EPICURIOUS: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS …

17 May 2020

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Preserving sweet lemons | Photo by the writer
Preserving sweet lemons | Photo by the writer

Lusciously aromatic, tangy, fresh and bursting with Vitamin C and antioxidants, the far from humble lemon is just what the doctor ordered in these unprecedented times of fear and stress.

This popular citrus fruit is thought to have originated in Assam and its original name, in this part of the world at least, was, and still is in Urdu, Punjabi and some other Asian languages, ‘nimbu’ which is actually a Sanskrit word.

The fruit didn’t become known as a lemon until after its introduction into the Arabic world and the Mediterranean region somewhere between 1000AD-1150AD, when the words limun/laymun (Arabic), limone (Italian) and limon (French) were used to describe it.

Initially grown as an ornamental and medicinal tree, it is thought to have been upgraded to the position of a commercial food crop by the Arabs at some point during the 10th century, and was introduced to the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1493.

Rich in Vitamin C, lemons work towards strengthening the immune system and help keep colds and flu at bay. Plus, when combined with virus-fighting fresh ginger, they are a natural medicine to reckon with.

The simplest way of preserving lemons for general household use is by using either just sugar or salt, so that you have lemons for both sweet and savoury dishes

A combination of fresh lemon juice, fresh ginger, hot water and honey (tailored to suit personal tastes) is a well-known medicinal drink that is widely used to treat, or at least alleviate, a wide range of bronchial, asthmatic and viral infections affecting the chest and respiratory system as a whole.

Fresh lemons tend to be in the market all year round, prices widely fluctuating according to the season. However, it is the wise housewife — especially those struggling on a tight budget — who invest in lemons when the price is low and then preserve them for use when prices reach for the sky.

The practice of preserving lemons began centuries ago, mainly by sun-drying (largely in Arab nations where they continue to be popular) and salting, in barrels, in Morocco where, even today, salted lemons are a prized addition to many different kinds of food.

Europeans tend to preserve lemons by processing them, with lots of sugar, into sweet marmalades, jams and lemon curd, whilst Asians preserve them in spicy chutneys and achars.

The simplest way of preserving lemons for general household use, aside from slicing and sun-drying of course, is to do so using either just sugar or just salt, so that you have lemons for both sweet and savoury dishes as well as, this is of prime importance, for medicinal purposes too.

PRESERVED SWEET LEMONS

Ingredients

6 large or 12 small, well-scrubbed, lemons sliced thinly, to fill a half litre jar to the brim
1 tablespoon finely sliced, peeled, fresh ginger (optional)
Sugar or honey
One third cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method

Sterilise a half litre glass jar and its lid (the jar and lid must be airtight) by thoroughly washing in very hot water and then standing in direct sunlight until completely dry or by sterilising in the oven on a very low flame for 20-30 minutes.

Stand the jar on a wooden surface — not on a cool surface or it may crack. Carefully put in two layers of lemon slices, cover with two dessert spoons full of sugar/honey and repeat until the jar is half full. Pour in the lemon juice and then continue layering lemon slices, sugar/honey until the jar is absolutely full. Screw on the lid, shake

well and then open and top up with more lemon slices if needed.

Stand in a cool place or in the fridge, shaking the jar and opening it to top up again if needed, twice a day for five or six days. Leave to stand for another two weeks, by which time the liquid will have turned into a delicious lemon syrup to be diluted with cold or hot water for a refreshing drink. The syrup can also be poured over ice cream or added to other sweet dishes.

The sweet lemon slices are perfect to flavour black or green tea and can also be used in baking cakes/biscuits, as a garnish or simply snacked on as they are. If you have added ginger strips to the mixture these can be used in exactly the same way as the sweet lemon slices.

PRESERVED SALTED LEMONS

Ingredients

6 large or 12 small, well-scrubbed, lemons sliced thinly, to fill a half litre jar to the brim
Salt
One third of a cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method

Proceed exactly the same as for sweet lemons but using salt instead of sugar/honey and leave to stand for one month before using. Salted lemon slices can be used, in moderation, when cooking chicken or fish and also in many vegetarian dishes. When adding salted lemons to a dish, do not add any other form of salt.

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 17th, 2020