By Verity James
I know that we’re all lime mad these days – and why wouldn’t we be, with their sharp, sweet flavour and exquisite bright green flesh- such a tonic in mid winter. But I also wouldn’t want us to ever lose their slightly less fashionable and infinitely cheaper sister, the lemon.
Listening to gardening shows, it’s more than apparent that a gazillion people still have them in their backyards but I wonder if we’re still using that bountiful harvest? Quite apart from their ability to mentally transport you to a sun-bathed Mediterranean garden while physically being in the middle of a dull Perth winter’s day. Those golden orbs, be they the sweeter Meyer or wondrously sharp tingling eurekas or even the thornier Lisbons, are powerhouses of flavour and goodness!
I was caught in a moment of marvel recently when a friend cooked a delicious rich osso bucco and then garnished it with its traditional gremolata. Such a simple mix of finely chopped parsley and garlic which is given life by sharp aromatic lemon zest. What winter warming casserole or stew wouldn’t be improved with that? Or use orange zest for a sweeter, rounder flavour with poultry or pork. Citrus fruits are so useful! Lemon juice with olive oil and parsley makes a great light dressing for a potato salad as an alternative to the sometimes cloying mayonnaise based dressings.
Make preserved lemon with your excess crop for delightful Xmas presents. take a large bowl and fill it with lemon quarters and loads of coarse salt. Massage the lemons well and then place them decoratively into some sterilized jars, making sure you pack in plenty of salt around them. For extra flavour, you can add bay leaves and cinnamon sticks too. Press it all down well and top up with lemon juice if need be. Then label and leave for at least six weeks. they should last until a bit beyond Xmas; fantastic in Middle eastern cooking.
And what about that great Lebanese salad tabbouleh? Loads of iron rich parsley, refreshing mint, and lemon juice soaked burgal (cracked wheat), finely chopped spring onions and tomatoes dressed with fruity WA extra virgin olive oil. What an amazingly tasty but super healthy salad to lift your spirits (and immune system) in winter. Budget and taste bud conscious cooks should look no further than spaghetti flavoured with lemon juice and zest, chopped chilli and Italian parsley. For extra body, add some sourdough chunks crisped up in some good olive oil.
Sliced lemons in water are a tremendous way of absorbing that acrid aroma of burnt anything around the house; should you have been less than attentive to your cooking. if you have a copper bowl you whisk your egg whites in, always wipe it out first with half a cut lemon to make sure there are no oil spots on the surface.
For loads of really good household hints, recipes and beauty ideas about what to do with excess lemons grab two small books by Mary Thornton called ‘the Little Lemon Book’ and ‘the 2nd Little Lemon Book’. they’re only $6 plus postage and they are brilliant!
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I’m delighted with the range of citrus trees which are so readily available now in a variety of sizes. They range from the ‘Lots of Lemons’ dwarf variety — small but unbelievably heavily laden trees; right through to the ‘Citrus Splitzers’ – the double graft dwarf citrus for small courtyards. with regular watering and feeding you could have a rich bounty all through the cold months. Just a tip for those living right on the coast, citrus doesn’t like wind. So only plant in protected sites and if salty winds are constant, wash the leaves regularly or they’ll defoliate.
You’ll only find Australian native citrus as produce at very select outlets but I have seen the trees at a few nurseries. These taste amazing and in the case of the ‘Finger Lime’ and the ‘Blood Lime’ – look ironically exotic! the Finger Lime has fruit which looks a bit like cocktail avocadoes but inside are full of tangy delicious pale pink pearls -not unlike girly caviar! the Blood Lime is how you imagine– deep red flesh and loads of flavour. the ‘Dessert Lime’ and the ‘Sunrise Lime’ are about and will become more popular in time as they are so suited to our climate. While the Finger is a spiky little fellow, it’s definitely worth growing in a tub in a sunny spot. At $40 a kilo, what better reason to grow your own — superb with oysters!
Look out for the smaller and much sweeter lemonade fruits, which you may have to get by planting your own. Eaten raw these are a wonderful addition to the widely available grapefruit, oranges, limes, mandarins and tangelos – all of which are at their best depth of flavour in winter.
Apart from being wonders in their own right, lemons are brilliant with so many winter veges — brussel sprouts and broccoli; red, savoy and wombok cabbages; and snow white cauliflowers- all can become marriages made in heaven.
Don’t forget some of the leaf veges during these months. English spinach is definitely best at this time of the year; as is rocket towards the end of winter going into spring. Make eggs Florentine with just wilted greens under perfectly poached eggs. Surely a little lemon or blood orange flavoured hollandaise sauce on top can only add a teensy few more calories.
More and more experts are saying we will be healthier if we eat whole foods, 80 per cent of our diet should be made up of unprocessed foods. It makes sense, so a couple of nights a week why not just have a big platter of roasted veges? Include parsnips, turnips, swedes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, pumpkin, fennel and whole onions.
Follow up with a winter fruit salad of pink lady or fuji apples, crunchy fuyu fruit, pears, oranges, red grapefruit mixed with dried peaches and apricots poached in orange juice and cinnamon, and you’ve got a recipe for super woman or man!
Or make a mains of a luridly green selection of lightly steamed greens, European and Asian, dressed with plenty of lemon and lime and you’ll be fair bursting out of your skin! this has the added advantage of granting the high moral ground when you head for the cheese, bread and wine the next night!
Forget the idea of a spring-clean or detox in September, you can fool your body into working perfectly in winter by indulging in a huge variety of cooked and uncooked fruits and veges all through these colder months. Happy health and taste buds!