WHY I ALWAYS ZEST MY LEMONS

PERSONAL HISTORY: WHY I ALWAYS ZEST MY LEMONS

Elizabeth Weinstein

Once, I read a short story in which a mother ground up eggshells and mixed them into the scrambled eggs she made her children. Set on a farm in the 1930s, the story told of a family so poor that they could barely feed their chickens, or their children. The malnourished hens laid eggs so translucent you could practically see the baby chicks inside. To give her children additional protein, the mother fed her children the shells as well as the eggs.
I don’t remember the story’s name or author, but I remember what I thought when I read it: Were things that bad for my own grandmother, who was born in Iowa in 1921, who as a child wrote a poem that read “No chicken in the pot?/Blame it on Hoover!”? I never worked up the nerve to ask.
My grandmother went on to become a successful real estate agent in San Diego. She raised three daughters, all of whom went on to get Master’s degrees and to find their own success in life. Like many other mothers of the 1950s, my grandmother wasn’t much of a cook. I know that she fixed frozen fish sticks and macaroni and cheese for her family every Friday night, and that she occasionally cracked a raw egg into a bowl for their beagle, Tinker. She was no gourmet, but much to her credit and enterprising spirit, she never struggled to feed her family, either.
To this day, my grandmother’s Great Depression mentality remains unshakable. She always cleans her plate, and she won’t leave a restaurant without taking the bread and those small pats of butter in a to-go bag. My mother, her daughter, doesn’t take the butter, but she will spirit away small nibbles from here and there, always adding them to a miscellaneous pile in the unruly pantry. When I was younger, she would put packets of airline peanuts, red and white candy-striped restaurant mints, and fun-sized waiting room chocolates into my school lunches.
Their thrift used to bemuse me, and also embarrass me, just a little. Even though it clearly wasn’t the case, it seemed as though their refusal to waste indicated that we weren’t able to afford to let those little things go by.
I recently realized that I had inherited this trait, this desire to save things, when I visited my future mother-in-law’s house for the Christmas holiday. She greeted me warmly with a hug and kiss, and practically as soon as I was through the door, added: “There’s two turkey carcasses and a ham bone in the freezer for you.”
            Clearly, I was supposed to make stock. My fiancĂ© assured me that this wasn’t a mandate, just an invitation. “She knows that you like to make stock. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. She was just trying to be nice.” This was the first time anyone ever gave me carcasses as a gift, but it turned out to be a present I appreciated.
Away from home for Christmas for the first time, I found myself in the kitchen much of that trip, thinking about my own family and making soup. Among the four I cooked up was an improvised ham and white bean soup that was so good I wish I’d taken notes as I went along.
Some of my efforts at wasting not are best left not only undocumented, but forgotten altogether. The incident of the “fiber patties” stands out in particular. One day, I made juice with kale, ginger, apples, and who knows what else. It suddenly occurred to me to that I should put the bone-dry leftovers the juicer had spewed into its rear to good use. I pulled out the stringy, stemmy, peely bits, bound them together with a bit of whole wheat flour and olive oil, and tossed them in a hot frying pan. I remained optimistic even though my gut told me this would be a failed experiment. “I’ll be getting so much fiber!” I told myself. One bite was more than enough.
These days I’ve got a little more common sense when it comes to being thrifty in the kitchen, but there is one thing I always do my best to use up: the zest from lemons, limes, oranges, and the occasional grapefruit or pomelo. Even in California, where the sun shines year round, the coming of winter’s best citrus brings my biggest January smiles. There is nothing like the taste of that wonderful fresh juice, which I’ve used for cocktails, marinades, tarts, lemon and key lime curds, and marmalade just this calendar year. But before I squeeze the fruit, I first get out my handy Microplane and zest. Sure, I can afford to throw the fruit out without using it all, but why would I waste it?
When zesting, be sure you always wash and dry your fruit thoroughly, using a little soap, to make sure it’s completely free of dirt and any pesticides. A Microplane is the easiest tool, but you can also use a vegetable peeler or pairing knife, and then slice the zest into small pieces. Just be sure to avoid the bitter white pith as best as possible! Zest is always best used immediately, but will keep relatively well in the refrigerator for a day, loosely wrapped in cling wrap.
So what should you do with all those gorgeous threads? Here I’ve compiled three of my favorite, unexpected ways to use citrus zest. Every recipe is extremely simple and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. In fact, I think I’ll send some zesty treats to my grandmother.

1.      Sunshine Sugar

This is the absolute easiest thing you can do with your zest. Mix 2 tablespoons of Navel Orange or other unblemished, sweet-smelling orange zest into 1 cup of granulated sugar. Store in a clear glass jar. Add the sugar to black tea; mix into cakes, scones, or muffins; or just open the jar and smell when you need a little spring in your step. 
        

2.      Any Citrus Vodka

Lots of juicing means lots of zest. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of it is to infuse vodka with Buddha's Hand. Every 2-3 tablespoons of zest will flavor about 1 cup of vodka, so get out a clean glass jar and measure accordingly! It takes about a month for the citrus to perfume the vodka, at which point you’ll be ready to strain it and drink it.
The nice thing about this recipe is that you can just leave the jar out (a cool, darkish place is best) and add any kind of citrus zest you please as you go along, as well as more vodka. For those of you who routinely toss bones into an ever-simmering stockpot or add leftover wine to a vinegar crock, you’re already familiar with the concept.
Photo source:  The Forest Feast


3.      Zesty Salt Scrub


This scrub isn’t edible, but it’s a marvelous pick-me-up that will keep your hands miraculously soft. Clean out a 16-oz wide mouthed jar (I like to use the bale and gasket jars with the orange rubber seals on the lids). Fill the jar almost to the top with a thick, rocky salt, such as pretzel salt. Mix about three tablespoons of zest from your favorite citrus into the salt. Add baby oil to the jar until the salt is fully saturated, but not much oil is puddling around it. Add a few drops of a favorite essential oil, such as lemon, orange, or lemongrass. Shake the jar hard to distribute. Adjust ingredients until the mixture’s smell and texture please you. To use, rub a half-teaspoon worth of the mixture all over your hands for 30 seconds, and then wash off. The scrub will leave your hands baby soft, and the smell will transport you to a sunny California day. 
              
Photo source: Petit Elefant

Popular Posts