By Marcia Pilgeram
At any given time, in one of my three freezers (excessive, I know), you’ll find an assortment of naked lemons, limes and other citrus fruits, carefully wrapped for future culinary endeavors. I am persevering when it comes to preserving all the foodstuffs in my kitchen, and I can’t even bear to toss a tired salad. My frugalness comes honestly: first from years of feeding a bunkhouse full of ranch hands then as a restaurateur, relentlessly working to keep food costs and waste to a minimum.
Back at the ranch, I kept plastic ice cream buckets in the freezer, and, after every meal, I would add the leftover vegetables to a bucket. Once I filled one up, it would become a key ingredient for pot pie, shepherd’s pie, vegetable stew or goulash. It was a practice I carried over into the restaurant years, and I still can’t seem to shake the habit, which is why I have three freezers.
I am really good at saving and freezing but not always so good at labeling. I tell myself I’ll surely remember what’s in that little foiled wrapped bundle or plastic tub or mason jar — or fill in the blank of most any food-safe vessel.
Whenever I have an abundance of wilting vegetables in my refrigerator, I prepare curries, soups and sauces that can be heated and served when a gang of grandkids arrives. My kids suspiciously refer to these frozen objects as “Mimi Mysteries,” though all agree, once they’re thawed and identified, they tend to be quite tasty.
Fruit also gets the freezer treatment. For as long as I, or anyone else, can remember, my drink of choice is vodka on the rocks, with a twist. And about that twist — it doesn’t involve any juice, only the delightful spray of oil (hold a peel close to your face and twist, you’ll feel the light spray. Or hold one to the light and twist and you’ll see the oil spray bounce in the light). All these lovely twists means there tends to be a lot of bare lemons floating around in my fridge. Once the twist is off the lemons, they’re prepared for their next life — cut in half, wrapped and frozen. Then, as needed, I drop the frozen citrus chunks into pots of steaming artichokes or shrimp or anything else simmering on the stovetop that needs a little extra burst of flavor. Lemon juice also helps food retain its color.
In the summer, I buy fresh limes by the bagful and use them as garnish for fish tacos, pitchers of slushy margaritas and icy buckets of Mexican beer. It’s hard to believe, but I don’t always have the chance to use them all. Before they turn brown, I use a fine grater — using caution to avoid the bitter white pith — to remove all the zest, which I spread out on a parchment-paper-lined sheet pan. In a super low oven, I dry them at 200 degrees for an hour or two. Once dried, I store it in a small bottle or jar and use it for flavoring all kinds of baked goods; I use only fresh for garnish.
Lemons get the same treatment, if there happens to be a one still covered in peel. Whenever I need quantities of citrus juice, I always remove the zest (for drying) before juicing. Once barren of the peel, I roll them in my hand to warm them up and bit, which will yield more juice. I love the clean, tart taste of fresh lemon juice — bottled juice just doesn’t compare, especially when making dressings. One of my favorite dressings is lemon juice and a good quality extra virgin olive oil, emulsified until it’s creamy. Sometimes I add salt and pepper or crumbled blue cheese, even though it’s equally wonderful with just those two simple ingredients.
Though pith is bitter, it’s loaded with pectin, so along with the peel and pips (seeds) they are all key additions to a good batch of marmalade.
These tart fruits are so good for us, packed with lots of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and minerals, including potassium and folate. Besides the health benefits, they’re fragrant and pretty and have hundreds of uses, like decorations and beauty preparations, cleaning products and fresheners.
It seems they’ve always been plentiful and accessible. Even my oldest cookbooks are chock full of recipes for sauces, sweets and drinks, made with lemons or limes. Many of the old books are also teeming with recipes for lemon and lime elixirs, sure to cure what ails you.
I love the aroma when rubbing a lime across a grater or cutting into a fresh juicy lime, almost as much as the aroma that wafts from the oven when baking my favorite, moist and tangy lime yogurt cake. Take heed: this cake is good with morning coffee, afternoon tea and evening chablis. It will disappear quickly.
Lime Yogurt Olive Oil Cake
This makes one 9-inch layer. This cake, popular in the Mediterranean, is moist and dense and can be served for midmorning snack or dessert. You can easily double this recipe. Dried lime zest can be used in the batter, but use freshly grated zest for the garnish.
• 1 cup full fat Greek
• 1/2 cup extra virgin
• 2 large eggs
• 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 1 1/2 cups all-purpose
• 2 teaspoons
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Zest of one lime, divided
• Powdered sugar,
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, then lightly grease and flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, eggs and lime juice until smooth. Add sugar and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt and half the lime zest. Fold into a wet mixture.
Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and remaining lime zest before serving.
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