By Michael Jenkins
With the autumn harvest time upon us, many fruits are coming into season and thus becoming cheaper and more available. In particular, citrus fruits of all kinds are ripening, and they offer a wonderful opportunity to both enjoy their flavors and learn a bit more about preserving foods for the off-season. Preserving citrus fruits is about a bit more than just saving them for later; it’s a chance to transform their flavors, learn a bit more about them, and connect with traditions that are nearly lost in the contemporary world. And as it turns out, preserving citrus fruits can be pretty easy!
A quick note before we begin: some citrus in the US and Canada is sold covered with a thin waxy coating to preserve color and flavor. You can avoid this by buying organic or locally harvested citrus, or remove it by washing your citrus fruit carefully. Washing your fruit before preserving is generally a good idea anyway, so make sure you take the time!
Let’s start with some of the simplest ways to preserve citrus fruits. Zesting the fruit--which means removing the thin outer layer of the peel with a micro-plane grater, paring knife, or similar implement—is a quick and easy way to preserve the flavor. Simple grate or peel the zest away and let it dry spread in a thin layer on a baking tray in a low-humidity environment. When the zest is fully dry, store it in a small airtight container and keep it in a cool, dark place. A similar approach involves drying the peels of citrus fruit using a dehydrator or spread out on a baking tray in an oven on low temperature. Store them as you would dried zest, and use them like you would dried zest by adding them to any recipe that needs a citrus kick!
So after you’ve used the zest or peel, what can you do with the rest of the fruit. As it turns out, citrus juice freezes quite well. Just cut the fruit in half and squeeze the juice out of it into a bowl with a manual or electric juicer, or by just using your hands. Remove any pits or seeds that remain, and then pour the juice into a freezable container and place in the freezer. Protip: ice cube trays work quite well. Just make sure to cover and label them!
An alternative way to preserve a more hold citrus flavor comes with infusion. Infusion means just what it sounds like: infusing the flavor of your citrus fruits into another medium. You can infuse cooking oils , vinegars, and alcohol with citrus, and each has its place in the kitchen. To infuse oils, use dried citrus peel—the moisture content in fresh peels or fruit can cause the oil to turn rancid. The basic process of infusion is fairly simple. Place fresh or dried peels, as appropriate, into a glass jar and cover with oil, vinegar, or vodka, put lids on the jars tightly, and store sealed in a cool dark place for four to six weeks. Shake the jars occasionally to help the infusion along and check the flavor every week or so. When you’re happy with how the taste has developed, strain the liquid or oil into another container and discard the remains for the fruit. You can use the infused liquid as an ingredient in many recipes to add some rich citrus flavor!
This next method for preserving citrus is also one of the most traditional. For centuries, Salted lemons or limes have been closely associated with Middle Eastern cuisine but similar preservation techniques for citrus are found around the world. While there are many ways to make salted citrus, the basic technique goes something like this:
- Start with the right equipment: a cutting board, a sharp knife, large fat unpeeled lemons (or other citrus), salt, a mixing bowl, and clean jars with lids. You can add other seasonings as desired; cinnamon, coriander, peppercorns, hot dried chilis, and fennel seeds are all popular options.
- Prepare the salt by mixing it with the other seasonings (if desired) in a mixing bowl. Make sure to break up any clumps that occur as this will make your job easier later on.
- Cut a large X into one end of each fruit, but be careful not to go all the way through—leave some connection at the base to the quarters stay together.
- Pack the salt into the X cuts in each fruit, covering as much surface area with salt or the salt/seasoning mix as possible.
- Pack your salted lemons in to a large, clean glass jar. Fill the jar as tightly as possible; the less air in the jar the less likely mold will form. Once the jars are packed full, you can pour any remaining salt or salt/seasoning mix over the top and close the lids tightly.
- Place jars in a cool dry place and check them regularly. Label them with the contents and date—don’t forget to note what seasonings you may have added to the salt! The preserved citrus will be ready in about four weeks, and should keep for up to two years. Discard any fruit that show signs of mold, but a change in color is normal.
Salted citrus can be used in a variety of ways. The peels are edible too, so you can use them as well. They make a wonderful addition to soups, stews, sauces, and roasted veggies, chicken, or fish. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors; salted citrus is by definition flexible!
We hope this blog gets you started preserving citrus on your own. Food preservation is a wonderful way to keep the flavors of the season going long after their time has passed, while also connecting us to traditions and a heritage the world often overlooks. If you have any favorite means of preserving citrus, please let us know. Gardzen is all about community, and your experiences may benefit others!