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Monday, July 28, 2014

Organic Lemon Syrup

For some reason I don't quite understand (oh, I'm sure it has to do with supply stock, demand interest, commodity trading, the global market... you know, capitalist machinations...) Lemons are always cheap.

Even in the dead of winter in cold, cold Canada, we can buy a bag of organic lemons for like $2; and not small bags, either.

Anyway, the other day we were at our favourite market and they were selling some particularly good-looking lemons, for particularly cheap, so I decided to try something I had been wanting to do for a while.

Make a lemon simple syrup.

For the uninitiated, simple syrups are basically just dissolved sugar mixtures.  They are certainly simple when compared to the disease we have had over the last half a century - of making so many refined, highly-concentrated, overly-saccharine syrups.  I don't even want to know what kind of industrial and chemical processes need to happen in order to make high-fructose corn syrup.

So, you could take a refined sugar, like white granulated sugar, and melt it in a pan with water, and technically you'd have a simple syrup.  But... "if you're going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?"

So, we're going to make some organic cane sugar simple syrup, infused with organic lemon.


If you're curious as to the 'why' of this, here are some of the uses we had planned:
First and foremost it was to be used in mixology endeavours.  We love a good whiskey sour (bourbon has become one of my favourite mixology foundations) and this makes those so much easier to make.  Secondly, just add a bit to any water and you've got instant (and delicious) lemonade.  Thirdly, you can drizzle a very small amount, or mix with some oil and vinegar, for a quick and dirty salad dressing.  Fourthly, this would be a great glazing material for meats like pork, chicken, or fish, just lightly brush some on periodically while roasting.  I'm sure there are many other uses, but those are just some of the ones we were most excited for.

Anyway, on to the syrup!

First, the copious amounts of lemons.

All of these lemons were less than $5.  And they were organic.  Crazy.  It makes me think I should always incorporate lemons in my culinary forays.

These are thoroughly cleaned, because (as you'll see later) we're going to be using a fair bit of the rind.

Next, the sugar.

For this we splurged and bought, what I think IMHO, is the best choice for this sort of thing, some organic cane sugar.

Firstly, this entire package gets put into a large saucepan with a small amount of water (for you purists, yes I did use purified water).  The ratio for simple syrups is typically anywhere between 1:1 and 2:1 sugar to water.  We went a little closer to the 2:1 sugar to water side.  This is after all, meant to be a very concentrated concoction.

Now, if you're familiar with 'cooking' sugar, you'll know that now's the time to bring out your candy thermometer.  It's actually a very sensitive procedure.  Not to scare you off from trying this, it is quite easy, just be sure not to underestimate the accuracy of measuring the temperature.  A few degrees is enough to change your syrup from a liquid to a gum, or even a hard (like Werther's hard) candy.

So just watch that thermometer.

In fact, candy thermometers all have a handy little clip with which to fasten it directly to your saucepan so it is constantly immersed and reading.  Adjust the height on it so the conductive (metal part on the bottom) is fully under the solution, but as far away from the pan (sides and bottom) as possible.

Around 230° Fahrenheit (110°C) is the magic number here.

So just keep watching that meter until it hits that number (or close to it).

While that is cooking (on medium heat), we began the time-consuming but also kind of fun task of juicing and zesting a shit tonne of lemons.


We don't have a juicer.  I've never understood the need for one.  My shitty hand-powered juicer works just fine and arguably just as quickly as any monstrous appliance which would take up room in my kitchen.

Sure it takes a while when you're juicing large quantities of fruit, but how often am I doing that?  Not very often is the answer.

Still it only took about ten minutes for the wife and I to juice and zest all of those lemons.

We were careful to press most of the pulp as diligently as possible, and in the end we ended up with quite a bit of juice.

We only chose to zest those lemons with the most attractive and shiny peel, but also arrived at much zest.

When all was said and done, there was a good amount of both juice and zest for our purposes.

The 'leftovers' - the discarded pulp, skin and extra zest we put in the slow cooker to simmer for days in the hopes of making a lemon oil.  We'll talk about that in another post, however.  ;)

By this time the syrup was ready.


Doesn't that look good?

Because we were hoping for a very runny syrup (the hope was to pour this stuff), but because we were also planning on adding lemon juice (effectively thinning this mixture) we actually went with pretty much exactly 230° for the end point. Before the addition of the juice, it was a little thick (still runny, but... viscous...)  Once it's reached this temperature it's fine to take it off the heat, it's not going to affect the consistency.

Anyway, we carefully poured this into a large liquid measure:

And then started to strain the juice in.

Because this was going to sit in the fridge for some time (potentially months), we added a fair bit of zest just as-is and whole.  This would infuse the syrup with a deep lemony flavour above and beyond what the juice alone could do.

When everything was all nicely mixed together,

We carefully (with a funnel) poured this into a cute, self-sealing, bottle.

The saucepan in this pic is not there for any particular reason other than I didn't want to clean up sticky syrup off my butcher's block.  ;)

Although you can buy these cool 'Grolsch-style' bottles new from kitchen stores (and I think Crate and Barrel sells a variety) I have a few (and this particular bottle is one) recycled ones - originally from sparkling water bottles.  ;)

When all finished, I have to say, it looks quite attractive!

Beautiful golden colour with gorgeous flecks of yellow peel curls.  I was really quite proud of this.

I still have some of this in my fridge almost 3 months later (although it is almost used up).  It is still great.  I admit that sometimes I strain out the zest bits - especially when I use this to make a beverage - but for the most part this is so convenient and makes a lot of things really easy.

And I feel really good about using it in place of other sweeteners because I know it is wholly organic, and made from purified water.

It is really great to have on hand, and I've become so accustomed to having it in the fridge I think I'll have to make another batch when this one is gone!