Housekeeping! From August 2014, Living Within.
A holiday month, and distant climes beckon, and I am writing this from the South of France; not my normal locale, and I might be out of my comfort zone as far as holidays and a little R&R go - what with it being so hot and busy and noisy and sandy and all - except there is also a fantastic market just down the road. A little bit touristy, as many French markets are at this time of year, and a little bit inclined to want to counter my French with their English, but we “get by”, and understand each other. Food is, after all, a universal language and I am allowed to touch and taste, even prod a little, and everyone has advice to give about how best I might put together my next meal with whatever it is that they have to offer.
My first stall this morning is full of things “preserved”: olives, and tomatoes and other Provençal basics, but winking at me atop all the rest are the preserved lemons - a Morrocan staple and a very particular seasoning ingredient. Only these are not actually lemons at all, they are citrons (or “cédras” in French), a bigger subtler version from the same basic family and maybe worth a try in a tagine or a salad or to chop with a few olives, or who knows what else.
They are, as you can see from the picture, priced at a premium for an August holiday market, but they can be made at home with very little trouble or expense. Citrons, of course, are not as readily available to us as they are in the Mediterranean, but lemons are more traditional preserved in this manner in any case and so are a perfect substitute. It is only the skin that you eat when they are eventually ready, and so the citron, while well suited as it has more skin and pith than it does pulp as a rule, has a milder flavour than a lemon, maybe making it more suitable for adding raw to a salad, but lemons will definitely give you more zing.
You will need: a clinically clean preserving jar, with lid (either: scald with boiling water; put through a hot dishwasher cycle, or “bake” in a moderately hot oven for a good 5 minutes - leave to cool); lemons (unwaxed, enough to fill the jar and more to provide juice to cover them); some coarse salt, and a little olive oil.
Cut the lemons that will fill your jar along their length (from tip to stalk end - DON’T cut all the way through the stalk end; you want a “cross” cut through each lemon so that you can see the four exposed quarters, but the lemon should retain the overall shape of a whole fruit). Rub a tablespoon of salt into the pulp of the lemon and then put it into the preserving jar, and repeat this process with as many lemons as will squeeze snugly in there together, side by side and top to tail.
Squeeze the juice from the additional lemons, enough to provide juice to completely cover those that are in the jar, and when the jar is full, to about 1cm from the top with lemons and salt (add any ‘escaped’ salt to the jar), drizzle a layer of olive oil over the top as “seal”. Close the jar with its appropriate clinically clean lid, and put in a cool place (the fridge is perfect) and leave for about a month - or a couple of weeks at least if you can’ t wait longer - before using.
When they are ready, use the “quarter” lemons by scraping away the pulp (discard this) and then chop the rind and pith into small chunks or dice, or slice thinly, and add to a chicken tagine (spiced with cumin and turmeric, based on golden onions, partnered with chickpeas, and garnished, finally, with fresh parsley), for example, or add to a bowl of olives, or to a dish of potatoes or to couscous - whatever! You may become addicted and just not know when to stop.