Thursday, December 1, 2011

Strawberries and salted lemons

My friend Jane P. brought me this clever strawberry huller from New York, and it works brilliantly. Last Saturday I hulled a whole lot of luscious little red critters ready to cut in half and steep in bitter orange liqueur for dessert.

But three of them - one each - were enormous, and deserved a different fate. I'd already taken their stalks out, so I couldn't easily dip their pointy ends in melted chocolate. Instead I used the chocolate to fill the holes in their tops. Not only do they look good, but you get more chocolate this way.

This week called for sterner stuff. Today I went to a friend's for lunch (my boursin with her French bread, a lovely light orange and chicken salad, strawberries, and her firmish, superbly chewy/melty brownies), to get our strength up for the afternoon's task: preserving lemons.
      I'm very keen on preserved lemons, but they're very expensive to buy, and often the bought ones have vinegar added, which is not good. They're one of the few preserves I'm happy to make. All you do is:
- Collect jars with lids - the mouths should be wide enough to push in a whole smallish lemon, and you'll want the jars big enough to get in around six lemons each - and put them and their lids through a hot dishwash cycle while you prepare the lemons. Make sure to keep the jars and lids matched.
- Get hold of enough smallish, firm, evenly yellow lemons (our Karori New World had really good ones this week, but they're even better fresh from the tree, if you've got one - mine is bravely struggling to survive).
- Either collect enough big juicy easy-to-squeeze lemons for juice to fill your jars, or cheat (as we did) and buy freshly squeezed lemon juice by the litre.
- Have ready about half a cup of salt for each jar, and enough olive oil to put a very thin layer over the top of each jar.
- Take off the stems and stem ends and cut the lemons almost in half lengthwise through the pointy end, then almost in half again the other way (so you get four quarters, still joined at the stem end)
- Put all the salt in a deep bowl and push each cut lemon into it, so that the salt goes up inside and more or less evenly coats each cut surface.
- Shake out any excess, or scrape it out with a teaspoon. (Of course if you're meant to be on a low-salt diet, you shouldn't make or eat these at all.)
- Push the lemons as tightly as possible into the jars - you can split some up into halves or quarters to fill awkward side gaps.
- Fill the jars carefully with juice, almost to the top. (My friend Ali says that instead, if you're patient, you can leave the jars in the pantry (not the fridge - see second comment below) and within a few days the lemons will have made lots of juice of their own, so then you just need to top the jars up - but we weren't patient.)
- Pour a very thin layer of olive oil over the top of each jar.
- Wipe the rims to get rid of salt, put the lids on, and tighten them.
- Leave the jars for at least four weeks. Once they've been opened, store them in the fridge.
- Eat the lemon skins (you're supposed to discard the flesh, but I often don't bother, I just eat that too) with grilled chicken, steak, chops, or fish, or use in salads. The salty lemony oily juice is delicious used sparingly in salad dressings or Middle Eastern stews or couscous. 
     Some recipes say you can use brine instead of juice, but this doesn't really work, they don't taste nearly as good. Our jars didn't look beautiful because the lemon juice was cloudy, not clear, and we weren't aiming for A & P prize quality, but I'm sure they'll taste fine.  


lillyanne said...

Thanks so much for this - it's the perfect way to make them and I'd forgotten all about it! An inspiration, as usual - love your posts.

AnneE said...

Ali has written to say: I've just read your latest posting about the lemons - such a satisfying process. The finished jars look great (mine are always cloudy to start with,but clear later). Just one tiny correction - I don't put the jars in the fridge (which might inhibit the process), but leave them in the pantry for several days for the lemons to release their juices before topping them up. The flavour seems more intense that way, and they don't tend to go mouldy - possibly because there's a higher proportion of salt, undiluted by a lot of extra juice. (I'm supposed to be reducing my salt intake, but I do rinse the lemons before using them!)