Garden remedies for teenage angst

With three teenagers in the house I’ve listened to a fair amount of talk about the plague of spots. At times the bathroom has resembled a chemist’s shop with endless tubes and jars, most of which were uncomfortably expensive, and all of which promised miracle cures within a few days.Image

There were considerable expectations of benzoyl peroxide-based creams with which friends at school had experienced wondrous results, but it quickly became clear that my kids’ fair northern skins found this remedy unbearably harsh and the after effect was super-dry red-raw faces. Consequently I was relieved when Leeds Metropolitan University published the results of their herbal experiments last year.

In a nutshell they discovered that thyme steeped in alcohol for several days produced better results than many remedies on the market, including benzoyl peroxide. (See http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/about/thyme-for-a-more-natural-cure-to-acne27032012.htm ) Having plenty of thyme in the garden, and knowing that it likes nothing better than a harsh trim on occasion, I thought it was worth a try. There were two risks, first that I was descending too quickly down the slippery slope of Worzel Gummidge wackiness and would soon reach the point where in olden days I would have been burnt at the stake, and secondly that it wouldn’t work at all and so my teens would have additional reasons to view my horticultural exploits with scepticism and the odd guffaw of laughter. However, a small bottle of alcohol costs around a euro in the local supermarket, which was so much cheaper than the last shopping expedition to the chemist that the gamble seemed worth it.

After washing the thyme I crushed it into a clean screw-top jar until it was full (Mercadona pasta sauce jars are perfect) and topped it up with alcohol. A day later the whole thing had turned a lurid shade of green. The following week teen-testing began.

A year down the line all I can say is it certainly works as well as anything else. Our family isn’t blessed with great skin, but I have had no more requests to go chemist-shopping and the only additional expense has been cotton-buds with which to dab emerald ointment on the offending eruptions.

As with the pulp in Aloe Vera leaves, which is fantastic for healing skin problems and especially burns, the colour is a drawback so it’s best to apply it at night. However, the thyme mixture smells a good deal better than Aloe Vera and is easier to keep at the ready in the bathroom.

 Another garden remedy I heard about recently was to use lemon juice in a facial steam clean. It’s said to be great for removing dirt and oil whilst not being too harsh on the skin, so I’ll give this a try next time there are cries of, “OMG look at my face, I can’t go out today!” 

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Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

Lemon cake, with plenty of zest!

If you don’t want to waste your lemon zest when you freeze cubes of lemon juice, here’s a lovely recipe that uses lots of it. You can either use this cake mix for muffins, or to make two 18cm sandwich sponges (put lemon curd or chocolate filling in the middle), or as a lemon tea loaf (boil 5tbsp of lemon juice with 25g of sugar until it is slightly thickened and use as a glaze on the top).
Basic lemon sponge recipe: 200g self raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, half a tsp of salt, 220g sugar, 120g butter (softened), 2 tbsp of grated lemon rind, 3 eggs, 100ml milk.
Method: Grease your tins and heat the oven to 180ºC. Mix all the ingredients together and bake until a knife comes out clean (the timing will depend on whether you are doing muffins or cakes so keep an eye on things). If using a lemon glaze, prick the cake or muffins with a fork and then apply the glaze liberally so it sinks into the sponge. Leave the sponge to cool in the tin before turning out.

Lemons galore!

The great thing about lemon trees is that certain types, such as Cuatro Estaciones (Four Seasons), will fruit several times a year so you will almost always be prepared for friends to drop in for a gin and tonic! Furthermore, citrus trees are perfect for the mini-gardener who only has space for trees in pots. Even small trees will regularly be bowed down with copious quantities of fruit on our island where the climate is so ideal for lemons and oranges.

In general, lemons keep better on the tree than off it, so there’s no need to rush to pick them every time they turn from green to yellow. However, if they are beginning to reach their sell-by date or a friendly neighbour hands you a large bagful over the garden wall, as mine regularly does, don’t panic. There are many ways of making use of even the biggest glut and not waste a drop of that wonderful vitamin C.Image

The quickest way of using the whole fruit is to remove the outermost layer of zest with a potato peeler and leave the thin strips to dry on a plate before converting them to powder with a blender and storing in an airtight jar. A spoonful of powder in hot water makes a refreshing drink and can also be added to herbal infusions.

Juice the lemons and freeze the juice in an ice tray for use with hot or cold water. A daily dose of lemon juice improves the immune system, is great for combating skin problems and is said to aid digestion and be helpful to those who want to lose a few pounds. However, don’t overdo it as the one unwanted side effect of excess vitamin C is increased flatulence.

If you also have some fresh dill or parsley available, you may wish to fill ice cube sections with chopped herbs and then top up with lemon juice for an instant dressing to be used on fish or salads.

For easy storage, pop the lemon cubes into a bag once they’re frozen.

If you enjoy lemon curd, nothing can beat making it fresh. Any of the jars that have button tops are suitable to wash out thoroughly and reuse. So long as the button “re-seals” and is hard when the curd cools, it will keep for several months in your store cupboard. Once opened jars should be refrigerated. Lemon curd is very versatile and can be used on toast, as a filling for cakes or as a speedy cheat when making lemon meringue pie, it’s also delicious stirred into natural yoghurt.

To make about 4 small pots you will need: the finely grated zest and juice of 3 lemons (for lime curd replace the lemons with 4 limes); 200g white sugar; 115g unsalted butter; 2 large eggs; 2 large egg yolks.

Method: place a Pyrex bowl above a pan of boiling water.  Put the lemon zest and juice, sugar and butter in the bowl. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Beat the eggs and yokes thoroughly until completely blended. Add the eggs to the lemon mixture while whisking. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon over a low heat and allow the curd to cook until it is thick and coats the back of the spoon. Meanwhile warm your clean jars and lids either in a low oven or weighted in hot water (so that the insides remain dry). Pour the curd into the warmed jars to within half a centimetre of the rim. Tighten their lids immediately and wait to hear the satisfying “pop” when they seal as they cool.

No blog on lemons would be complete for me without adding my friend, Beth’s, recipe for lemon snow. It’s been a favourite in our household for more than 30 years, for me, because it’s so quick and easy, while for everyone else it’s because it melts in your mouth.

Beth’s lemon snow has just three ingredients: A can of evaporated milk (chilled in the fridge for a few hours); a sachet of lemon jelly; 2 lemons.

Method: Dissolve the jelly in 250ml of boiling water. Leave to cool for 20minutes. Finely grate the zest from both lemons and add it with the juice to the jelly. Whip the evaporated milk until doubled in size then tip in the jelly/lemon mix and whip until fully blended. Pour the mixture into a glass bowl and chill until set.

Lemon trees require minimal attention on Mallorca. Trim out any dead wood and give them an iron-rich feed if the leaves begin to look pale in places. Although pot-housed trees require more frequent watering, once established in a garden, lemon trees only need extra water in the most extreme dry summers. Many other sites detail a myriad of ways you can employ the fruit to clean metal, negate unpleasant fridge smells and a host of other uses in addition to the culinary ones. A true super-fruit.