Like almost everyone else, for years I associated vibrantly bright citrus fruits with summer, maybe it’s the association with sunny places like Valencia, Sicily or Morocco or perhaps the memory of lemony ice blocks and cool drinks on hot days, lemon meringue pie on the picnic table and of course wedges of lemon with shellfish and summer seafood , but I hadn’t make the connection that summer citrus fruits are the exception rather than the norm.
By contrast, with winter now here in Southern Australia, it is truly the best time of year for this family of fruits. One of the great things they bring to the table is the splash of bright colour and zingy flavor that seems to say “sunny days”. This is especially so as the days get cooler, skies become more grey and winter food as always, gets heavier and dare I say becomes a study in brown!
A great example of this seasonal bounty are the citrus trees in our little garden. The limes are just about over but still hanging in there, now in their “golden” stage , more yellow than green but at their most fragrant and sweet. We have also started to harvest the first of our old fashioned Navel oranges, even if they are still little sour at the moment, and coming on very soon after will be a terrific crop of mandarins that are, as yet, still pretty green, but it is the lemons I am most excited about.
This year has been a bumper season for lemons and even our dwarf Eureka lemon has put on a show. In fact everyone seems to have lemons to give away right now and we have many more than we need for immediate use. Of course finding uses for fresh lemons is not difficult, our featherlight lemon tart is definitely on the agenda as are sweet preserves like lemon curd and marmalade and some lemon syrup will be great addition to have on hand for summer cocktails.
But, there are also savoury preserving options. Right along the ancient spice trail from Morocco to Indian lemons and limes are preserved for future use. Pickling is popular in India, with spicy lime or lemon pickle a popular condiment, dried limes or Loomi are very common in the Gulf States and through to Iran, where they provide an astringent, sour and slightly bitter, powdered seasoning, but by far and away the best known preserved citrus has to be the salted lemons or “Msir” of Morocco.
Simply packed in salt this really is the easiest and most foolproof way to preserve lemons. Once ready the fruit pulp will have turned into a jell like paste. This pulp is most often discarded, along with the white pith so that only the skin or zest is consumed so because of this, juicy thin skinned lemons are best suited for this process. Importantly the pickling or salting process transforms the numbing quality one finds in raw zest, instead leaving behind almost artificial fragrant and intense lemony flavours.
Having these on hand is one thing but knowing how to best use them is another. They are fantastic shredded and stirred though warmed cracked green olives as an hors d’oeuvres or used as a late addition to freshen up a long braised tajine, they add a great piquancy and zing to a simple roasted chook and their flavours play off beautifully against sweet roasted red peppers and fresh green herbs in a simple salad, and for me, this alone is a perfect reason to put some of these winter preserves away for a (not so) sunny day.
5 tablespoons sea salt
125ml lemon juice
- Wash lemons well and cut into quarters lengthwise without quite cutting through so that the lemon remains in one piece joined at the stem end.
- Sprinkle inside the lemons well with salt and pack tightly into a preserving jar adding remaining salt between layers.
- Fill jar with lemon juice and seal, place jars in a warm place for about 4 weeks turning jars occasionally