I love California’s abundance of citrus. I’ll never forget driving through the back roads of Temecula with the windows down as the fragrance of lemons filled the air. Growing up, my friend Veronica had several orange trees in her Escondido backyard, and it always seemed kind of magical to me.
California is one of North America’s top citrus producers, and you can always seem to get delicious orange varieties, lemons and grapefruit at any time. But for most of the country, affordable citrus is only available during the winter, so I squeeze savings from lemons during their peak season.
When I think of lemons, summer comes to mind. No one thinks of curling up next to a cozy fire on a cold day with an ice cold glass of lemonade. But since lemons are a winter fruit, I take advantage of lemon season when prices are lower, and preserve them in some clever ways for my year-round enjoyment.
I recently bought a 44 pound box of lemons for $10. I usually buy a big box of lemons every winter and dehydrate enough lemon slices for a year. Dehydrated lemons revive in my water and tea on a daily basis. Just a slice or two can intensely flavor water, and continue giving its essence with each refill.
Dehydrating lemons is easy — simply wash lemons, slice evenly and dehydrate at 135 degrees until moisture-free. For a fun twist, coat lemon slices with sweetener and then dehydrate. I call these lemonade wheels. Just carry these sweet slices of lemon with you, and make a lemonade in an instant. Stuff dehydrated lemons in chicken to give your roaster a sweet citrus flavor, and moisture.
My kids’ favorite way to employ lemons is to make lemonade. I water bath can lemonade concentrate with my big lemon buy each winter. We take our lemonade concentrate on summer camping trips and sip it while the lake laps our beach chairs. Lemonade concentrate is easy to make, but there’s a lot of squeezing involved. With a juicer and some willing helpers, it’s a cinch.
You can dilute this concentrate to your taste, but typically 3 1/2 pints of water for each pint of concentrate would be to most people’s liking. Taste as you add water, and find the perfect ratio for your family. Because this recipe takes 15 minutes to water bath can, you don’t need to sterilize your jars, just obviously use clean jars, and as always, new lids.
Lemonade Concentrate for Canning
Yields 7 pints.
6 cups of fresh squeezed lemon juice
6 cups of water
6 cups of sugar
Bring all ingredients to a gentle boil.
As soon as the mixture reaches a boiling point, fill seven pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims clean. Secure with rings and lids, and water bath can for 15 minutes. To reconstitute, add about 3 to 3 1/2 pints per pint of concentrate.
Laura Woolfrey Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to [email protected]