Last week in McG I bought a big plastic bag of rumpled looking lemons from one of the local entrepreneurs or smouse (smohsah) as we call them. These guys are experts on using what they have to hand, and making ends meet. They go out and forrage for various bits and pieces they have learned that city types like to buy and will arrive at the gate and stand there yelling: “lemmmmonnns, leeeeemmmmmonnnns” or “eppples …. epples….” until you take your R20 outside and buy a pack…. mainly to stop the noise. I know they are as organic as they can be, the guy who sold them to me had undoubtedly been scrumping them from an uncared for orchard somewhere.
The Lemon Man caught me as I was walking Jack first thing on a Saturday morning … and when I said I wasn’t carrying any money – he said he’d meet me at my house. I said “Ok” but didn’t give him my address… thinking I’d dodged the sale. But forty minutes later there he was – waiting patiently outside. Once our transaction was completed, he asked me: “Lady, what do you do with these?”
“I cook with them.” “Oh ja? Like what”. I gave him a couple examples including Lemonade. His eyes brightened: “Jaas’ sugar and lemons … and it’s koeldrank”. “Yep – kids love it and you can sell it. Better than Oros. Come back tomorrow and I will give you a recipe.”
He grinned: “Lekker, may God smile on you with joy.” I wouldn’t have pegged him as a religious man – he was wearing a holey t-shirt with a picture of a dagga plant on it. But off he went singing the rest of that hymn … breaking off every now and then to holler “lemmmmmonnnns”. He didn’t show the next day – possibly observance, more likely party. But I know he will arrive next time, with a girlfriend in tow: who will be deputised to make the drink.
Now I had to figure out what to do with them. My favourite lunch spot The Kitchen makes teeny lemon squares to accompany their strong expresso – and that seemed the perfect fit for me. My only reservation about using Karen’s recipe is I would like my squares to be tarter – and didn’t want to go off piste by leaving sugar out of the mix again. So, I researched a whole bunch of recipes and settled on this one by David Lebovitz. He recommends using the whole lemon – but, in my bitter experience that just leaves your cooking tasting …. err bitter. So I zested all of the lemons before I juiced them, and added that instead.
Because my knobbly bunch were organic, they had none of that wax on them that you get in regular lemons. So give any non organic citrus a scouring before you use it. And, don’t be alarmed by the idea of using organic if you can get them – they aren’t as expensive as you may think (Lebovitz said his cost 30c in Paris, one of the world’s most expensive cities). Lemons obviously come in many different sizes – the ones I used here weighed around 6 ounces (175g).
The result was delicious and tart. The top set to a nice consistency and the base was crisp and biscuity, without being too buttery. I at my fill, froze some small squares for the future, and gave the remainder to my cleaner Florence and her apprentice Nosisi. They are huge fans of all things baked and had polished off the carrot and mango cake with low fat cream cheese icing I had made the previous week (“weird said the Nans). I love them as testers – they appreciate everything. And eat it with gusto. “Very nice.” they agreed: “what are you going to make for us next week?”
No idea ladies, we’ll just have to see what’s on sale in the village.
Tart Lemon Bars.
1 cup/140g flour
1/4 cup/50g sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons/115g melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons/90ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
finely grated lemon zest from 2 medium sized lemons
1 cup/200g sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons/45g melted unsalted butter
Optional: powdered sugar, for serving
Baking the Crust
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.
- Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and wrap the outside snugly with foil, shiny side up. Remove the foil, turn the pan over, and fit the foil into the pan, pressing to nudge the foil into the corners. Then smooth it as best you can. Lightly butter or spray the surface of the foil with nonstick spray.
- In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, melted butter and vanilla, stirring just until smooth.
- Smooth the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small spatula to get it as level as possible.
- Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until deep-golden brown.
Prepping the Filling
- While the crust is cooking, juice and zest the lemons
- Put in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and let it run until well amalgamated. Add the eggs, corn starch, salt and melted butter, and blend. You want the mix to be smooth but zest to still be bitty and not disappear into the mix.
- When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat of the oven to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.
- Storage: The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days. You can freeze the lemon bars as well for up to one month, letting them come to room temperature before serving.