We are lucky, here in California’s Central Valley, to have lots of sunny weather. So many people have citrus trees in their yards that when everybody’s bumper crops come in, starting as early as December, it’s often hard to find any takers when you ask, “Does anybody want a bag of lemons?”
I’m a bit of a citrus hoarder, so I admit to not asking that question often. Woe unto the friend who wants to take a few of my clementines! Such perfect tiny globes, so sweet, and the peel practically falls away in one or two pieces. I guard that tree from everybody– squirrels, parents, friends, gardeners, you name it.
The Navel oranges are good too, but I don’t get as protective of the tree. Perhaps because the branches are higher, people aren’t as inclined to pilfer from it, and perhaps because Navels are not too hard to find in the store, I’m not as stingy with them.
We also have a Eureka lemon tree, and here is where my problem lies. Lemons are one of my favorite cooking ingredients, so I want to keep all the lemons (each and every one!) but our tree is so prolific that I have the devil of a time figuring out how to use them all before the tree starts to grow new leaves and blossoms. If lemons are still on the tree during this time, new growth (next year’s crop) is endangered. It’s a conundrum. Well, for me it is, because I’m greedy.
So far, I’ve made candied lemon peels, panettone, and a few lemon pound cakes. The problem is, you can only nibble on so many candied lemon peels before you start having disturbingly lemony fresh burps, and you can only eat so much panettone before you start to actually look like a panettone.
Luckily, I’m Greek and I cook like one. We use lemon on most vegetable dishes. I use it in salads instead of vinegar, and squeeze it on broccoli or whatever greens we are having for dinner. Each batch of hummus uses up a whole lemon, and I’ve made a lot of hummus. So far, cooking like the Greek girl I am has used up the most lemons– a squeeze here, a squeeze there, it adds up– but there are still so many to use up! Each fruit hangs outside on the tree, better preserved than if I’d picked it, and it’s become a source of guilt. It has even crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, I should ask on Facebook if anybody needs some lemons. I’m still resisting.
There are no Moroccan restaurants in my town, but I have a Moroccan cookbook that makes my mouth water every time I flip through it, and preserved lemon makes an appearance in practically every recipe. I found some ex-kimchi jars, used up all my kosher salt and in a few weeks will be able to make Moroccan food, replete with preserved lemons! Nine lemons down, 991 to go– or so it seems.
I’m using even more lemons up by making limoncello. Since my kimchi jars were being used, I bought the biggest Mason jars I’d ever seen (who knew they made them so huge?) and some vodka, and I feel like I’m waiting for the slowest Lemon Drop ever. Literally. I’ve got lemons dangling suggestively in cheesecloth, sweating over jars containing more vodka than I’ve ever bought at one time in my life. I’ve never even had limoncello before, but can’t see how it could go wrong. Lemons, sugar and vodka– how is that not a recipe for success? Unfortunately, each jar of limoncello only requires two lemons.
Two days ago, a friend’s little boy was over, and he picked up a stick and began whacking things with it. Before I knew what he was doing, he was gleefully whacking away at the new leaves on my beloved lemon tree! I ran outside and asked him to stop. He did, explaining that he was picking lemons, and of course I told him that you pick lemons with your hands, not a stick. But as I said that, I realized that to him, it was just a lemon tree with a bunch of dusty, aging lemons on it. They are about to be past their prime, and because I want to hold onto all of them, I’m about to endanger next season’s Eurekas.
Is everybody this greedy about their citrus? Is it just me? Am I any better than people who don’t pick their fruit and just let it rot on the tree all summer? I’ve had just as many candied lemon peels and lemon breads as I can take, and as a non-Moroccan, I suspect my two kimchi jars of preserved lemons will last quite a while. I haven’t even bought a tagine yet.
It goes against my nature, but I have to ask. Does anybody want a bag of lemons?