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A Citrus Celebration & Recipes for Sharing

If I was told I could only have one type of fruit for the rest of my days, there would be no question... citrus wins hands down in my book, and if I had to be specific, lemons are at the top of the heap. I simply love the flavour, scent and colour of these versatile little beauties. From early memories of wandering through my Granddad's meticulously maintained garden where there always seemed to be, amongst much plentiful goodness, deep yellow jewels en-mass hanging amongst shiny dark green leaves. To more recent times of trying to recreate this bountiful supply in our own gardens, I lust after these fruit!

Whilst I'm blessed with a green fingered husband who successfully creates thriving vegetable patches for kitchen harvests, even in battling winds and less than tropical Wellington environs, it is citrus success that has evaded us. In fact, our first earnest attempt started full of optimism as we lovingly placed a young Meyer Lemon in our back yard, ready for it to flourish. Months later, we were left with a sad spindly specimen bearing one lonely little leaf. We actually tried out the garden centre's customer promise by taking our defunct purchase back to the source. Quite rightly the expert on duty informed us that whilst the Meyer was a very reliable producer, it still requires generous watering and some citrus food wouldn't go amiss every so often also. We conceded and as our little lemon was still in a pot (determined to take it's delicious bounty with us when we moved), we made it our mission to be better lemon guardians. We did nurture that little tree and as a result, the new owners of our last Wellington property will enjoy it's first serious lemon harvest (we did finally plant it out as it's survival and growth became our priority).

Without fail, I do a double-take and let out a longing sigh whenever I pass a flourishing citrus tree, branches heavy under the weight of it's fruit. And equally, I feel a pang of sadness when I see an abundance of fruit left to rot on the ground below. How could anyone ever let this happen?

So I truly feel as if we've hit the jackpot now. As we experience each season here for the first time, we delight in the gifts of the land. Autumn delivered sweet pears and copious amounts of succulent figs, and Winter? Well Winter has given us the heady intoxicating scent of darling Daphne which are thoughtfully positioned at the entry of each cottage. And much to my excitement, an absolute plentitude of citrus!

With not just a couple, but at least three lemon trees, four orange, a grapefruit tree and others that are still finding their feet and will no doubt be next year's addition to the mix, there has been no shortage. The fresh juice has been squeezed for our first guests at the Orchard Cottage as an addition to their complimentary basket of breakfast provisions. Oranges have been added to fennel salads, roasted beetroot and complimented with feta and walnuts. Squeezed and zested generously over carrots, both raw and cooked with ginger and honey. In dressings and marinades, with pork, chicken and fragrant, sticky Asian beef dishes... the inspiration is endless.

Lemony goodness is also used most days, whether its a squeeze added to water, flavouring a luscious risotto with prawns or flourished over creamy pasta and topped with parmesan. In all kinds of salads, with tahini, garlic and yoghurt over veges, mashed with avocado and feta with eggs for weekend brunch, doused over crispy salmon, baked with chicken or squeezed over fried rice... oh zingy lemon, you light up my life!
Supplies are still plentiful and it's time to think about preservation. When a few juicy fruit drop to the ground, I'm out there scooping them up and scouting out recipes to capture their flavour. For oranges, recently it was sweet marmalade that I tried, again the ever-reliable Pinterest came up trumps with a recipe from Rachel Paxton.

It requires no extra pectin as this is extracted naturally from the oranges by leaving four oranges and two lemons thinly sliced to soak overnight in their cooking liquid (8 cups of water and sugar). The next day, the fruit is simmered for a couple of hours according to the recipe, but personally I usually find jams and preserves don't take as long as stated in the original recipe, as was the case here. I don't know why this is but I usually just go but the look of things and this was certainly reaching 'jammy' consistency after about one and half hours at most. The result is a sweet, wonderfully rich and chewy marmalade which is lovely on toast but also goes really well on a cheese board complimenting a creamy blue.
The other way I love to use lemons is when they have been preserved. In a salty brine the rinds are mellowed but the overall lemon flavour is intensified so they're perfect for adding to slow cooks, Mediterranean dishes, casseroles, pasta and risottos to name a few. This is my first attempt at preserving lemons so I can't actually testify to a success just yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed the simple process of creating a large jar and used a recipe from one of my favourite wholefood Instagrammers @countrykitchennz, www.countrykitchen.co.nz.

So armed with a sterilised jar and about eight lemons, I actually sliced mine getting rid of most of the pips along the way. I realise this isn't traditional as Italians do them whole but I love the convenience of having them in smaller pieces. A couple of tablespoons of salt in the bottom of the jar and my pile of sliced lemons scattered with salt I then layered and pressed them tightly into the jar. As directed, a couple more tbsp. of salt to finish and pressing down so the juice releases and covers all of the fruit. I sealed the top of the jar and they'll sit on the bench for a few days then in the fridge, not forgetting to give a little shake every few days.

In three weeks we'll test the finished product and I'm sure we'll enjoy rich lemony deliciousness for a number of months to come - they easily last up to 6 months in the fridge, brilliant!
So it's a true citrus celebration around here and these bright beauties have certainly been a ray of light on the sometimes chilly and more gloomy days of winter. One thing that we never seem to be short of here in the lovely north is a generous dose of rainfall, and while this can be a bit tiresome when a heavy shower stretches on a bit longer than is convenient. I can't help but think of the stern advice we received from that gardening guru over our first forlorn little lemon, as long as we are here we will always guarantee a regular watering!