If you are the parent of an indoor citrus tree you know about anticipation. After many months of waiting, and of watching buds, blossoms, and embryonic green fruit forming (often to drop off!), you have a perfectly ripe lemon (or yuzu or calamondin…), ready to pick. You did it! But what can you possibly make that will do justice to this precious crop? Whether you are using a single fruit, or a flock, here are 7 ideas on what to do with them—techniques for infusions, syrups, candies, a salted ferment, marmalade, citrus powder, and dried fruit.
Images by Marie Viljoen (unless otherwise noted).
My own five citrus trees spend about seven months inside our Brooklyn apartment, facing sunny south. Harvesting their fruit feels like a party.
An easy way to preserve especially fragrant citrus is to drop slices into gin (or vodka or white rum). Strain the liquor after a week, and bottle. Incorporate the leftover fruit into marmalade (with some fresh fruit for necessary pectin).
Yuja-cha (Korean yuzu tea) is made by pouring boiling water over yuja-cheong: yuzu preserved in an uncooked, slightly fermented syrup. It is a deeply versatile ingredient in its own right. The technique can be applied to any citrus fruit.
To make the yuja-cheong: Slice a ripe, clean yuzu thinly. Pry out the numerous fat seeds. Layer the slices in a clean jar with sugar. Close the jar loosely and leave on the counter for about five days, stirring daily. Syrup will form quite quickly. If, once all the sugar has melted, the top slices are exposed, top up with more sugar until they remain covered. Transfer to the fridge.
The liquid syrup is a precious ingredient in mocktails and cocktails, pan sauces, desserts, and of course, the therapeutic tea. Just add boiling water to a couple of slices with a spoonful of syrup, and sip.
In New York’s East Village photographer Juliana Sohn applied the syrup-technique to the best of her three-fruit Meyer lemon crop. The tree lives indoors full-time. She tends it lovingly, tying the branches to a support so the heavy lemons don’t break them. “The largest, prettiest lemon was so precious I sat on what I should do with it,” she wrote, in a message. “Lemonade? Didn’t want it to go into a salad dressing or some side role…” So she sliced it and packed it into a jar with sucanat (a whole sugar similar to muscovado), which she plans to deploy in tea and in a marinade for sticky chicken wings.
Plant stylist Tara Douglass tends a calamondin tree for one of her clients, Domino Records in DUMBO, Brooklyn. The tree is loaded with the tart fruit and she is hoping they shake up some calamondin cocktails, to celebrate. A wonderful way to catch the scent of calamondins (or clementines) is to pack the halved fruit, or just the peels, in a jar. Cover with bourbon. Add enough maple syrup to sweeten very slightly. The longer it sits the better it gets.
I make candied zest from my own Meyer lemons (the juice goes into cocktails). The candied zest makes delightful cake toppings, and pretty gifts.
To candy citrus zest peel the fruit with a potato peeler, cut into strips and blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain. Measure out enough water to cover the zest. Measure the same volume of sugar. Combine water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Add the zest. Poach at a gentle simmer for 45 minutes. Cool in the syrup. You can either bottle it now in the syrup, or remove, drain, and toss in granulated sugar. Spread the sugared strips out to dry on parchment paper. Store (indefinitely) in a jar at room temperature.
A Japanese friend gifted me her addictively good yuzu-skin candy, with her recipe. The method works with loose-skinned clementines and mandarins, too: Slice the fruits in half and juice (save or freeze the juice for another use). Remove the membranes that remain. Cut each half into four or eight pieces. Boil these triangular pieces for 5 minutes each time in three changes of water. Drain. Combine equal volumes of water and rock sugar to cover the skins, and boil gently until no liquid is left. Drain and dry the peels on wire racks or parchment for few days or on the lowest setting in your oven. When they feel dry, sprinkle with granulated sugar. Keep in a jar.
In her townhouse windows, Brooklyn gardener and garden designer Rachel Prince overwinters a variegated calamondin, a variegated kumquat, a key lime and three Meyer lemons. She preserves the lemons in sea salt or kosher salt, with bay leaf, coriander, cardamom, mustard seeds, and white peppercorns, and “sometimes chile flakes or black peppercorns.”
To preserve a lemon in salt, cut it into quarters (you can leave them attached, or not). Place in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of salt and massage well. Transfer the lemon to a clean jar, pack with more salt, cover with a lid and leave at room temperature for at least a month. The lemon will ferment slowly. Once opened, refrigerate.
An ideal way to use and preserve citrus is to make marmalade, good not just on toast but on cakes and even in savory sauces and marinades (think winter vegetables, roast duck, and barbecued ribs).
The secret to good marmalade to soak the sliced fruit overnight. Use the soaking water when the marmalade cooks; it is loaded with pectin, which makes the marmalade set perfectly (my Thai lime marmalade recipe is in the link).
Finally, citrus powder (for any citrus fruit): Peel the skin, leaving behind the pith (after it’s peeled you can juice the fruit). Spread the skin on parchment paper and air-dry until the pieces are brittle. When dry, spin the peels in a coffee grinder until fine. To use citrus powder: Dust it onto a roast chicken as it comes out of the oven, mix with breadcrumbs or nuts to coat fish fillets (or winter squash) before baking, or add a pinch to a soy dipping sauce for raw vegetables.
Any sweet citrus is delicious, dried. The crisp slices make excellent snacks, gorgeous garnishes for drinks, and edible Christmas tree ornaments. Slice the fruit, remove seeds, spread on a baking sheet, and bake at 200’F until crisp (this can take as long as 6 hours). Store in a sealed jar.
We hope you are inspired. Keep growing!
For more on lemons, see:
- Gardening 101: Lemon Tree
- 14 Things Nobody Tells You About Indoor Citrus Trees
- Winter Is Coming: How to Keep an Indoor Citrus Tree Happy