I feel as though have a part-time job at the moment finding uses for the lemons that our tree rains down upon us. If I had more than one lemon tree as prolific as this one, I would lose my mind. Or I would list the location of my trees on Falling Fruit, a site that maps urban fruit trees all around the world so that people can go and help themselves to the harvest instead of it going to waste.
Last week, I started in on the 5-gallon pail of lemons pictured above. I didn’t weigh this but it must have come in at about 25 pounds. Organic lemons cost at least $2.00 a pound where I live, so let’s say this pail contained $50 worth of lemons. I prepped a few jars of preserved lemons with half of them—one large jar alone contains 20 lemons!
Preserved lemons use up the entire lemon—rind and all. The rind is actually the main attraction. But I also need to juice a bunch of lemons to make the preserved lemons—you top off the jar with juice to submerge the lemons in liquid. That means a lot of rind potentially in the compost after I’ve squeezed out the juice.
As I set to work, throwing some of my rinds into the compost bucket left me racked with wasted-lemon-peel guilt so I decided to zest the lemons before tossing the piths into the compost bucket. I spread some of the zest out on a glass dish to dry before I remembered that I had vodka on hand for making vanilla extract. I would make lemon extract!
I found an 8-ounce bottle of McCormick’s lemon extract online at Jet, now owned my Walmart, so you know the price is rock bottom at $8.48 (regular price $10.49), not including sales tax. The packaging looks like a plastic bottle capped with a large plastic lid. This extract contains alcohol, water and oil of lemon. So nothing unpronounceable at least. But pretty much guaranteed lesser quality than my homemade extract.
Let’s say you bought lemons for a different recipe—like me, you may be obsessed with making preserved lemons. The lemon zest you’ll use for your lemon extract costs nothing to buy since you already have the lemons. Think of your zest as a useful byproduct or averted, upcycled food waste.
A 1.75-liter bottle of inexpensive Smirnoff vodka at my local Bevmo costs $19.15 with tax. That’s a little over 7 cups of vodka and I use 1 cup for this. That works out to $2.59 for the same amount of homemade extract as the McCormick extract from Jet ($19.15 ÷ 59.17 ounces × 8 ounces). More if you use better vodka. Lemon extract made with inexpensive vodka will taste fine but you may prefer organic, non-GMO vodka.
Note: Organic Lemons and Food Grade Wax
When I eat fruit or vegetable peels, I eat organic only. However, organic lemons at the grocery store—and other types of produce there—often have a wax coating. Waxes extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and enhance their appearance (think of wax as makeup for food)—and thus increase grocery store profits. I doubt you want to eat wax…
I haven’t come across citrus—or any other produce—coated in wax at the farmers’ market (another good reason to shop there). So if you don’t have a lemon tree or can’t find one on the Falling Fruit website, check the farmers’ market for wax-free citrus. I am extremely lucky to have a tree that produces more lemons than I can handle.
1 cup vodka
Zest of 5 organic lemons
1. Scrub and zest lemons.
2. Place zest in a jar. Pour vodka over the zest. Put the lid on the jar. Shake.
3. Set the jar aside for a month. Shake every few days or when you think of it.
4. Strain and use the lemon extract in cakes, pancakes, cookies, pies or anything else to which you’d like to add lemon flavor.
1. Follow these same directions to make orange extract or grapefruit extract.