Whole Lotta’ Lemons

An adage says: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I say, “Psh, that’s not nearly complicated enough.”

Let me describe my lemon tree. It is a beast. And no, I don’t mean it in the brophomism of  “that burger was a beast, bro” (“beast” as in “large” for those you wonderful people who have avoided “Bro” talk). My beast tree shouldn’t illicit visions of branches swathed in shining green leaves. My beast tree shouldn’t give you the romantic image of boughs bowing with the weight of yellow fruit.

The beast tree is just plain cruel.  It is Frankenstein’s monster, three varietals of lemon grafted into a hideous mass of thorns 2 inches long on twisted gnarled branches that thanks to the citrus psyllid, are naked and splintered. It also happens to be growing over the single flat path that connects one side of the yard to the other. I call that stretch of path “The Gauntlet”.

I run “The Gauntlet”

As I traverse, I hear a sport caster telecast all my moves. “Over on the right, we have a slippery situation. That dew point was very high last night and today’s marine layer hasn’t let it dry out. Oh, there’s a slip, a stumble and a SAVE! But how will she handle the geese on her left? They’re unusually grumpy today and they’re bum rushing the fence, I’m telling you Russel, getting goosed isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds!” Interject plastic laughter… “THAT’S RIGHT BOB! Watch as she pulls to the right just in time to avoid the snapping jaws!  We have the bleating goat, but that’s no distraction. She’s not letting her concentration falter. Here it comes now, the Beast.”

Their voices fade as I approach. The geese, the treacherous terrain and the screaming codependent goat fade into the background. It’s just me and the Beast. My flip flopped feet are now caked in dust and dragging new clumps of chicken poo and straw behind them.

Every day, I run this gauntlet and every time I avert my eyes, cover my brow and dip, duck and dive my way around. Today was different and I stood amazed. Loads of lemons clung to the naked branches. What looked like dead thorny twigs housed so many lemons we filled three 25 gallon Rubbermaid bins! (for those of you who are curious we got approximately 9 bushels, 1 peck and 6 pints).

Simply put, this year’s harvest of lemons was truly exceptional. The question was, other than the obvious lemonade and lemon juice, what the heck do we do with all this? Here’s a detailed account of what we did:

Lemon Juice!

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We harvested over a gallon of lemon juice! “Oh a gallon will be enough,” I said. “That’ll be fine,” I said. I was WRONG! You can never have too much lemon juice. Lesson learned! The thought of wasting all the beautiful rinds made me feel sick. Sooo…..

Candied Lemon Peels!

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I have a dear friend who’s mother makes a delicious candied orange peel. Remember, The Beast has three varietals of lemon. One of them had perhaps not the best fruit for juicing, but the rind was truly heavenly to candy. First thing you do after you juice your lemons is slice them into french fry size.

Now we have to get rid of the bitterness from the peel. Place your peels in a pot and cover with water. Bring up to a very light simmer and hold there for a few minutes.

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Pour off the water and repeat this for a total of 3 or four times. Be sure not to over boil or over cook your peels. No mushy peels! Bleh! They’ll cook down a bit and most of the pith will boil away. boiledpeels

Now, one last time, but this time with SUGAR! I just dumped a bunch in there, so use your best judgement. Not looking syrupy enough? Add more sugar!

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Now boil it down until you have a nice thick honey like syrup. Don’t hate me, I forgot to take a pic of this part! It will take a long time to slowly reduce it. Be patient. When it’s done, pop it in a mason jar and stick it in your fridge. Yummy!

Salted Lemons!

I have to admit, we haven’t used these in any recipes yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. I’m thinking rabbit with salted lemons, olives and pine nuts. I hear that restraint is key when working with these lemons.

First thing’s first: Prep your jars with a tablespoon of salt in the bottom of each jar.img_20160207_191011

Next, remove the bottom and the stem ends of the lemons. Then, slice them in half width-wise and quarter them without cutting them all the way. img_20160207_191225

Now, add a half a teaspoon of salt into the quartered half.

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Smoosh it down into the salt in the jar. Your lemon should juice out and be pretty flat. Cram as many in the jar as you can. Half, quarter, salt, smoosh, repeat. Then, when you can’t cram anymore in, top it off with, you guessed it, SALT and lemon juice. Screw on the lid and voilà! Here’s a pic of our production line. lemonproductionline

Dehydrated lemon peels!

Slice your peels thinly, lay them so that they don’t overlap too much and stick in your dehydrator. Oh my goodness, our house smelled like sunshine and happiness while we were doing this. Perfect time when you have guests over. Or eat beans. Hopefully not at the same time. Unless you’re really good friends. img_20160207_215523

After a while, you will get these lovely lemon peels!

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Lemon Pepper!

Of course I had to make my own lemon pepper. Take the measurements how you choose and grind it up. See, I thought I was being clever by using an old grinder. Nope. That was stupid and a waste of time. Use a food processor to chop and grind up your peels and then mix in your ground pepper (which does work nicely in a large grinder). It made a pretty photo though!

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Lemon Vodka!

We crammed a half gallon gar with sliced peels and poured vodka on top. Let steep for a while, and WOAH NELLY!

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Strong lemon vodka. Which is perfect for our final recipe…

Walking on Sunshine!

We all know that farming and preserving and homesteading is hard work. Especially when you’ve been working with lemons all day and your fingers are numb from the sting. What better way to end the day than enjoying the fruits of your labor in a delicious boozy beverage?  I call this recipe “Walking on Sunshine” and I must say it tastes like a spring day in your mouth. Which is perfect when it’s cold and dreary and you’re sick of winter. Also, you won’t get scurvy.

First, prep your coupe glasses. Think like you’re making a margarita, but instead of salt, it’s sugar. I mix a bit of lemon vodka with couple drops of candied lemon peel syrup.

Dip your rims in and let any excess fall off. Wait a couple of seconds for the rim to get tacky then dip your rims in super fine sugar. Place a piece of candied lemon peel along inside the glass. prepglasses

Next, in a shaker filled with ice, 1/4 oz lemon vodka, 1 oz vodka, 1 oz lemon juice, drizzle of candied lemon syrup, splash of club soda, and secret ingredient: 1 scant drop of rose water. Not that horrible pink stuff. BE CAREFUL! You don’t want to think you’re drinking perfume. That’s gross.

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Shake very well, pour and enjoy! If you don’t enjoy it, throw it on the ground. You’re an adult.

The Haul

So the Beast had provided us a an amazing gift. I believe somehow that it was a consolation prize for all the thorn scratches, punctured feet and bugs in my hair over the 35 years I’ve been around that tree. Each season I look with anticipation for the new buds and tiny green fruit and remember the bounty. It wasn’t just the bushels of fruit that I’m thankful for, but the time spent with my family discovering the recipes and preparing them. Thanks, Beast tree.

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It’s been a while…

So it’s been a year since we’ve written anything. A lot’s happened!

To begin with we’ve moved onto the family compound, it took a lot more effort and time than we originally expected and we ended up neglecting our crops during the crucial months right after we planted them. The kale’s doing well, as is the chard. The brussels sprouts and the strawberries are hanging in there. Most of the fruit trees we planted are doing well, we should see something from them this year. We’re in the process of planting for this year and we’re right next to where we’re planting so it’ll be easier to give the garden the attention it deserves.

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We built a barn, right now it’s mostly got everything that was in the garage at our old condo in it but it’ll eventually turn into tool, feed, and hay storage. It’s painted red and everything!

We did much better last year with the animals than we did with the plants.

The ducks have begun producing, we get two eggs a day from them at the moment and we’re incubating them all. So far we’ve got 9 ducklings in various stages of growth and twenty-odd incubating. To anyone wondering: ducks are disgusting animals. Mud an poo everywhere!269

The chickens are very happy and  producing between 14 and 21 eggs a day. I’m conducting a small experiment in animal husbandry. I’ve breed a Buff Orpington and a Red Broiler to try to get a breed that works well as a layer and a meat bird. I’ve got eleven eggs incubating and we should see a them hatching in a couple of weeks.

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We’ve picked up two goats! Lilu and Leia, Lilu’s the black and white Alpine and Leia’s the brown Nubian. Lilu is just about a year old and we’ll be breeding her later this year. Leia’s pregnant, due in March. After the kids are weaned we’ll have goat milk. Yum!

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The rabbits have had a litter each! We’ve taken to calling the offspring baby bunny babbits. They’re adorable and we have eleven of them. We’ll be keeping the black ones for breeding stock and using the rest for meat. Marisa will be learning how to the tan the hides to make things out of the fur.

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I’ve learned there’s always more to do on a farm. My weekends are spent building pens, animal enclosures, mucking out stalls, planting trees, and learning. It’s a lot of work but I’ve come to love it.

It’s weird, I joke at the office that I’m probably the only full time game developer/ part time farmer there is and I’ve come to relish the feeling of accomplishment when something works. I’ve realized that I can’t get everything to go just so but with enough work thing’s do well enough. We’re at the cusp of not having to buy food at a store anymore and that’s an amazing feeling.

We’ll be better about posting on this blog now. I hope you enjoyed the pictures of our animals!

Jason

 

The Back Forty

“Hey, Mom and Dad? Can Jason and I take over your back yard?”

They responded with, “Sure hun, whatever you want. Just let us know if you’re going to dig any big holes.”

I could sense the disbelief that THIS time it was different, I swear.

So many times I had attempted to do great projects with this untouched slope of clay. Just as many times, all the projects sat for years mouldering and uncompleted.

The property came into my family when my grandmother, Nana, purchased the house back in 196sumthin’ or other. At just under an acre it had everything she wanted. It had much cherished land, a small orchard and to the utter glee of my mom, then in 5th grade: it came with a horse to boot.

Over the years, gardens came and went and the plum trees produced the most astounding plums you ever tasted! Mom tended a flock of sheep in the pens. Rabbit hutches lined the south wall. And I needn’t mention all the chickens! Veal calves were finished and dressed, all the while a flock of the loudest most destructive overly fed fat white geese stripped the hillside bare of every last blade of grass.

Goats came and went and the orchard (planted in 1949) started to die. Coyotes discovered our flock and came for them one by one till every last bird was gone.

And there the back forty, sat, untouched and untended for years. Until…

“Those neighbors of ours are such jerks! Why did they call the city, when they could have kindly asked us to weed whack?!”

Did I mention that we had a storage shack that looked like a tornado had done a bang up decorating job on it? Or that we had over a decade of weeds pupil height creating a thatch that only a machete could pierce? Or a forest of palm trees so dense and untrimmed that only the rats could navigate it?

This was no simple weed abatement job. This was major construction. Massive dumpsters, stump grinders and a bob cat were needed to get the job done. The junk pile that had accumulated over the past thirty something years was finally gone!

And again, the land sat. But each year, it got a haircut. The clippings were left to decompose. The scarce patches of topsoil began to grow. For the last ten years, the land has been slowly regenerating itself. Worms have returned to the soil and every year, a glorious display of wild radish swaths the hillside in violet and green. Bees, butterflies and birds swarm during Spring and Summer.

But that’s not enough.

Only after we can feed our friends and family all year will it be enough. And even then, given my plant addiction, enough will never be enough. With the blessing of my parents, Jason and I have already started the transformation of our back forty.

–Marisa