When Life Gives You Really Big Lemons

This is a Cedro lemon sitting on my butcher’s block beside a standard size lemon. It’s, um… big. This huge, sweet lemon is native to Sicily and is most commonly used for salads. Really. I bought this one at St. Lawrence Market but have seen it in other fruit markets since, labelled as a “salad lemon”. They’re meant to be thinly sliced and added to salads, and some people sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and/or salt.

The unique thing about the Cedro is that the actual area of pulp is the same as a regular lemon. All of that extra space is spongy pith. Unlike other citrus fruit, however, the Cedro’s pith is sort of sweet and not bitter.

I had the idea that I would candy the Cedro. But I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to discard the pith and just used the fragrant outer peel (the Cedro smells like a cross between a lemon and a bergamot) or use the whole thing. I had little luck searching out recipes, and a couple people on Twitter pointed me to a David Lebovitz recipe for candied peel. But I had this idea that I wanted to to do thin cross-section discs so that the pulp in the centre would look like stained glass and dry to an almost crunchy consistency.

There’s a reason why, when making candied orange peel, you put so much effort into getting all the pith out. Because the stuff is like a damned sponge when it comes to moisture, and will never really dry out completely if you don’t. In the back of my head I knew this from previous attempts to candy grapefruit peel, but I wanted lovely round sugared lemon slices.

Right away, I couldn’t get the slices thin enough. I don’t own a mandoline, but even if I had one, the Cedro would have been too big. I ended up cutting each slice in quarters soon after that because I had a sneaking suspicion that they were going to be too wet. After removing them from the sugar syrup I actually wrapped each piece in a dishcloth and tried to squeeze the extra moisture out of the lemon. After going through about 6 cups of sugar, I just gave up and started eating slices of slightly soggy lemon pith. Most of the pulp never made it past the syrup stage and dissolved into the syrup as it simmered.

So, yeah, no final product photo to show you, readers. I have learned my lesson. Although the final product tasted amazing (almost like lemon drop candy), despite being mushy and ugly.

However, I would do the whole thing over again and try Lebovitz’s citron peel recipe, maybe even intentionally leaving it slightly syrupy, like the stuff available at Christmas for making fruitcakes. (Because I have doubts, at least based on the photos with his recipe, that the peel he’s made is completely dry.) I just won’t be foolish enough to think that I can get a dry peel candy out of a lemon that is mostly pith.