This past week was spent babysitting lemons as a part of my lemon pickling experiment. I periodically turned over a salted lemon without a peel and regularly stirred two brining lemons with peels, looking for signs of some magic alchemy taking place. Sadly, none was immediately evident, which was not surprising but was disappointing, nonetheless. Still, I put my faith in Beeton and dutifully tended my citrus for six days.
As soon as I had free time this weekend I sprang the lemons from their respective brines. There was little obvious change, but I did notice that the lemons with the peels on were slightly heavier than they had been before brining, and their peels were slightly smoother. The one without the peel on had shrunk a bit, as if it knew what awaited it. And (spoiler alert!) what awaited it was not good. I tackled this one first, following Mrs. Beeton’s instructions to heat the lemon to dry the salt. Not having a fire in the same way I imagine she’s describing, I put the lemon in a heavy lidded pot over a very low flame on my gas stove. Since the idea is, as I mentioned, to dry the salt – for what reason I’m not exactly sure, as the next step has you pouring boiling vinegar over it all – I think it would have been wiser to do this in a low oven. But I’m apparently more of a trial and error cook and in this case that was pretty much exactly as it turned out – I tried it and it was an error. Insert rim shot here. The problem was that, even on a super low flame the salt on the outside burned before the rest of the salt was even remotely dry. Eventually, the entire business got brown and stuck to the pan, and when I tried to get it up the lemon pulled apart and it all went to hell.
I didn’t bother continuing with the process, because there was so little left to keep and it really needed to be put out of its misery. RIP, pickled lemon without the peel.
On the plus side, the lemons with the peel on fared much better. I boiled them, as instructed, and can recommend this as an air freshener, too. The lovely, lemony smell almost covered the boiling vinegar smell that preceded it. After boiling, the lemons were even heavier and smoother than before. Who knew how much liquid a lemon could absorb? Once they were cool I popped them in sterilized jars (Mrs. B doesn’t specify that you must sterilize the jars but the USDA canning site has scared me so deeply that I fear I will soon be sterilizing our silverware and plates and anything, basically, that comes into contact with our mouths) and watched the cloves and other spices swirl around. It was kind of dazzling, to be honest, even if it’s not the most amazing culinary feat ever attempted. I have just been kind of skittish about canning in any way (picking, fermenting, whatever) because of the aforementioned site o’ horrors. It’s a great site, really, a deeply informative site, but the underlying message I pick up is that if I don’t do everything just right I will die. The minute the jar is opened, instant death. So you can see how spending a week with a couple of lemons and finally wrangling them into what I assume is a fairly disease-free environment for what I hope is about a year or so might bring a measure of satisfaction.
Lemons pickled (or, pickling), I decided to end the Beeton-related activities for the weekend. I’ve got my eye on some more comfort food recipes for this week, though (bread and butter fritters, for example?), and the sawdust quest from my first post continues. And – prepare for another rim shot – the picture I grabbed of my pickled lemon includes, I kid you not, my favorite uninvited guest… Eggs, anyone?