Monthly Archives: October 2010

CITY FARMERS

CITY FARMERS

You may have encountered city farmers, where you live. In some places in greater Los Angeles, ‘wanna-be’ farmers are allowed to garden a small plot of land on which they can grow lettuce and tomatoes, corn and cabbages, irises and roses. There doesn’t seem to be much of a restriction on what you may grow, but there generally are rules about tending your plot, keeping it weeded and tidy.

When a girlfriend showed me her little garden plot, I reached out to pick a tomato from a neighboring plot. She stopped me with a small smack. “That’s a big no-no” she explained. (A pity…the neighbor’s tomatoes were overripe and begging to be picked!)

We were, until 2008, city farmers of a different breed; in the sprawling city of greater Los Angeles, where houses are squeezed together, as many crowded onto a plot of land as possible, with spacious homes giving way to apartment buildings, condos and townhouses – our old house rested placidly on three-quarters of an acre. There used to be many such houses as that one, in the San Fernando Valley—gradually, they’ve disappeared to be replaced by four or five houses crammed together on the same plot of land (where you can hear your neighbor’s toilet flush), or worse—by several large apartment buildings. I have lived here long enough to remember when there were far fewer apartment buildings, and huge oak and eucalyptus trees lined many of the wide main thoroughfares across the valley. Like the many sprawling ranch-type houses on big lots, the trees have disappeared as well, to accommodate the every-growing traffic congestion.

Still, there we were. We were blessed, for many years, to have a whole-sale nursery running along one side and behind our yard; years ago, you could go to sleep to the sound of automatic sprinklers watering their plants and trees. Oleanders (now in danger of being destroyed by some kind of virus) covered the front entrance, hiding us from street traffic. Visitors often got lost trying to find the house, which was fairly hidden by the bushes and trees. The nursery is gone, now, replaced by a large and sprawling assisted living facility. Shortly before the assisted living facility was scheduled to open – we discovered that we, too, had days that were numbered in Arleta.

But before I get to the Great Move, I want to share some thoughts about our former residence. Some of the trees were there when I first moved into this house in 1974; many were planted by Bob and me over a 20 year span – and several, incredibly – were volunteers; trees that simply took root and began to grow. We had nectarine, peach and loquat trees that were all volunteers. (Does a seed float through the air and say “This looks like a good place to light?”)
Out front, we had the following trees: 2 fig, 1 tangerine, 2 olive, 2 nectarine, 1 dwarf avocado, 1 three-in-one fruit tree, 1 Valencia orange, 1 kumquat, 2 large and old mulberries, 1 big fichus that is now towering over the roof, 3 smaller fichus trees, 1 huge pine (we brought the seedling home from the L.A. County Fair in 1990), and several smaller pines. (At a friend’s wedding, I met the minister who was searching for a home for his apple, nectarine, and kumquat trees. I offered them a home—but my youngest son, whose truck brought the trees home, took the apple tree. The other two have taken root in the front yard.

In the back yard, there were 1 apple tree, 2 orange, 3 lemon, 1 peach, 1 loquat and 1 very large and old avocado tree which desperately needed to be pruned. There were also 3 ancient pomegranate trees and a huge old eucalyptus. Additionally, there was a huge old macadamia nut tree from which we never once harvested any nuts—the squirrels get to them first.

I can tell you that it was a job making sure all those trees got enough water during the hot summer months, and my water bill sometimes looked like the national debt.

Along the fence, in the back, we also had a grape arbor. There were vines already there in 1974, but Bob built a proper arbor and we would harvest enough concord grapes to make jelly and juice, and every few years, Bob made some stabs at wine-making.

Years ago, loganberries and a few raspberries grew along the fence but they disappeared long ago.

From May through October, I was in a constant frenzy trying to convert the harvest into jams, jellies, preserves, conserves, cordials, liqueurs, chutneys, juices, sauces, pickles, vinegars, and relishes…unquestionably far more than we could consume, so my sons and their families, and all of our friends could expect to receive jars of all these things throughout the year.

Now, in 2010, we are adapting to a new home and a new kind of life in the Antelope Valley, in a little place called Quartz Hill, which used to be covered with almond orchards. The house, built in 1955, and land were obviously neglected for a long time. A new roof and some coats of paint were a step in the right direction. We have planted fruit trees – the kind of fruit trees that do well in the high desert; one tree died last winter and our cherry tree was eaten bare by birds before we could pick any of the fruit. Bob has reconstructed the Secret Garden (a gazebo he built in Arleta, then took apart to bring with us when we moved) and has begun installing pipes for an automated water system. Much needs to be done before we can expect to plant lettuce, tomatoes, squash and other vegetables. Meantime, some of Kelly’s neighbors have given us surplus squash and he and Ethan planted a vegetable garden last spring. We are waiting for the pumpkins to ripen, even as I write this. Kelly brought over 20 ears of corn one day, which I blanched, cut from the cobs, and then froze for the holidays. I used the cobs to make a batch of corn cob jelly, as a novelty.

We have planted a small pomegranate tree (more like a bush at this point) and I am crossing my fingers that it won’t freeze this winter. Cultivating land that is – above all else – desert, is a challenge. But we look around us and see a neighbor’s healthy pomegranate tree, producing huge beautiful fruit, and another neighbor has an apple tree. It may take a few years for our little trees to begin producing fruit and it may become a battle of wits between us – and the birds. We remind ourselves often that our paradise in Arleta didn’t happen overnight – it took almost two decades of planning, tending, weeding, watering—and coaxing—to get our trees and gardens where we wanted them to be. It’s all a labor of love…even for city farmers.

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WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU A LEMON

If you were to find yourself marooned on a desert island and could only choose one fruit tree, you might give serious consideration to choosing a lemon tree. Certainly lemons are one of the most versatile citrus fruits available to us today.

It is thought that lemons were first discovered in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, near the birthplace of Omar Khayyam, and that the Arabs who discovered them also were first to make lemonade.

There is some question as to when lemons were first brought to the New World. Food historians agree that the Spanish explorers were responsible for introducing lemons to the Americas; some historians believe that Columbus brought lemon seeds with him on his second voyage and that the first lemons grown in the New World were on the island of Haiti.

Florida was at one time the largest producer of lemons but a freeze in 1895 destroyed the crops and they were never replanted. Today California is the greatest lemon-growing state, producing about 85% of the lemons consumed in the United States and Canada. Here in Southern California, the Land of Lemons is Ventura County, the largest grower of the county’s biggest crop. According to the University of California Extension Service in Ventura, about half of the U.S. lemons regularly come from Ventura county trees. The value of lemons in 1991 surpassed strawberries and even Valencia oranges.

Lemons are an excellent source of Vitamin C. The fruit and juice can be used in hundreds of recipes; the rind can be shredded and used in various recipes and the oil goes into making lemon flavored extract, while lemon juice can be substituted for vinegar in any recipe except pickling recipes which call for vinegar. Not only that, lemon juice has dozens of household uses, from removing stains to being great as a hair rinse.

You are probably familiar with some of the more common uses of lemon juice, such as sprinkling it on fish or adding it to homemade cocktail sauce…a slice of lemon in a glass of cold water is simply delicious…and is considered to be an aid to digestion. While most of us know that lemons are a fine source of Vitamin C, not all of us are aware that, despite their acid taste, lemons produce an alkaline reaction in the body. They contribute to needed mineral supplies of calcium, phosphorous and potassium.

The best way to judge lemons is by their weight; heavy fruit contains the most juice. The skin should be oily and elastic. Lemons with large knobs on the ends will have less juice than those with sharply pointed ends. Also, pay attention to the color of the lemons. Deep yellow colored lemons are usually fairly nature and less acid than those that are lighter or have a slightly greenish hue. Four medium size lemons weigh about one pound, and one medium size lemon will usually yield about three tablespoons of juice. For the highest juice yield, have lemons at room temperature and roll them on a hard surface before squeezing. One medium lemon will yield three teaspoons of grated peel (which can be frozen and used as needed). Five to six lemons will provide 1 cup (8 ounces) of lemon juice. Not only are lemons high in pectin and can be used with almost any other fruit to make jams and jellies, you can even make your own homemade pectin with lemons. Making your own pectin IS time consuming, but if you make a lot of jelly and jam, it may be worth the effort…during my last visit to the supermarket, I priced some powdered pectins at close to $3.00 a box.

If you are the fortunate owner of a lemon tree, you probably have more lemons than you know what to do with…I know, we used to have lemon trees where we used to live, and I was constantly giving lemons away. (That being said, citrus doesnt grow in the high desert, where I now live–and I cringe everytime I pay fifty cents for one lemon!

In addition to all the lemon pies, custards, pound cakes, cookies, sherbets, and mousses that you can concoct with lemons, you can also use them in a variety of pickling and preserving recipes. First, I’d like to share with you the following recipe for making

LEMON PECTIN EXTRACT:

Seeds and coarsely ground white pith of 5 to 6 large, thick-skinned lemons, about 1 1/2 pounds or the equivalent weight in smaller lemons
3 tablespoons citric acid or tartaric acid (citric acid is made from citrus fruit and labeled sour salt; it can be found in the spice rack at most supermarkets…tartaric acid is made from grapes and is sold by wine supply shops)
6 quarts water

Using a swivel blade peeler, remove and discard the zest (the shiny yellow outer peel–save it for another use or freeze in a plastic container), from the lemons but do not cut deeply; the pectin is in the white pith beneath the zest. It won’t matter if the peeled fruit is tinged a pale yellow. Squeeze the lemons, reserving seeds, pulp and pith. Save the juice for another use. Grind the pulp and pith coarsely, and measure. You should have about 2 cups. Place this, the seeds, 1 tablespoon of citric or tartaric acid, and 2 quarts of water in a 4 quart saucepan. Let stand, uncovered, at least 2 hours, then measure the depth of the pan’s contents and make a note of it. Bring the mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. Boil rapidly until it is reduced by half. Stir often toward the end of the cooking period, which will take at least an hour or more. When the depth measures half of the original figure, pour the extract through a strainer or colander lined with 4 thickness of damp cheesecloth of at least 2-quart capacity. Return the pomace (pulp) to the saucepan, add another tablespoon of either citric or tartaric acid, and 2 more quarts of water, and measure and cook as you did the first batch. No presoaking is necessary for this or the third and final batch. The second and third batches tend to reduce more rapidly than the first. Strain each batch when done, into the first one. When you strain the third batch, squeeze the pomace to extract as much liquid as possible. Put the extract through a clean, dampened jelly bag or two thicknesses of dampened cheesecloth, without squeezing. Let it drip several hours, until you have 6 cups of cloud liquid. If you plan to use it within the next few days, refrigerate the extract in clean, tightly covered jars. To store for future use, bring the extract to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, then pack, boiling hot, into sterilized half-pint jars and seal. Process in a boiling water bath 15 minutes. Store as you would for jelly. Before using, always shake or stir the extract to mix in the sediment that settles during storage. Makes about 4 1/2 cups. You will need 4 to 6 tablespoons of homemade lemon pectin for each cup of fruit mixture to be used in making jam or jelly.
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LEMON MARMALADE

12 THIN SKINNED LEMONS
3 ORANGES
3 QUARTS WATER
SUGAR

WASH AND SLICE THE LEMONS AND ORANGES AS THIN AS POSSIBLE. ADD THE WATER AND LET STAND OVERNIGHT. NEXT DAY, COOK THE MIXTURE SLOWLY OVER LOW HEAT UNTIL TENDER (ABOUT 2 – 2 ½ HOURS). MEASURE, THEN ADD AN EQUAL AMOUNT OF SUGAR AND COOK UNTIL THE JELLYING POINT IS REACHED. POUR INTO HOT STERILIZED HALF-PINT SIZE JARS AND SEAL.
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LEMON MARMALADE #2

9 LEMONS
6 CUPS WATER
SUGAR

Cut the “knobs” from the ends of the lemons and discard. Slice fruit as thin as possible; place in a pot with 6 cups of cold water. Let stand overnight. Next day, cook mixture until tender-about 25 minutes. Allow to stand overnight. Measure fruit and liquid and add 2 cups of sugar for each pint of fruit and liquid. Cook in small batches of 2 – 2 ½ cups to jelly stage (about 10-15 minutes per batch). Pour into sterilized jars; seal. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes.
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LEMON CHUTNEY (MAKES 4 TO 5 PINTS)

6 LEMONS, PEELED
1 CUP ORANGE MARMALADE
1 CUP CIDER VINEGAR
2 1/2 CUPS WATER
3 CUPS SUGAR
1 TSP GRATED FRESH GINGERROOT
1 TSP GROUND NUTMEG
2 GREEN APPLES, PEELED, CORED, AND DICED
4 CUPS FRESH CRANBERRIES
1 CUP RAISINS

SECTION LEMONS AND CUT SECTIONS IN HALF; DISCARD SEEDS. IN A LARGE POT, COMBINE LEMON SECTIONS WITH REMAINING INGREDIENTS. BRING TO A BOIL, STIRRING CONSTANTLY. REDUCE HEAT AND SIMMER 45 MINUTES OR UNTIL SLIGHTLY THICKENED. POUR INTO HOT STERILIZED JARS. ADJUST LIDS AND SEAL. PROCESS IN A BOILING WATER BATH 8 MINUTES.

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SHARP LEMON SAUCE

(This sauce is very sharp and may not be right for everyone on your gift list – those who enjoy sharp flavored foods will love it!)

12 medium size lemons
3 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon tumeric
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground mace
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt

Grind rind from lemons; squeeze juice. Place rind and juice in a heavy pan along with remaining ingredients and allow to stand for 2 hours. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Pour into a 2-quart crock or glass jar with a tight fitting lid and allow to stand 2 weeks, stirring daily. At the end of two weeks, whirl in blender until smooth. Fill hot sterilized jars with the mixture and seal; process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes. (Serve as a condiment with fish or seafood).

MOROCCAN PRESERVED LEMONS

(Preserved lemons are often used in North African cooking; they’ll add a salty tartness to chicken, lamb, and vegetable dishes. Be sure to cover the lemons completely with salted lemon juice before sealing the jar. The pickling juice can be reused and is handy to keep in a jar in the kitchen; replenish it with odd pieces of lemon.)

5 lemons
1/3 cup salt, – more if desired
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
5-6 coriander seeds
3-4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
freshly squeezed lemon juice

Quarter the lemons from top to bottom to within 1/2″ of the bottom; sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit. Place 1 tablespoon salt in the bottom of a sterilized 1 pint canning jar. Place in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt and the spices between the layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. If the juices released by the lemons does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice – NOT commercial lemon juice and NOT water). Leave some airspace before sealing the jar. Turn the jar upside-down to distribute the salt and juice and then let the lemons ripen in a warm place for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons as needed under running water, removing and discarding pulp if desired. There is no need to refrigerate preserved lemons after opening. They will keep up to a year and the pickling juice can be used several times during the course of a year.

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PICKLED LEMONS

12 LEMONS
2 TABLESPOONS NON-IODIZED SALT
3 1/2 CUPS WHITE WINE VINEGAR
12 WHITE PEPPERCORNS
A LARGE PIECE OF DRIED GINGERROOT, MASHED
3 TABLESPOONS WHITE MUSTARD SEEDS
2 GARLIC CLOVES, CRUSHED

Using a sharp knife, cut skins of lemons lengthwise without cutting pulp. Rub salt into cuts. In a shallow bowl, let lemons stand 5 days in a cool place. Turn lemons occasionally. Drain; reserve liquid. In a large saucepan, bring reserved liquid, vinegar, peppercorns and ginger to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes. Add lemons; simmer 30 minutes. Wash and sterilize 5 half-pint jars; keep hot until needed. Using a slotted spoon, pack hot lemons in hot jars. Add mustard seed and garlic to liquid. Increase heat; bring to a boil. Remove ginger; skim off foam. Ladle hot liquid over lemons. Wipe rim of jars with a clean cloth; seal; process in boiling water bath 5 minutes. Let mature 1 month before serving.

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LEMON MARMALADE #3

6 LEMONS
1/8 TEASPOON BAKING SODA
1 1/2 CUPS WATER
5 CUPS SUGAR
1 POUCH LIQUID PECTIN

Remove peel from lemons and discard white membrane. Cut peel into slivers. Section lemons, remove seeds, and chop pulp. Set aside. Combine peel, baking soda and water in a large microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave on HIGH until mixture boils, about 6 or 7 minutes.

Remove from microwave oven and stir in sugar and reserved fruit. Return to microwave, uncovered, and microwave on HIGH until mix returns to a boil, about 18 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Boil at least 1 minute. Remove from oven and stir in liquid pectin. Skim off foam. Let rest 5 minutes, occasionally stirring gently to distribute fruit. Carefully ladle into hot sterilized jars; seal. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. Makes 3 12-oz jars.

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LEMON GINGER MARMALADE

1 POUND LEMONS
3 SLICES FRESH GINGER
WATER
3 1/2 CUPS SUGAR

DAY 1: QUARTER LEMONS LENGTHWISE. REMOVE SEEDS, SLICE THIN, LEAVING PEEL INTACT. MEASURE LEMON PIECES AND GINGER SLICES AND COVER WITH AN EQUAL AMOUNT OF WATER IN A MIXING BOWL. LET STAND OVERNIGHT AT ROOM TEMP.

DAY 2: BRING LEMON MIX TO A BOIL IN A HEAVY 4-QT STAINLESS STEEL POT. REDUCE HEAT TO A SIMMER & COOK FOR 15 MINUTES. COOL TO ROOM TEMP AND LET STAND OVERNIGHT AGAIN.

DAY 3: MEASURE THE MARMALADE BASE. ADD AN EQUAL AMOUNT OF SUGAR AND WARM THE SUGAR IN THE OVEN AT 250 DEGREES FOR 10 MINUTES. ADD SUGAR 1/2 CUP AT A TIME, ALLOWING MIX TO RETURN TO BOIL BEFORE ADDING MORE. CONTINUE COOKING UNTIL MIX COMES TO JELLYING POINT, WHICH IS 8 DEGREES ABOVE THE BOILING TEMPERATURE ON YOUR CANDY THERMOMETER. THIS WILL HAPPEN WITHIN 10 MINUTES. REMOVE FROM HEAT; SKIM OFF FOAM. LET STAND 5 MINUTES. STIR, THEN POUR INTO HOT, STERILIZED JELLY JARS TO WITHIN 1/2″ OF TOPS. SEAL, PROCESS IN A BOILING WATER BATH 5 MINUTES.

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There are numerous recipes for making Lemon Curd. Don’t be discouraged by the name–Lemon Curd is very much like lemon pie filling with bits of peel; it’s delicious and can be spooned onto cakes or used as a dessert topping, or as a filling for tarts. None of the recipes in my collection call for processing the Lemon Curd in a canner – however; even though it requires refrigeration, it will keep for months if properly refrigerated. Be sure to use a double boiler when you make lemon curd–the eggs will curdle over direct heat. I use a large stainless mixing bowl that goes with my KitchenAide mixer and place this over a pot of simmering water.

ENGLISH LEMON CURD

1/4 CUP BUTTER
1/2 CUP HONEY
1/2 CUP LEMON JUICE
1 EGG
2 EGG YOLKS
GRATED ZEST OF 1 LEMON

Melt butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water. Stir in the honey and cook for a moment, then add the lemon juice. Beat together the egg and egg yolks; stir them into the lemon mixture, continuing the cook and stir until the mixture thickens, which may take as long as 10 minutes (it will thicken more as it cools). Add the lemon zest. Pour into a pint size jar and cover. Keep refrigerated.

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This next Lemon Curd recipe is, in all honesty, my favorite of the Curd recipes. I think all the lemon peel gives it a wonderful flavor. If you have a lemon tree in your back yard and find yourself with more lemons than you know what to do with, try making up a few batches of this Lemon Curd. Accompanied by a small loaf of lemon bread, it makes a wonderful homemade gift for someone special!

LEMON CURD #2

4 LEMONS
2 CUPS GRANULATED SUGAR
5 EGGS
1 STICK (4 OZ) BUTTER (don’t substitute)

Scrub lemons; grate the lemon rinds finely. Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. (Note: 1 good size lemon should produce about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, or a total of 12 tablespoons of lemon juice for this recipe). Place the rind in a bowl with the juice, sugar, beaten eggs and butter cut into small pieces. Place the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, making sure that it does not actually touch the water. Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken. Pour into warmed jars and cover. Keep refrigerated.

Hint: You can make orange curd using 4 oranges, or grapefruit curd, using 3 grapefruit, or even tangerine curd, using 10 tangerines and the juice of 2 lemons.
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LEMON HONEY JELLY

3/4 CUP LEMON JUICE
2 1/2 CUPS HONEY
1/2 CUP LIQUID PECTIN

Combine lemon juice and honey. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add pectin, stirring vigorously. Boil about 2 minutes. Pour into hot sterilized jars. Seal.

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LIGHT LEMON MINCEMEAT

This recipe comes to us by way of Canada. It can be used as a pie or tart filling or used to fill homemade cookies. You can pour it into sterilized jars and attach to it a card with suggestions for using mincemeat.

1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup raisins, blanched, drained and chopped
3 1/2 cups apples, peeled, cored and chopped (4-5 apples)
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup lemon marmalade
2 cups white or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons dark rum

Combine all ingredients. Spoon into sterilized jars, label and store.

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FRESH LEMON EXTRACT

2 TEASPOONS GRATED LEMON ZEST
1/2 PINT VODKA

MIX, LET STAND 4 WEEKS, SHAKING THE JAR OCCASIONALLY.

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LEMON MINT JELLY

1 1/2 CUPS FRESH LEMON JUICE, STRAINED
1 1/2 CUPS WATER
1 1/2 TEASPOONS MINT EXTRACT
1 PACKAGE POWDERED PECTIN
4 1/2 CUPS SUGAR

Combine lemon juice, water and mint extract in a medium size pot. Stir in pectin; bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add sugar and return to rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off foam if necessary. Pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Seal; process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath. Makes about 4 half pints.

The following recipe is from a very old regional cookbook published in 1874…but syrups are very basic and easy to make.

LEMON SYRUP:

1 1/2 LBS of granulated sugar for each pint of lemon juice.

Add some of the peel, cut into slivers. Boil all together for 10 minutes, then strain, bottle and seal with a cork or a tight fitting lid. Mix lemon syrup with iced water to make lemonade.

Happy Cooking!
Sandy