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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Now, add a half a teaspoon of salt into the quartered half.
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.
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.
After a while, you will get these lovely lemon peels!
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!
We crammed a half gallon gar with sliced peels and poured vodka on top. Let steep for a while, and WOAH NELLY!
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.
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.
Shake very well, pour and enjoy! If you don’t enjoy it, throw it on the ground. You’re an adult.
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.