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Oranges & lemons, no bells

‘A citrus theme!” exclaimed a recent guest. No, not a conscious theme, simply a reflection of the season. Not following a trend or a current ‘in’ recipe, just using what is at hand. And true, I’m using lemons, limes, oranges and mandarins abundantly. Lemons roughly chopped and added with herbs and garlic when slow cooking lamb; oranges in a daube of beef; with olive oil, salt and pepper the only dressing on salad; zest in trout pate with just picked wedge on the side for an additional extra zip; lime delicious pudding; mandarin jaffa ice-cream; lemon and honey ice-cream… The fruit stays on the trees for months – so only need picking as required until the fruit starts to drop. Then I’ll preserve them – quartered, layered in glass jars with cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and oodles of salt then topped up with juice and sealed. It feels like a little sacrifice, but the blossoms are the headiest of cut flowers. lemon blossomentree2 The sixty blood oranges on the hill are now entering their second winter – the first without frost protection. We chose this site because David’s father, Keith, claimed it to be permanently frost free. Theoretically these young trees just need some good cold to set the ‘blood’ colour before first harvest. Another 60 lemons and limes behind the chook palace got an unprogrammed hard prune when the donkeys broke in recently, but have forgiven my lack of vigilance (and perhaps proved that despite DL’s insults, donkeys poo does contain some nutrient) by flourishing as a result. Next month I’ll start on marmalade with the grapefruit, not the delicate hand cut style but the chop it in a processor and throw it in a pot with sugar type. Citrus aren’t delicate and don’t expect us to be. The recipe below is a classic standby and takes literally a few minutes if you have the chef’s secret weapon* on hand. lemon tarts

Simple lemon tart

6 sharp lemons 600mls cream 8 large eggs 2 cups sugar few drops vanilla extractpre baked flaky tart shell/s

Use the zest of half the lemons and the juice of all of them. Whisk with the remaining ingredients and pour into the shells. Bake at 180 degrees until set. I say sharp because the lovely Meyer lemons are too sweet to make a really good tart. They are good for drinks, cordial, dressings etc but here you want a nice old fashioned lemon like Eureka or Lisbon. Taste the mixture before pouring into the shells and adjust the balance of lemon and sugar to your own taste. * Ruth at Pasteles Bakehouse, Google it and you may never bake again, but chefs very rarely admit to it so don’t let on I let you in on it.

Everyone from Roald Dahl to the The Clash have borrowed from the old nursery rhyme that citrus season always reminds me of. Just in case it’s got you singing in your head too, here are the original words. Gay go up and gay go down, To ring the bells of London town. Oranges and lemons, Say the bells of St. Clements. Bull’s eyes and targets, Say the bells of St. Margret’s. Brickbats and tiles, Say the bells of St. Giles’. Halfpence and farthings, Say the bells of St. Martin’s. Pancakes and fritters, Say the bells of St. Peter’s. Two sticks and an apple, Say the bells of Whitechapel. Pokers and tongs, Say the bells of St. John’s. Kettles and pans, Say the bells of St. Ann’s. Old Father Baldpate, Say the slow bells of Aldgate. You owe me ten shillings, Say the bells of St. Helen’s.