Returning to the divine womb
This week's portion: inscription

Sunshine in a jar

Bowl of lemons.

This year for erev Rosh Hashanah dinner -- historically the big "festive meal" in my family of origin -- I want to do something simple but awesome. Homemade challah goes without saying; local apples and honey ditto. But what to make for a main course? Right now I'm contemplating a recipe for Moroccan chicken with preserved lemon and olives which I found in Saveur. The only thing is, I don't know where to get preserved lemons around here. Fortunately for me, Saveur has a recipe for those, too.

Some of you may remember that I experimented with sweet and spicy etrog pickle once last Sukkot was over. The recipe I used was a highly-spiced preserved lemon recipe; I just made it with etrogim instead. The trouble is, etrogim have almost no juice; their fragrance is incredible, but they're mostly pith, with only a little bit of pulp in the middle of each fruit. I tried to compensate for that with some storebought lemon juice, and I packed the etrogim in their cooking syrup, but I knew as I was making them that this wasn't quite how the recipe was supposed to go. I did bring a jar of etrog pickle to our Tu BiShvat seder at my shul this winter, and a few brave souls tasted this version of preserved etrog -- but I'm not sure anyone loved the results. (I think this year I'll return to jam.)

Saveur's preserved lemon recipe is ridiculously simple, though... and already I can see how these are going to turn out very differently than my preserved etrogim. The first thing I did was juice half a dozen lemons, yielding two cups of bright pale lemon juice. Then I sliced four lemons almost into quarters -- making each one into a kind of  tulip shape -- and rubbed their insides with coarse kosher salt, which will get washed off before we cook with them; it's just there to help the rinds soften and preserve.

I packed them into a sterile quart jar -- four lemons just barely fit inside -- and then poured the two cups of lemon juice over them to cover. (You can also just salt the lemons and pack them into a jar and let them generate their own juice, but that takes longer, and since the moon of Elul is already full, I opted for the speedier version of the recipe in order to be able to cook with them when the new moon of Tishri rises.)

Lemons, preserving.

The result looks like a jar of sunshine: pale yellow with richer yellow shapes (and the odd lemon stem) gleaming through. The jar is in our pantry now, since it's supposed to spend a week macerating somewhere dark. In a week I'll move the lemons to the fridge, and they'll be ready to cook with by the time the new year rolls around.

As I look outside my window, I see goldenrod blooming everywhere: at the edges of our yard, and all over our wildflower meadow. (Those same stalks, dried, will make the schach with which I'll roof our sukkah.) The bright blossoms are yellow too, like the lemons I just put up. Just like our newly-painted nursery, come to think of it. There's something bright and sunny about them which makes me smile, and I know their flavor will be bright, too.

The lemons, of course, aren't anything like local. (My grocery store tells me they came from Chile. Having traveled in Argentina this past March, I have some notion of just how far away that is.) But I love that my fingers smell now like lemons, and I like the thought of using our own preserved lemons in this Moroccan dish for the turn of the new year, even if we don't live in a place where lemons can grow.

Next time I think I'd like to try adding spices: bay leaf, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, maybe a dried pepper. But for this first attempt, I wanted to go with the simplest recipe -- and the purest preserved-lemon flavor. Just one more reason to look forward to the turn of the year...