it allowed me to use up some graham crackers in my pantry. They were made, transported, and consumed so quickly, I didn’t take any of my own pictures. I totally contemplated making another batch just to take pictures and apply lessons learned from the first iteration, and decided to pump the brakes on my reckless food choices, even if they make my soul happy. Suffice it to say that my soul and my body are not always in agreement.
Lest the lemons take all the limelight, or lemonlight, or whatever, I’ve also been playing with oranges of late, too, so I’ll just park these here as well.
These Iced Orange Cookies were like edible sunshine, even without the icing. Pillowy and packed with zest and juice, they are what an orange tree in full blossom would taste like if it were a cookie. Great companion to my morning cup of coffee, even if not the healthiest of choices. Bah.
Beets with Orange and Walnuts was a little tedious in the preparation, though well worth the effort, and I recommend just squeezing the juice into your simmering beets near the end instead of brown sugar to make it lean a little healthier, even if just a little.
Reviewing information on extracts has me thinking about the precious vanilla beans going unused in my cabinet, even if I am pretty happy with the extract I get from Costco, and about the fresh bunch of mint now sitting in my fridge, and the oranges there, too, and how orange extract would make a great addition to our now growing collection of homemade extracts (as I peeled razor thin slices of lemon zest to fill jars with, my SO filled a smaller jar with some Sri Lankan cinnamon bark we have and now it is extract, too. Vodka just went on the shopping list.
The Future Looks Bright
Lemon yellow, to be precise. I’ve been steadily curating a collection of recipes that make me go “oooooooh!” And now that I have all that preserved lemon treasure, here’s what’s on my radar:
- I’m super eager to bottle my extract and move the limoncello into its finished state, though those peels have only been soaking about 5 weeks. I’m getting impatient, though will give them just a little longer;
- Hybridizing those two pulp bread recipes is on my list;
- Still not certain how I’d like to purpose the fancy version of the preserved lemons, though I’ve got some ideas;
- Best Lemon Bars are a widespread favorite in the America’s Test Kitchen community, and while I have no idea what recipe I used at that time, lemon bars are nostalgic for me—it was the dessert I made for my meal for 40 during my training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the first time I’d ever made them or curd for that matter, and always a staple go-to for a solid lemon dessert;
- Some variation of Bucatini with Mackerel, Swiss Chard, Preserved Lemon, & Chili, depending on what I happen to have on hand when the time is right, because I’ve got a big jar of preserved lemon, Marcus Samuelsson generously shares his recipes, and I greedily save them.
- Almost certainly Lemon Pudding Cake;
- Possibly a Lemon Supreme Pie;
- Meyer Lemon + Cardamom Tart sounds amazing;
- Meyer-Lemon and Coconut Layer Cake looks like it might be totally worth the ordeal;
- I’m still looking for something that is actually a Lemony Lemon Brownie, like a Blondie with a lemon profile, and I’m eyeballing all the possibilities that lie in adding a lemon flavor profile to things that don’t usually have it, like St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake; and
- I’d really love to get to this Meyer Lemon Marmalade the next time fresh lemons come my way and I can figure out how to effectively monitor the temperature, i.e. an accessible candy thermometer. Anyone?
The frugal foodie in me is thrilled that there was virtually no spoilage from this bumper crop of lemons, save the few that I could probably count on one hand that advanced to the fuzzy moldy stage and graduated directly to the compost bin. Let exciting lemon adventures begin!