Friday, January 1, 2016

When Life Hands You Lemons... Pickle Them!

The saying is, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!"

However when life hands you Meyer lemons, free from my neighbor's tree, I say, "Get cooking!"

First, though, my apologies.  My work over the last four months has been the busiest ever and I could not find the time to cook and write for this blog.  All I can really say about it is thank goodness for chef salads and store-bought roasted chicken so I could have a balanced diet.  : )

But now the crunch time is over and I am back along with my daughter who is visiting.  We want to cook and she wants to take pictures!  We are ready to take on the fifth year of life for this blog with 107 posts and more than 23,000 page views from all over the world.

Imagine our joy when my new neighbor discovered a prolific Meyer lemon tree in his backyard and proposed that we take them off his hands...

In case you don't know the variety, Meyer lemons are different from the typical lemon you find in the grocery store.  That is a Eureka lemon, a true lemon because the Meyer is a hybrid of lemon and orange or tangerine.  The big differences are that the Meyer has a smoother, thinner skin and its juice is sweeter and less acidic than the Eureka.  A good explanation is found here:

Eurekas are preferred for the market because they are durable in shipping but Meyers are prized in my area for their flavor and scent.

I spent some quality time perusing my cookbooks (O!  How I missed thee!) to find interesting ways of using my windfall.  The first choice was from A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden and published in 1974.

ISBN 0-394-71948-4
Ms. Roden began this book around 1950 to recover the tastes of Cairo with which she had grown up, and ended up examining the history of many of the recipes and expanding out to many of the Middle Eastern countries:
With this collection of dishes I wish to offer what to me is a treasure, the detailed and simple explanation of the way in which the women of the Middle East (and, of course, the professional male cooks) have prepared their food for centuries, some even since Pharaonic times.  I would like to pass on the experience which has been transferred from mother and mother-in-law to daughter and daughter-in-law, with the keen encouragement of their husbands, fathers, and brothers.

I was inspired by my success on the Seer Torshi, Persian Pickled Garlic, to try pickled lemons, a favorite in Moroccan cuisine.

Lamoun Makbouss / Pickled Lemon  (page 332)
A delicacy which is also magnificent made with fresh limes.  
Scrub lemons well and slice them.  Sprinkle the slices generously with salt and leave for at least 24 hours on a large plate set at an angle or in a colander.  They will become soft and limp, and lose their bitterness.  Arrange the lemon slides in layers in a glass jar, sprinkling a little paprika between each layer.  Cover with corn or nut oil.  Sometimes olive oil is used, but its taste is rather strong and may slightly overpower the lemons.
Close the jar tightly.  After about 3 weeks the lemons should be ready to eat -- soft, mellow, and a beautiful orange color.  
My mother accidentally discovered a way of speeding up the process when left with dozens of lemon wedges which had been used to garnish a large party dish.  She put them in the freezing compartment of her refrigerator to keep them until she was ready to pickle them.  When she sprinkled the frozen lemons with salt, she found that they shed a large quality of water and softened in just over an hour.  They were ready for eating after only a few days in oil and paprika.
The lemons are frozen here
We decided to freeze our lemon slices and wedges (just to try both!) before we salted them.  That way they would be ready to try before my daughter had to leave.

Be sure to remove the seeds before freezing!
Once they had been frozen overnight, we put them on a cookie rack over a pan and sprinkled them with the salt.  The lemons certainly gave up a lot of water quickly but we let them sit for about 12 hours anyway.

Then we packed the slices and wedges into a glass canning jar, sprinkling with a bit of paprika between the layers.  Note:  The instructions didn't say to sterilize the jar but we filled it with water and microwaved it until it boiled, then drained the water and let it steam dry.

We finished the recipe off by covering the lemons with canola oil and putting on the lid.  I tapped the jar several times to get the air bubbles out from between the layers.

It was tough to wait but we managed a week.

A pretty picture

The Verdict

Five of us did the taste test.  One, who does not like anything bitter at all, did not like the taste of the pickled lemon and didn't finish her piece.  Three thought it was okay -- the bitter level wasn't high but it was present; mostly it was considered too sour and they wished there was some sugar involved in the pickling process.  The fifth liked it enough to have two and noted that the flavors came in waves:  sour, salty, and then a little sweet.

We wondered how the pickled lemons were utilized in Moroccan food.  Was it to be served as a garnish?  A condiment?  None of us thought it should be served "as is" because we expected more depth of flavor for something you should pick up and eat.  To be clear, the slices tasted like lemons, which is something desirable if that is the flavor you want for your garnish or to add to a recipe.  It was not desirable if you wanted something to nibble -- and that was confirmed by the person who likes to eat fresh lemons.

Perhaps I didn't use enough paprika and that would have made a better flavor.  Perhaps the recipe's goal was to capture and protect the flavor of fresh lemons for a time when lemons weren't available. It definitely achieved that goal!

So we decided to call it a success but with the accompanying "meh" to indicate that it was not something we were excited about.  The jar is sealed back up and put away to pickle some more.  We'll taste test it again in the future.

The Bonus

The lemons we prepared for the recipe didn't all fit into the jar we had picked out.  So the rest went into another jar and we covered them with brandy.  We tried those, too, and found them to be a little more interesting than the lemons in oil.  The brandy had soaked into the peel and that was good.  The salt was a surprise flavor on the tongue.  Then the lemon flavor from the fruit spread its goodness across the tongue.  Overall, I think that was a better success but that it still needs time to soak.

No comments:

Post a Comment