Salted Citrus

Lemon tree very pretty
and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon
is impossible to eat….

Someone should have given Peter, Paul, & Mary a box of salt!

Gus Eberhardt is a Family Farmer with an eccentric flair.
(that description basically sums up my favorite kind of farmer!)

I can’t help but ponder, “Gus, you live in Oregon…your farm is named “Raynblest”…do you really feel it’s prudent to grow cactus paddles, lemongrass, tropical fruits, and citrus?!”

Apparently so.  For what started as a hobby has grown (literally) into a branch of his business.  While honey, prunes, eggs, and bee-products remain the mainstay of the farmstand’s wares, the tropical offerings are rapidly gaining popularity.

As the citrus season wanes, vernal vegetables spring forth.  The segue of seasons offers opportune pairings.  Lemony hollandaise with asparagus, for example.  Citrus flavors compliment & heighten the minerally-tasting grassy greens (spinach, dandelion, nettles), offer a refreshing contrast to rich proteins (like lamb & salmon), and cut through sweet desserts to heighten fruit flavors (lemon curd or cake with fresh strawberries). They are light and bright, like spring itself – even the colors reflect the Easter palate, mimicking bright yellow, green, and orange-colored holiday eggs & daffodils.

One of my favorite things to do with lemons, and now rangpur limes (thanks, Gus, for introducing me to this intriguing fruit), is to preserve them through salting.

Salting citrus, a technique that both changes the characteristics of the fruit, and extends their season, is one of the easiest preservation methods.  No sterilizing, no waterbath or pressure canning, no cooking – and just 2 ingredients; salt & citrus.

And how does one use their salted citrus?  Traditionally, preserved lemons are added to Moroccan tagines, as in this recipe for Spicy Potato Tagine with Preserved Lemon & Olives from Paula Wolfert.  Beyond tagines, they are quite versatile.  Use preserved lemons & salted limes in dishes where you want a unique citrus flavor, and a salt-seasoning (the saltiness should come through in a dish as it does when you use capers or olives – complimenting with salty bites, but not overwhelming the other ingredients).  I finely chop the salted citrus and add it to salads, like the one with goat feta and crisp crackers I’ve given the recipe for below, or the one on this blog post, with fennel & apple.  You can also add a bit to crab salad or tuna salad, or to salsa verde to top fish or chicken.  Paired with tarragon, it’s lovely with chicken – paired with mint & oregano, it brightens and enhances the flavors of roast lamb or grilled chops.  Adding a bit to a fish en papillote (parchment-wrapped fish) scents & seasons the protein, as well as whatever vegetables you’ve nestled in there.

Here are several more ideas:

  • I love a bit of preserved lemon or lime thrown into spinach or greens that I’m sautéing.
  • One could easily tuck a few slices under the skin of a chicken before roasting, or add slices to a braise or fricassee.
  • Steam broccoli or roast cauliflower, then toss the cooked vegetables into a bowl with a bit of chopped preserved citrus, olives, capers, fresh herbs (lots of parsley), and even hard-cooked egg for added interest to routine veggies.
  • salmon or tuna tartare,
  • quick tomato sauce,
  • olive relish,
  • deviled eggs,
  • rice pilaf

…I could go on and on spouting ideas.  These lemons are inspiring!

Gus’ story & farming practices are interesting, so I’ll follow-up this post with an interview with the Farmer, and more about his citrus that he brings to market.

Raynblest Farm will have citrus for the next month, as the harvest wanes.  Extend the season easily with this recipe:

Salted Citrus

I used Raynblest Farm’s Meyer Lemons to make a jar of sprightly scented preserved lemons, and Rangpur Limes (a naturally occurring hybrid between a lemon & a mandarin orange) for a unique alternative to the typical preserved lemons.

Start by giving the citrus a good scrub.  I use a soft vegetable brush and warm water.  The scent that rises up as you scrub is soothing – a perk of the process!

Trim both ends; the stem end & the nub.

Stand the fruit on its end and slice down, not quite all the way, so that it is still attached at the bottom.  Do this again, making a perpendicular slice, so that you have cut and X and the fruit is now divided into 4 sections, but still intact at the base.  The fruit at this point is reminiscent, to me, of one of those paper fortune-telling games from grade school.

Choose a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (make sure the jar is clean – sterilizing is unnecessary – but you can if you want to).  Add a layer of salt (about a tablespoon or two).  Use Kosher salt.  Sea salt is said to work as well, but I’ve heard people comment that the end result can be a little slimy when sea salt is used.

Open each lemon or lime over a bowl and pour about a tablespoon of salt into the cuts (a little more with a larger lemon, perhaps a little less with a smaller lime).  Pack the fruit into the jar as you go, fitting them tightly together.  Between each layer of citrus, sprinkle a layer of salt (about a tablespoon or so – use the salt that spills into the bowl).  Fill the jar, forcing them in if necessary.  Top off the jar with another tablespoon of salt.  Close the lid.

On the subject of lids – I prefer a plastic or glass lid to the metal screw bands, which will rust and weep when it reacts to the salt.  Plastic lids (be sure to choose BPA-free) are perfect for re-sealing high-acid preserves like salted citrus, as well as opened jars of pickles, relish, & vinegar.

Place the jar on the counter and let it sit for 3 days, turning the jar and giving it a good shake at least twice a day to distribute the salt and encourage the juices to seep out of the fruit (I place my jar in a convenient location and give it a turn whenever I walk by, maybe a half-dozen times a day.  I enjoy it – I get to appreciate the progress firsthand without a lot of effort.).  If the citrus is not giving off a lot of juice, open the lid and give the fruit a press to help things along.

On the fourth day, the juice should be over the fruit.  If not, top off the jar with fresh juice (bottled juice will affect the flavor & make the preserves cloudy).  Place the jar in the refrigerator & wait.  One month.

While you are waiting, the lemons will transform, absorbing the salt and softening.  Their rinds and pith will lose most of their bitterness, and the flavor will become more complex.  You can try them earlier in the process, but they will be sharper, more bitter, than if you wait.

You can then use the salty preserve as-is.  Just remove a lemon or lime, or a section, from the jar (with a utensil, to keep from introducing bacteria from hands), and chop.  Or if they are too salty for your liking, give them a rinse or a little soak in cold water.

Preserved citrus will keep, refrigerated, for, well, a long time.  I’ve had my first batch for a year, and they are better than 6 months ago.  Officially, I’d say 6 months to a year, to be safe, but as long as they are fresh-smelling and not slimy or moldy, they are good to go.
(Note –  You want to be sure that the liquid level is high enough to cover the citrus in the jar.)

Three Quick Preserved Citrus Recipes

Gathered Greens with Preserved Lemon, Goat Feta, & Lavash Crackers

serves 4

4 oz. tender salad greens (soft spring wild greens work especially well – try a mix of miner’s lettuce, amaranth, purslane, watercress, & chickweed)
1 1/2 tsp. fruity vinegar, such as raspberry or Blossom Vinegars loganberry vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
several grindings of black pepper
1 tsp. chopped preserved lemon
2 oz. goat feta (Alsea Acres goat feta is my favorite local feta), or substitute sheep’s milk feta
lavash crackers – recipe found here

Place the greens in a bowl.  Sprinkle in the vinegar and drizzle in the olive oil.  Toss to coat the greens with the dressing.  Add the black pepper & preserved lemon and toss gently.  Divide the salad amongst 4 chilled plates.  Crumble the feta over the salad.  Stick the crackers into the salad and serve immediately.  With a crisp chenin blanc, if desired.

Salad of Dungeness Crab
 with Preserved Meyer Lemon, Salted Rangpur Lime,
 Samphire, & Soft Herbs

serves 4

8 oz. Dungeness crab meat
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
2 tsp. champagne vinegar, or a fruity vinegar such as raspberry
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh soft herbs, such as tarragon, fennel fronds, parsley, dill, chervil, plus more whole leaves for garnish
2 tsp. chopped fresh chives, plus chives cut in 1 inch lengths for garnish
1 tsp. finely sliced preserved Meyer lemon
1 tsp. finely sliced salted rangpur lime
2 oz. fresh marsh samphire (aka salicornia or sea beans), broken into bite-size pieces
tender salad greens
roasted golden beets with citrus marinade – recipe found here

Pick over the crab meat to ensure there are no shells.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, and olive oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that salty ingredients will be added to the salad.  Add the crab meat to the bowl, along with the chopped herbs, chives, chopped lemon, chopped lime, & half of the samphire.  Toss gently to combine.  Taste the crab salad and adjust seasonings.

Toss the tender salad greens with a spoonful of the citrus marinade from the beets, and divide amongst four plates.  Sprinkle the beets over the salad.  Top the greens with the crab salad.  Garnish with the remaining samphire, several chive sticks, and fresh herb leaves.

Crisp Beet Salad with Preserved Lemons

serves 4

I wrote this recipe for a packet of recipe note cards produced by the Portland Farmers’ MarketThe recipe on the card has 2 raw vegetable salads (one is a shredded carrot salad with za’atar & yogurt dressing, the other grated raw beets & preserved lemon) that are served atop a bed of greens.  This is the beet salad included in the recipe card.

2 cups peeled & shredded (or grated) fresh raw beets
2 tsp. finely chopped preserved lemon
2 tsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of watercress per person
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the beets, preserved lemon, orange juice, vinegar, and olive oil, and toss to combine.  Taste and add salt, if needed, and a grinding of pepper.  Plate the beet salad atop the greens.  Serve immediately.

And what to listen to when you’re shaking your lemons?

Why Lemon Tree Song, of course!

…or perhaps The Lemon Song…if you really need to get the juices flowing!

About Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans

By offering Sage Culinary Advice, The Farmer's Feast assists Farmers' Market shoppers in making the most of their purchases, and helps vendors realize the culinary possibilities of their products. We create culinary education programs at Farmers' Markets. Through food preparation and cooking demonstrations, recipes focusing on technique, samples, stories and free advice, we're encouraging people to cook more often, from scratch, with market-fresh ingredients. Our goal? To cultivate domestic culinary arts. Once you've tasted the Farmer's Feast - glistening local produce, pastured meats, artisan cheese, wild seafood, rich nuts, grains and legumes - and see how easy cooking this bounty can be, you'll be hungry for fresh. Visit The Farmer's Feast on Facebook / E-mail wildeats@msn.com
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