Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core…
One of the best things about the abundance of autumn is the chance to do something wonderful with all that excess, to preserve that glorious ripeness for the winter and beyond. I get an absurd sense of satisfaction from taking fruit that would otherwise be wasted and making jams or pickles or even just freezing them for later cakes and crumbles. My bounty this autumn included crabapples from a friend’s parents’ tree that became jelly; a pile of split figs from the Northside Farmers Market for jam; cumquats from my sister’s tree that became a truly delicious strawberry and cumquat jam plus brandied and pickled cumquats; tomatillos from my cousin’s garden that became salsa and an unusual tomatillo jam; and just to break up the preserving trend, custard apples from my mother’s tropical garden that became icecream. I’m actually feeling thrilled just listing all those – preserve nerds of the world unite!
So, you might be wondering why I’m talking about this now when we are well and truly in Winter. In Keats’ England, they probably didn’t associate winter with abundance, but you see around here we grow citrus – and at the moment, boy do we have citrus!
Obviously I have the usual donations of lemons from generous friends with trees (so far used to make lemon curd and Limoncello marmalade); plus tangelos, mandarins and lemonade fruit from Mum’s garden; but mainly, I’ve been swimming in limes… A colleague of my partner’s has a mother, who has a lime tree, and she kindly sent my partner home with a couple of bags of limes – totalling about 5 kg. To put that in perspective, while most citrus are pretty cheap, limes around here average about $1 per lime, so I’ve got to be feeling pretty flush to make a Key Lime Pie…
But now, well now I can make anything! Multiple Key Lime Pies, lime marmalade, lime curd, various pickled lime things, and frozen limes, juice and zest so I don’t get withdrawal symptoms. The pickles have been amazing. I’ve made a couple of Moroccan/Egyptian style salted limes, plus a couple of different Indian lime pickles, and it’s the Indian pickles I want to tell you about. I’ve always enjoyed the lime pickles you eat with curries, but these ones are something else. Firstly they’re fermented, which is as easy as putting chopped limes in a jar with some salt and turmeric and leaving them for a few weeks. Then you fry a bunch of spices in mustard oil, mix in the limes, and cook it all together for a few minutes before bottling. The result has that slightly muted tang you also get in preserved lemons, combined with the heat of the chilli and mustard seeds, all smoothed together slightly by frying in the oil. I think they would also be fabulous made with lemons, and in fact I have a batch of Meyer lemons currently midway which I’ll update you on when they’re finished.
Indian Lime Pickle
18 limes (approx 900g or 2lb)
1/3 c salt
2 tsp tumeric
1/4 c chilli powder
1/2 c mild mustard seed oil
3 tsp brown mustard seeds
2 tsp fenugreek
1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
2 curry leaves
Slice the limes lengthwise in quarters and cut each quarter into 3 or 4 pieces (see first picture above). Mix well with the salt and turmeric, pressing gently – the second picture shows the amount of juice given off.
Put in a large jar, or, as I’ve taken to doing, seal the glass mixing bowl or jug in a large plastic bag and put in a sunny spot. A few recipes I’ve read suggest you need hot summer sun for these, but I’ve found a Canberra winter no problem, it’s just a bit slower. Every other day or so, stir briefly (or shake the jar). You’ll notice the colour of the rind fading and the juice thickening (that’s the pectin) as the pickle develops. After anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks (depending on temperature and the thickness of the rind) the rind should be soft enough to easily bite through, or cut with a spoon if you prefer.
For the final stage get all the ingredients measured first as it’s very easy to burn the spices. Heat the oil gently, and add the mustard seeds, heating until they pop. Add the fenugreek seeds, chilli powder, asafoetida and curry leaves, and continue to heat gently until the fragrance of the spices rises but without browning the chilli powder. Add the limes and liquid, and stir for a few minutes until combined and the limes are fully heated through. If you’re storing in the fridge then put into clean jars and refrigerate. If storing at room temperature I sterilise the jars by putting through the dishwasher and then putting in a 100C oven to dry and heat while I finish the pickle. Put the hot pickle into hot jars, seal and cool before storing. I imagine they would last a year at least, but so far they haven’t lasted long enough for me to test that!
[Edit 21/8: I’ve now made a batch of this pickle with Meyer lemons as well – also delicious – so don’t feel you can’t make it if you don’t have free limes!]