While we were in San Fran last week I got the chance to do something I am totally jealous of my past self for getting to do, which is eat and cook with very fresh citrus fruit.
Our first night there we walked up to a lookout point in the neighborhood were our friends live, Cole Valley. I never caught the name of the lookout, but it had truly breathtaking views, especially since most of the time we were In San Fran we had very clear and sunny weather, and that evening was warm to boot. The perfect antidote for what the weather's been like here in Seattle.
On our way back down the hill to order dinner (awesome and easy Thai, because Thai is never wrong.) I spotted something you would never in a million years see in Seattle, even if we did have actual summers and decent autumns: a fruiting Meyer lemon tree. Though by this point it was quite dark, I peered in among the branches and felt out some of the fruits that looked yellow in the glow of the streetlight. I tried to twist off a fruit I thought was ripe, but it wasn't quite there yet, or so I guessed since it didn't easily come off. I left it alone and went on my way with an added spring in my step.
I am going to share with you something about myself that you might not have know. I am a shameless urban fruit "forager" and while mostly I only take fruit that is on public or abandoned land, I will occasionally venture onto the more private side of things and pick fruit that is very obviously going to waste. These lemons were just at the tip of someone's yard. A very very wealthy person's yard. The tree was very well pruned, in a yard that looked pretty well manicured, and it was chock full of fruit that was ripening or ripe. Clearly, I told our hosts, they were not going to miss a lemon or two. Or a dozen. Right?
The next morning I went to the lookout by myself, early, in the fog, to take some pictures and see the city in a different light. I scoped out the tree again, this time with the sunlight on my side, and found that there were indeed quite a few ripe lemons hanging out in this tree. Hooray!
The day before we were set to leave was pretty busy. There were two very small earthquakes (exciting!) and it was the start of the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah (awesome!) which we celebrated by dancing with Torah scrolls and drinking tequila in a Baha'i Temple (drunky!). We ate dinner at a food truck gathering to make the food trucks in Seattle blush with inadequacy (yummy!) and had an awesome burrito in the Tenderloin of all places (wacky!).
We were supposed to pack for home and then be at a friend's house for breakfast the next morning at 8, before tooling around and then heading to the airport by 1. So of course, it was the perfect time to go
Aviva and I bundled up a bit (it finally was a little chilly in the evenings) and decided to take a trip up to the lookout one last time. And we took with us a cloth sack, "just in case" we found something worth bringing home. Maybe we would get lucky and there would be enough ripe ones to make a quart of preserved lemons. I maybe got a little carried away and we ended up with quite a few lemons, all without even a soul finding out what we were up to. It was slightly exhilarating, or maybe that was just the heady smell of the fruit wafting from the cotton bag as they jostled around in there while we practically skipped back home.
Anyway, we ended up having enough fruit to make a quart of preserved lemons, and a batch of ginger lemon marmalade. We cheated and used a couple of oranges and some lemons that were sitting around getting old. But we had a few fruits that were still sort of green so we sorted those out to ripen and use later, and there were even enough that I got to bring a couple home. As I peeled the zest from the fruit to make the marmalade, I couldn't help but taste the fruit itself. If you've never had fresh citrus like this, I highly recommend it if you get the chance. It made me insanely jealous of those Californians, even if I do love my hometown to pieces.
I don't own a copy of the Ball Book of Home Preserving, but that is the book we took both recipes from. We followed the marmalade pretty closely, substituting a couple of oranges for part of the lemons and halving the ginger, since that's just what we had on hand. We also used raw sugar instead of the usual white, which I think played off the ginger very very nicely. I have to remember that trick for other jams.
For the preserved lemons we substituted the bay leaves for fresh basil, and added a star anise. Basil and lemon are so nice together, and while this makes it a bit less traditional, I'm confident that the flavors will work well together and be great. I just hope the basil doesn't overpower the delicate flavor of the Meyer lemons. We'll see!
P.S. We live tweeted our canning adventure, but if you missed it and are using twitter, you can follow me @infamouspastry and get updates for future adventures!