Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

A year or so ago after watching in amazement how productive the potted tree was at the house where I picked up my CSA baskets, I stalked a local nursery relentlessly until I managed to pick up two Meyer Lemon trees all my own.

I potted them both up and gave one to ChefSon to anchor the culinary patio garden he was cultivating at that time, keeping the other for our own back yard sustainability experiment in liberally mixing edibles with lookables.

Fast forward several months and ChefSon moved into a slightly smaller non-ground floored condo space vacated by his sister as she headed off to graduate school. I re-inherited Meyer Lemon the Second, and have the two trees flanking a mosaic bed out back.

Now nearly a year later and we have the first "all our own" crop of lemons to crow about.

After meditating over the possibilities of "what to do with all those lemons" I finally decided to forgo limoncello as we are just not that into liqueurs.

I skipped over marmalade because we haven't eaten all the loquat strawberry jam from last Spring's efforts and aside from aggressively gifting people with more jars of jam (not that anybody has complained, mind you) I don't want to end up with cabinets filled with jams and preserves.

Lemonade would be a decadent misuse of the Meyers I believe and while I have plans to use some of them, juiced, for a couple of Thanksgiving recipes, I decided the rest ought to be preserved in a salt mixture, where they will hold for several months.

Here from David Lebovitz' amazing website is the basic process, although I am calling in ChefSon later today to add any tweaks of his own, and he will rightfully share the bounty, seeing as one of the trees was originally given to him.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.

Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there's a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you've incised the lemon with an X shape.

Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don't be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.

Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them.)

Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.

The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren't too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until their submerged, as I generally have to do.

After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they're ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they'll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.

To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.

Figuring out how to best employ this seasonal excess reminded me of various reactions I experienced as I helped LawSchoolGirl make a drive from Michigan to Texas recently.

I purposefully did not take my camera, partly due to space restrictions in the packed car that was to serve as my return transport to Austin, and partly as intentional discipline.

I wanted to soak up the sights on this trip using my eyes and not my camera. I wanted to experience what could come from simply seeing, rather than my typical framing, cropping, and review of the shots captured instead of relying upon my own powers of remembrance and observation.

Sightseeing out a car window, rather than flying so far above the fray, is its own reward. As we moved at car's pace from the North, where frosts and freezes were routine repeaters in the local weather forecasts, all the Fall color was on the ground, already carefully raked off of sidewalks and driveways. As we made our way South to where leaves were still clinging, it was fascinating to me to use my roadside vantage point to observe patterns of harvest I miss from my suburban setting.

In Michigan I noted one particularly large orchard along the highway we took while heading towards Indiana. Acres and acres of empty trees merely hinting at the bounty they had so recently released. Were these apple trees? Pears? Whatever they were, they were meticulously groomed and obviously well cared for.

Apples are a fruit I've begun to really enjoy again after years of avoidance. Alar scares have been overcome by the wider availability of organics plus several newly introduced varieties that pack all sorts of flavor, texture and nuance back into what had become all about packaging with no real content. Honeycrisps are a current family favorite. I've seen them described as "cider still in the skin". I think I like their crunch almost as much as the taste.

We moved past miles and miles of emptied corn fields in Illinois, some of them with stalks recently plowed under while others were just beginning that process. As we moved further South we caught up with the harvest, finally driving alongside fields where ears were being stripped of their kernels which were then being blown into trailered hoppers.

After crossing the line into Arkansas, the dominant roadside view abruptly changed from corn to cotton. Most of the white puffs were off the plants already and packed into huge 18 wheeler sized loaves lined along field edges, covered with colorful tarps and tagged with coding. Here and there in the small spaces between fields were drifts of cotton bolls looking like so many tiny snow drifts in the November sun shine.

Also predominant in Arkansas, especially in the early morning portion of our drive, were large red tailed hawks, seated on fence posts, all facing the rising sun. I eventually lost count of how many I saw that morning, but it was clear they had at least a temporary affinity for the newly harvested cotton fields. I suppose all sorts of small prey were exposed by the stripping of the fields, and perhaps the hawks were following the harvest opportunistically? I noticed once the roadside cotton and a few grain fields I couldn't readily identify were replaced by stands of old growth pine and understory sumac, there were no longer hawk sentinels along the highway.

The last two observations I'll share were somewhat related. All along the way we passed and were passed by vehicles loaded down with what appeared to be an entire family and all their belongings. I ventured a guess many of them are migrant harvesters, moving South, following the crops being taken from the fields. Some of them may have been heading home to share holidays with family and friends, but I feel certain most of them were hoping to find more work in the still sun warmed fields and orchards of the Rio Grande valley.

Watching these families with their belongings precariously piled atop various vehicles and trailers I was starkly reminded of how much I blindly accept in the process of bringing food from the field to my table. Driving past mile after mile of field planted fencerow to fencerow in relentless monoculture format was a stark reminder of how deeply invested our economy is in large scale agribusiness.

Even if governmental policies were to more actively support/demand determined divestment from monoculture agribusiness, it will take years of careful crop substitution and repurposing of the vast majority of our fields and farms to move from one style of food production to another. Do we have the national will for such a task?

Do we really have any other good choices?

One final note. After getting back home and making some pumpkin sausage soup in anticipation of a rainy cold front supposedly on the way I had just over a cup of pumpkin purée left over.

Relying on a faint memory I turned to the search engine of the ever reliable Simply Recipes to unearth this gem of a recipe: Pumpkin Ginger Nut Muffins. (And sure, I am partly telling you this because I am so impressed with myself for recalling a recipe I read and thought looked good over a month ago... In TexasDeb memory terms a month is like seven years!)As promised they were a snap to put together, did not require a stand mixer or any special equipment, and filled the house with the most wonderfully evocative autumnal aroma while baking. After the olfactory buildup I was hopeful the taste would stand up to the sensory promise already made and oh.... Me oh my. It so did just that.

These muffins are not overly sweet and would be perfect to have on hand as breakfast or late night snacks for any and all kitchen help you might manage to corral in the next week or so. And if you don't find yourself with a cup of left over pumpkin purée, these are well worth opening a can. Make a double batch and just try not to eat half of them before your guests arrive.


PassivePastry said...

when i was young and would draw my "dream home".... a lemon or orange tree was a must....
actually, i still feel strongly about several things on that list- a pickety fence, porch swing, wood floors.


TexasDeb said...

You're ahead of me there - I only knew I would have at least one cat (probably two) and wood floors.

As it turns out we only have one cat currently (and one additional cat visiting with my daughter) and no wood floors at all. Still working on that one....

Mayberry Magpie said...

I would love to have a lemon tree. But not sure it would do well during Oklahoma's relatively long and cold winters. I suppose I could bring it inside, couldn't I? Although I do this with my croton and my sago palm and they barely tolerate the winter indoors.

joco said...

What a nice read.
You will have to do it again when all the crops are still there to see.
I like PP's "pickety" fence.
Wouldn't mind one of those either.

BTW, do you put a pecan praline layer in the bottom of your pumpkin pie? (she said knowledgeably).

texasdeb said...

MM: I'm not sure what we will do with the two lemon trees if we get the harsher winter predicted for this year. They do not move easily, although both are in pots. A greenhouse to be is still only a frame, no walls or roof yet, so not sure if that race will be won by the Hub or Mother Nature.

Jo: I make both pecan and pumpkin pies each year. No pecans in our pumpkin and no pumpkin in our pecan pie either way under normal circumstances. Sounds delicious though. You want to guest post your recipe?