IT'S spring again and my neighbour's lemon tree is heavy with fruit hanging over the fence.
I can't help fetching a kitchen chair and cutting off a few of the huge ones. Someone on Facebook calls me out and says it costs nothing to ask. One should not steal.
Is this stealing fruit? Technically, the fruit is hanging over the fence. And I won't complain if my neighbour nibbles on my fig tree's crop on her side of the fence. In any case, anyone who can get hold of an intact fig before the starlings do deserves that fig.
I think back to my granadilla vine and how one year in the pandemic I caught people helping themselves to MY harvest. It was barely a month after I had moved into the house, so it wasn't really MY harvest. The vines were laden with fruit and followed the sun over the wooden fence.
I would rather say nothing about the dirty look I gave the pickers. My house adjoins a footpath, and from the barking of the neighbour's six Jack Russells (yes, six, but that's another story) at a certain hour and the associated rustling in the bushes, it became clear that part of the two fruit thieves' daily routine was walking through town and picking a few granadillas.
The consternation on the aunt's face when I loomed up on the other side of the fence while her old man was wrapped in the granadilla vine on her instructions almost made me laugh. I don't know how long she had been coming to this bush to pick granadillas, but at that moment she seemed almost more possessive of them than I was.
After all, I understand the enjoyment of a fruit you pick yourself. Especially secretly. However, my stare was hard and angry. They fled like naughty children, looking over theirs shoulders furtively. With a plastic bag full of loot.
In the small town where I grew up in the 1980s, nocturnal fruit-stealing expeditions were an institution for a few summers during my primary school years.
I blame Bettie Naudé's Saartjie series, which my friends and I devoured. Saartjie always brushed an unruly curl from her face and made the kind of mischief that earned her tomboy status. We all wanted to be tomboys.
A fruit-stealing operation had to be planned with precision. At an agreed hour, we would all climb through our bedroom windows, escape our parents' homes and our identities as sweet children, and meet somewhere.
The biggest danger was that we would burst out laughing and get caught. Which happened several times. The other was that the police would see three 11-year-old girls, disguised with headscarves and sunglasses, roaming the streets and call our parents. Which also happened.
The following summer, the boys' hostel took the fruit-stealing too far and people became angry.
After that, we preferred to have our midnight celebrations on the rugby field with droëwors, Fanta Peach and Chocolate Logs, until the lapwings started screaming loudly around us and we clambered back through our windows, sopping wet from the early morning dew. It was the last summer of innocence.
The following summer the boys joined us for the midnight feasts and stolen fruit lost its charm.
Today's recipe is all about a stolen treat. Well, a very middle-aged sort of treat, because you make the sauce and you keep it in your fridge. And whenever you open the door and wonder what the hell you have for dinner or lunch that's nice, you find a delicious treat that adds excitement to your usual boring food.
In the same way that a fruit picked from another person's tree is so much tastier.
Double lemon sauce
This lemon sauce should last at least a week or even two in the fridge. Read its uses before underestimating it.
It might be better if you don't steal lemons for this, because most of those you'll find in your neighbour's garden will have thick skins. The kind with thinner skins and layers of white pith work better, otherwise it becomes much too bitter.
- Potato salad: Mix a few tablespoons of thick Greek yoghurt or mayonnaise with a few tablespoons of sauce and stir it through boiled potatoes. A handful of caper seeds or halved green olives is also not to be sneezed at.
- Roasted vegetables: Roast one type of vegetable — such as halved fennel bulbs, sweet potato wedges, small whole beets or even potato wedges — until cooked through. Pour a few tablespoons of the lemon sauce over it just before serving.
- Chicken: Roast or fry your chicken as usual and pour a few spoonfuls of the sauce over it for the last 10 or 15 minutes. The pieces of lemon skin and chives will caramelise a bit. Serve with more of the sauce.
- Fried steak, lamb chops or fish: Drizzle the sauce over the cooked meat.
- Make a salad with cooked brown lentils or chickpeas, feta or tofu, tomato, cucumber and avocado. Drizzle the sauce over the salad for a quick, fancy midweek lunch.
- Toast slices of ciabatta and drizzle the sauce on them. Serve with avocado slices or chunks of feta.
- 2 whole bulbs of garlic
- 3 thin-skinned lemons
- 1 cup of olive oil plus extra
- 100ml water
- 2 bunches of chives
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 190ºC. Break the garlic cloves apart but keep them whole in their skins and place them in a small ovenproof bowl in which they fit snugly. Cover with ¼ cup of olive oil, then with foil. Roast for about 20 minutes or until the garlic is buttery soft.
2. Wash the lemons thoroughly. I prefer organic thin-skinned lemons without the wax for this recipe. Use two of the lemons and keep the third for later. Squeeze out the lemon juice well and discard the pips. Now cut the two lemons into thin strips as if you were making marmalade.
3. Place the lemon juice and the peel strips in a pot with the water and salt and simmer over a moderate to low heat for 8 minutes. Keep a close eye on it — the lemon peel will soften. Add some extra water if it looks like the lemon is boiling dry or close to burning. You want most of the water to evaporate and the lemon to be soft.
4. Scrape the lemon into a jar or bowl and add the olive oil in which the garlic was roasted. Squeeze out the garlic, discard the skin and mix everything well with a fork until it forms a thick purée.
5. Finely chop the chives and parsley and stir them into the garlic and lemon mixture with the rest of the olive oil.
6. Grate the zest from the third lemon — just the outermost yellow layer — into the bowl of sauce.
7. Depending on how I want to use it, I dilute the sauce further with olive oil and extra lemon juice for a salad dressing, or leave it thicker like a pesto. Whisk in the juice of the third lemon plus extra olive oil until the taste is to your liking. Add salt and black pepper. (Chilli flakes, for those who like them, complement the sauce well.) Use immediately or keep in the fridge.
♦ VWB ♦
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