In the world of culinary symbolism, nothing says fresh like a lemon. Next to a filet of grilled swordfish or simply perched on a cold glass of water, its yellow color and fragrance promise to bring out or add flavor in the lightest sense - something for which citrus is so well-known.
"The more you use lemons, the more they will reveal their secret powers," writes Marion Cunningham, author of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook," speaking of how lemons heighten flavors in fruits, vegetables, and fish. The tart fruit naturally finds its way into meringue, cookies, and pies too. From its outer skin, which holds the celebrated oil, to the juice, with its pucker-up sour-power, fresh lemon adds bite to sweet delectables as well as savory dishes.
So why preserve lemons, especially when you can enjoy them fresh year round? Anyone who has ever had homemade lemon curd slathered on a warm scone can attest that making lemons "keep" stretches their fresh, piquant appeal even further.
Candied Citrus Peel
2 large lemons
2 cups white granulated sugar
Extra 1 cup white granulated sugar
Cut a thin slice of peel from the top and the bottom of each piece of fruit. Cut vertical strips from the top to the bottom - about 3/4-inch apart, cutting through the skin and the white pith of the fruit. Remove the strips of peel and cut them into thinner strips, about 3/8-inch wide. Place the peel in a saucepan and cover it with 8 cups water.
Bring the water to a boil over high heat and cook until the peel is soft when tested with a skewer, about 15 minutes. Drain and reserve the peel. Place 2 cups water in a saucepan and add 2 cups of sugar. Bring water to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove saucepan from the heat and stir in the peel. Let stand for 8 hours at room temperature.
Place the saucepan over low heat until the peel has absorbed all the syrup, about 30 minutes. Watch it carefully towards the end of the cooking time or the peel can burn. Remove the peel from the pan with tongs and spread it out on aluminum foil. Leave to stand for 12 hours.
The next day, coat the peel one piece at a time in the extra sugar. Dry it on a cake rack for 3 hours. Pack the candied peel into airtight tins or jars layered with waxed paper. Store the peel in a cool, dry place for up to 2 months.
Makes about 1 4-cup jar.
- From "Art of Preserving," by Jan Berry
(Ten Speed Press, $17.95, 160 pp.)
Lemon curd is not only an admirable tart filling, but is also excellent spread on English muffins, warm scones, or toast.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
Zest of 2 lemons, removed with a vegetable peeler
3 large eggs, at room temperature
In a double-boiler insert set over a saucepan of hot water (not simmering), combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the eggs. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the curd is thick enough to coat the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read about 185 degrees F.), about 6 minutes. Strain into a medium bowl.
If using within 24 hours, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the curd, and pierce with a few holes to allow the steam to escape. Let cool to room temperature, then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate for up to one week. Otherwise, ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Seal and store, refrigerated, for up to 3 months.
- From "The Essential Cook Book," by Caroline Conran, Terence Conran, and Simon Hopkinson (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang; $39.95, 432 pp.)
The peel and pulp of these lemons are used whole or chopped in Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes of rice, fish, or meat.
Preserved in winter, the lemons will be ready to serve with summer grills and barbecues. To avoid the need for sterilizing, you may keep the jar(s) in your refrigerator.
6 lemons, preferably thin-skinned
1/2 cup coarse salt
1 1-inch-long cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
1 or 2 bay leaves
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add lemons, return water to a boil, and cook 3 minutes. Drain, drop the lemons into ice water. When cool, drain again, and dry.
Stand the lemons on end and cut them lengthwise nearly into quarters so that they open out but remain whole. Spread each open and sprinkle liberally with salt; close it up and pack it into a wide-mouthed 2-quart preserving jar, or two 1-quart jars, pressing down to squeeze out some of the juice. Continue with the remaining lemons.
Add the spices to the jar (or divide them between two jars) along with remaining salt, and pour in fresh boiling water to the top. Wait a bit until all the bubbles have risen, then seal and sterilize. Store at least 1 month in a cool, dry place before using. To use, rinse lemons and quarter, slice, or chop them with or without the pulp. After opening, store in the refrigerator.
- From "A Feast of Fruits,"
By Elizabeth Riley (Macmillan, 1993)