About ten years ago, I realized that using fresh citrus in my cooking made a huge difference in the way things tasted. It all started the year we lived in London and my refrigerator was so tiny that I couldn’t justify taking up room with a bottle of lemon juice. Instead, I bought fresh lemons and stored them in a fruit bowl out on the counter. Suddenly, my food was so much brighter. I never looked back. Living in Seattle, I bought lemons at Costco and kept them in my crisper drawer. They keep well and I never wanted to be without them, which is why I bought them in bulk.
It makes me laugh now. Thinking of buying lemons at Costco. Imagining of a day when I would need a lemon and be out of them. That day will never come as long as I have this tree in my front yard. I’ve mentioned this before, but our house is in the fire zone of the Oakland hills. In 1991, over 3,000 houses burned down, including all the homes on our street and the streets below us. For some reason, this tree survived. I’m not sure how a house can burn down and a tree, that is made of wood, can stay standing, but there you go. There are many lemon trees in our neighborhood but this one is one of the largest and most prolific. When we moved in last fall, I was delighted to see so many lemons. Little did I know it would go truly gangbusters once the late winter set in. Now they are literally falling off the tree. I use a lot of citrus in my cooking and yet I can’t keep up. We picked a bunch last week, gave them to the neighbors who don’t have trees of their own, and there are still so many just waiting to be picked. Lots of lemons calls for drastic measures.
When I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, Lara, the lovely owner of Book Larder, mentioned that she had made the lemon pickles from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. Glancing at the recipe, I realized that this would be a good way to use a lot of lemons since you are pickling them in their own juice. I made a double batch, put some aside for friends, and have been using the rest ever since in likely and unlikely places. They were a delicious condiment for an Indian feast and also tasted good on top of poached eggs that were sitting on top of a potato cake. Basically anyplace where a big dollop of flavor and a dose of sour would be welcome.
One Year Ago: Chickpea, Artichoke, and Spinach Stew
Two Years Ago: Pane con Formaggion (Cheese Bread), Banana-Date Tea Cake
Three Years Ago: Black Bean Tostadas, Cinnamon Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Four Years Ago: Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake, Orange Cinnamon Biscotti
Quick Pickled Lemons
Makes about 1½ quarts
½ red chile (DT: I used a green jalapeño because I had some on hand)
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 small-medium unwaxed lemons, halved lengthwise and sliced widthwise as thinly as possibly
3 tbsp. superfine sugar
1½ tsp. coarse sea salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sweet paprika
¼ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
Use a mortar and pestle to smash the chile with 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice; you want to get a rough looking paste. Transfer this to a large bowl along with all the other ingredients. Use your hands to mix everything together well so that all the flavors get massaged into the lemons. Leave in a covered bowl overnight, then transfer to sterilized sealed jar the next day. The lemons will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.