On exactly this day of last year, I introduced you to my lemon tree. I was proud, awed, and most of all, optimistic about its chances for survival. I swept up every fallen leaf until there wasn’t one left on the tree, and then, bolstered by encouraging cheers from friends that “lemon trees just do this, and they always come back,” I trimmed back the wood in search of green. I trimmed and I trimmed until the tree was just a trunk in its pot, and then, perhaps to punish myself, I left the dead trunk on the porch for the entire summer where it could continue to remind me that I had failed the life that had once resided there. Later in the season, I was at the nursery and the owner (who had both supplied the original tree and given advice and support when it was in distress) asked me how the lemon tree was doing. Head down, without meeting his eye, I confessed that the lemon tree had officially expired.
“I have a few extra right now, if you want to try again.”
And that’s how I came to own my current lemon tree. The tree was scraggly and lopsided, but I loved it all the same from the very start. It came with two small green lemons on one branch, and those fruits weighed so heavily on the tiny ill-equipped branch that sometimes I’d slide a table underneath the lemons to give the poor tree a break. The lemons stayed small and green and lonely, and I sang to it, kept its feet dry, and carried it outside on warm sunny days. Instead of putting its energy into growing fruit, the tree sprouted large spikes that stabbed me as I cared for it. I knew it was crazy, but I swear the tree was trying to tell me something.
“If you want lemons, move to California, you fucking locavore.”
But the two fruits grew, slowly, although they stayed hard and green. Right around Thanksgiving, one of them was plucked by a gleeful toddler who’d been warned off them during every visit for months. He’d been waiting for his chance, and although his mother, my friend, dragged him over to me and insisted on a tearful apology, his “sorry” was accompanied by a wide grin of deep satisfaction. I was at his birth, and he’s like a third child to me, so I forgave him in the end. I was down to one lemon.
I left for a week and a half in March, and Joey sent me text images of the lemon as it neared to completion. And by the beginning of April, it was full and round and bright yellow. I picked it, and that was that. Even more, at the time I’m writing this, the tree still lives. There are even new buds!
At this point, the question arises as to what to do with such a precious fruit. How do I make use of every bit of that tiny wonderful sunshine, and extend its glory for as long as possible? Luckily, my friend Marisa, queen of all things small-batch canning, had just released her new book, and she was full of ideas. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do with only one perfect lemon, but I bought a few more at the store and I got to work. I figured my lemon would be happy to have some company at last.
If you’ve been eyeing Marisa’s new book as the coming canning season approaches, I’ll add my name to the list of people singing its praises. The flavor combinations in this book are inspiring and and wonderful, but my favorite thing about it is its approachability. For all the times I end up with 20 pounds of strawberries to process into enough jam for the winter, there are many more times when I have a pint of this or a pound of that, and I want to make something delicious, either for now or later. Preservation doesn’t have to be a major endeavor–it can be as simple as cooking down a few cups of fruit, herbs, and sweetener for one jar that will keep in the fridge for a few weeks while I empty it onto toast and stir it into yogurt. Preserving by the Pint is an entire book of these approachable, low-committment projects, and especially if the process of large-scale canning feels like too much for you, this book will bring preservation into your kitchen is small batches.
I also want to share something I’m especially excited about–Marisa and I are teaching a weekend long class together at Rowe Camp and Conference Center in Rowe, Massachusetts in the end of September. We’ve been talking about teaching together for a long time, and I can’t wait for this. The class is called Kitchen Skills for the Modern Homestead: Staples you can Stop Buying and Start Making, and we’ll spend the weekend making breads, home dairy, jams and fruit butters, snacks, and a few ferments. It will be good for beginners and more advanced cooks alike, and most of all, it will be a chance to spend the whole weekend talking, cooking, and eating together–in one of my very favorite places. I know it seems like ages away, but space is limited, so this is a great time to block away a spot on your calendar and claim a spot.
And what did I do with my lemon? I made something truly wonderful–wonderful enough to get my lemon tree to stop cussing at me. In fact, I swear that tree has a few less spikes than it did. I’ll blame it on the marmalade.
Lavender Lemon Marmalade
reprinted with permission from Running Press from Marisa McClellan, Preserving By the Pint
Makes 3 (half-pint/250 ml) jars
(Alana’s note: Marisa includes directions for canning, but I just put this one right in the fridge. It will last at least a month.)
1 pound/460 g thin-skinned lemons
2 cups/400 g granulated sugar
1 tablespoon food-grade lavender buds
Wash the lemons in warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Using a very sharp knife, cut both the flower and stem ends off the fruit. Sit each trimmed lemon on one of its newly flat ends and cut it into 6 wedges. Lay each wedge on its side and cut away the strip of inner membrane and the seeds. Reserve the trimmed pith and seeds (we’ll be using them as a pectin source).
Thinly slice each trimmed wedge. What you want to end up with are bits of lemon that are no more than 1/4 inch/6 mm thick (1/8 inch/3 mm thick is even better) and no more than 11/2 inches/4 cm in length. Repeat this with all the lemons.
Place the lemon confetti in a bowl and cover with 2 cups/480 ml of water. Bundle up the reserved seeds, inner membranes, and lavender buds into a length of cheesecloth, tie the ends tightly, and pop that into the bowl. Cover and place it in the refrigerator overnight (it can be left this way for up to 48 hours).
Prepare a small boiling water bath and 3 half-pint/250 ml jars. Place 3 lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Pour the lemons, pectin bundle, and water in a large pot. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Place the pot over high heat, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 to 25 minutes, until it reaches 220°F/105°C. The wider your pot, the faster it will cook. Once it has reached temperature and seems quite thick, remove the marmalade from the heat. Funnel the marmalade into the prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch/12 mm of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Note: If you struggle to pick out thin-skinned lemons, here’s a tip. Look for the ones that have the smoothest rind, as it’s an indication of a thinner pith layer. Lemons that have really bumpy and pockmarked surfaces have much thicker pith layers.