The orange harvest is about consumed. I think two more oranges are left, out of my reach-tomorrow morning I’ll have to drag the step stool into the back yard and retrieve those. Arizona sweets, the two trees each bore at least a couple hundred fruits this winter, ripe in February and sweet as candy. For the past three months, I’ve been eating a half-dozen a day.
I can’t imagine ever having a house without at least one fruit tree. My last shack had two Arizona sweets, a grapefruit, and a fig tree. This one, in addition to the two orange trees, has an amazing Mexican lime (pictured at right) that just now is covered in fruit and two young Meyer lemons, both of which blossomed in gay profusion this spring.
Manny, the current owner of SDXB’s former abode, has added plums and peaches to the existing grapefruit, orange, and tangerine trees. He insists he can get these to thrive here, and indeed, one of my colleagues has managed to grow edible peaches, apricots and plums in our scorching Valley of the Sun.
How frugal is a backyard fruit tree? I don’t know. The fig certainly was frugal enough: nothing much had to be done to it to make it bear. Citrus, though it’s fairly drought-hardy, needs plenty of deep watering and three doses of fertilizer each year to produce juicy, sweet fruit. If the tree bears a lot of fruit in a season, probably it’s a savings over buying that many oranges or grapefruit. And at 99 cents apiece, a lemon tree doesn’t have to make many lemons to be pay for itself. Lemon trees are notoriously fecund. At the grocery store, 99 cents a Meyer lemon does not purchase!
My water bill last month was $102. The lowest bill of the year, when hardly any water runs on the landscaping, is $70. The base rate is around $60. So all of the landscaping, including flowers and the pool, is costing around $32. Let’s guess the trees cost about $20 of that. Say the oranges bore 200 fruits this year. That’s a conservative guess; in fact, 6 oranges consumed per day x 3 months = 540 oranges, and I gave a bunch of them to friends in addition to the half-dozen I ate every day. But for the sake of easy math, let’s figure $20 ÷ 200 oranges = 10 cents apiece, roughly, per month, over about six months: 60 cents apiece.
That doesn’t figure in the fact that the water also goes on the lemons, the lime, the tomatoes, and the herbs. Still, the savings is probably not great…unless you figure that each orange tree actually bore about 270 oranges…. I was too busy picking and eating to count.
Tree-ripened fruit is so wonderful and so much better than grocery store produce, I’m actually dreading having to fall back on cardboard strawberries and barely ripe watermelons. Clearly, though, if the fruit falls on the ground and spoils or gets eaten by birds, it’s no bargain, neither water nor fertilizer being free. You have to have a way to preserve them.
Some people preserve citrus juice by freezing it in ice cube trays and storing the solid cubes in plastic freezer bags. You can make marmalade out of just about any citrus, and lemons lend themselves to lemon butter. Soft-skinned fruit can be canned or turned into jam, jelly, or butters. It’s a lot of work and I’m not sure I’d want to do it. That’s why I’m glad I live where citrus grows.
SDXB discovered that if you have a certain number of fruit trees on your lot-say, your house was built in an old grapefruit orchard, as many now centrally located 1950s Phoenix tract houses were-and you sell some of the produce, your lot qualifies as a farm and you qualify for an agricultural subsidy. You not only get a bunch of not-quite-free fruit, but you get a break on your taxes. Now that’s frugal!
Figs in Brandy
Wash a bunch of fresh, ripe figs. Prick them in a few places with a fork. Place them in a French canning jar with its rubber gasket in place. Cover with inexpensive brandy. If desired, add a little cinnamon or nutmeg. Store in the refrigerator.
Serve over ice cream.
Grate the zest of three lemons and then squeeze and collect the lemon juice. Next, beat five eggs plus five egg yolks until they are light and fluffy; then slowly beat in a cup of sugar, beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. In a large mixing bowl, whip four cups of heavy cream. In the top of a double boiler, pour the lemon juice over one tablespoon of gelatin. Allow the gelatin to soften and then stir over hot water until the gelatin dissolves. Stir the lemon-gelatin into the eggs, and then fold in the heavy cream. Chill in individual glasses or dishes and serve with whipped cream.
- 2 yolks of extra large eggs
- 2 extra large whole eggs
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 ½ Tablespoons minced lemon zest
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 2 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
In a saucepan (about a quart size), whisk the ingredients together. Stir over medium low heat until the mixture coats a metal spoon, about 8 minutes. Pour the lemon curd into a bowl or French canning jar, cover, and store in the refrigerator. This can be spread on good bread or coffee cake, or served over ice cream.
This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled. Larger amounts require somewhat longer cooking, up to about 20 minutes. Of course, it can be made (to excellent effect) with Meyer lemons.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Thinly slice about six Meyer lemons, discarding the seeds and ends. You should have about three cups of sliced lemon. Place these in a bowl and cover with water. Let stand overnight.
Then bring the lemons and water to a boil and boil them uncovered for 10 minutes. Again allow to stand overnight.
Measure the lemon-water mixture and add an equal amount of sugar. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Then lower the heat but cook rapidly for about 45 minutes, until the marmalade sheets off a spoon. Pour the hot marmalade into hot, sterilized canning jars and seal the lids. This makes about six cups.
Drunken Orange Slices
Peel one or more ripe, fine oranges. Slice horizontally into quarter-inch-thick slices. Layer in a wide stoneware serving bowl or enameled pan, and cover the fruit slices with Grand Marnier or brandy. Chill for several hours, or let stand at room temperature for an hour or so and serve. Makes a great dessert as it is or served over ice cream.
Take three oranges, three lemons, and one grapefruit. Halve these and seed them; then slice them very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit this produces, and place the fruit in a large nonreactive bowl or pan. Add three cups of water for each cup of fruit, and let soak for 12 hours.
Then place the fruit and its water into an enameled pot. Boil it for 20 minutes, and again let it set for 12 hours.
Sterilize some canning jars and lids.
Again measure what you have. For each cup of fruit and juice, add three-quarters cup sugar. Cook this combination in small batches, no more than five cupfuls at a time, until the fruit is clear and the syrup falls off a spoon in a sheet. Remove it from the pot, let it cool a few minutes, stirring. Pack the marmalade in the sterilized canning jars, seal them, and store them in a cool place.
Thinly slice limes to make about one quart. Add 1 ½ quarts water and let stand overnight. In a nonreactive pot, cook the limes slowly for 2 or 2 ½ hours, until they are tender.
Measure the lime and juice. Add 2/3 as much sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil; turn down the heat and cook rapidly until the marmalade sheets off a spoon, 30 to 60 minutes. Pack the marmalade in hot sterilized jars, seal them, and store in a cool place.
Cut about five pounds of white-fleshed fish filets, such as halibut or sole, into small pieces. Place in a glass or stoneware bowl. Add three minced onions, 2 cups lime juice, and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Stir together; be sure the fish is covered with lime juice at all times. Add some minced hot peppers. Cover tightly and marinate in the refrigerator for one to three days.
Jicama con limas
Chill a jicama in the refrigerator. Wash it, peel it, quarter it, and cut it into quarter- or eighth-inch-thick slices, or into slender sticks. Squeeze fresh lime juice all over it. Sprinkle with salt and eat as a snack.
Quite Possibly the Highest and Best Use of Limes
Quarter a Mexican or key lime. Open a bottle of pale beer, preferably Triple-X or Corona. Squeeze the lime into the open bottle and then push the lime quarter down the neck into the beer. Consume. Repeat.