Six lemons from Spain, unwaxed (but treated with Imazalil, Pyrimethanil, Orthophenylphenol, which I try to scrub off, like the world’s sins, under running water).
Three tablespoons of juniper berries – that smell like old libraries, venerable and hushed, until I crush them (in a bag on the floor with the wooden rolling pin) and then the scent’s of gin – heady, territorial, a smidgeon of fox.
I cut the lemons into pale half moons, spoked and floating in their own juice. Half a jug of water and a good splash of actual gin (‘distilled in London to a secret recipe’) – and a quick nip for the cook, who has this January such a longing to slice and simmer and sweeten, to preserve – keep ‘five 300 ml jars’ of the world on my pantry shelf and give it away and spoon it onto toast till my mouth sparks with hearth and hillside, the moon cooked.
Forty minutes and the kitchen’s nothing if not lemony. All my thoughts are yellow and I am singing ghazals, rinsing jars fit for a king, adding the sugar – a whole bag made from beets farmed in Bury St Edmunds. It’s bubbling now (think cauldron), slurping and shapeshifting, a life of its own. My kitchen smells like a factory, a distillery, as if it belongs entirely to the silver pot on the stove.
And then a stillness, as the amber concoction cools before I pour it, stickily, into the jars. Licking the spoon, my tongue tingles with citrus and another latitude entirely. We have travelled far – but all that labour and summoning and only three scant jars.
Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi for this and all his wonderful recipes.