When life gives you lemons . . .

You could make lemonade, dress a salad, zest the skin over a dish, marinade something.

I love lemons.

There’s something about the colour of a lemon; uplifting, bright, optimistic.

Lemon zest in salads, or the juice as a garnish, adds a bright flavour – it helps make Basil, Mint, Chilli or Coriander sing with joyous flavour.

Lemon juice is a good marinade for meat, especially Chicken or Fish. Half a lemon squeezed over a summer salad transports the dish to somewhere lovely.

Nutritionally, lemons give us Vitamin C. Lemons spread to the rest of the world as a result of trade, along the way becoming recognised for their ability to curb scurvy and improve health on long journeys where diet was restricted.

The positive effects of Vitamin C are well-known, there’s a reason you feel better after having a good dose of it.

Food likewise – the act of preparing it, of using parts of the brain where memories are stored, helps bring forth all the good things we need to nourish ourselves, reminds us that we are people with a life, loves and a history despite the denials of our humanity from all sides.

Making and eating food connects us to our histories, our souls, and to our bodies, and through our bodies, connects us to the earth.

What’s not to love about a lemon?

As a child I remember remarking on the similarity between the leaves on a lemon tree and a tea bush – something about the shape, glossiness and veining. There is no connection between the two as far as I’m aware, though a cup of good black tea with lemon (no milk obviously!), is perfect in summer.

Lemons originate in the border country between present-day north-east India and south-west China, the region from where tea also originates.

My first encounter with tea bushes and lemon trees was in the hills near Kericho on the slopes of Mount Kenya on a cool misty morning with the faint hint of woodsmoke on the air (pictured). Here, on the Equator and in the foothills of a vast mountain the climate was relatively cooler and damper than in the rest of Kenya, perfect for growing tea and lemons.

tea farm in Kenya

Kenya’s tea country (pictured above) is quite something. Visit if you ever get the chance.

It was there that I also encountered my first taste of an ‘instant’ lemon pickle made by an Aunt.

This little wonder has just four ingredients: lemons, a green chilli, salt and some Turmeric powder. Take a couple of lemons, and a chilli and chop them up – chop each lemon into eight even sized pieces. Add about a tablespoon of Turmeric powder and a teaspoon of salt. Rub it in (wear gloves or your hands will be the colour of a certain US president). Set aside for half an hour or so and then eat with freshly made parathas and a small bowl of yoghurt, or as an accompaniment to another dish. Kept in the fridge in a sealed pot, this super fresh pickle lasts for a couple of weeks.

You could also make preserved lemons, Moroccan style.

Take 10 or 12 unwaxed lemons and cut them into connected quarters (that is, don’t cut them into definite quarters). Then salt them profusely. Shove them into a jar, add more and keep salting. Salt is a great natural preservative and to ensure that the lemons are properly preserved you’ll need lots of salt. Keep going, adding profusely salted lemons to a sealed jar till you can’t fit in any more. Seal the jar and set aside in a cool cupboard away from light. After a few days, pack in some more lemons and salt, and keep going every few days making sure that the juice covers the lemons.

The longer preserved lemons are left to age, the more mellow in flavor, darker in colour, and softer in texture they will become.

When you choose to eat them is up to you. But you are recommended to leave them for a few months, six months ideally, though you can preserve them for up to a year.

Preserved lemons, one at a time, are ideal added to tagines or Moroccan chicken and lamb dishes where their savoury brightness lifts parsley, mint and thyme to new heights.

Another personal favourite tandoori style fish (see this recipe – substitute fish for chicken) which tastes lovely when squeezed generously with lemon juice.