This recipe is as easy as falling off a log. Only instead of falling on to the cold hard ground, you fall into an ocean of zesty, sweet lemon syrup. The method for this recipe is: measure the ingredients, stir the ingredients, enjoy the deliciousness.
So why has a recipe so simple and yummy fallen out of favour?
I think the answer might lie in the changing attitudes towards the ‘processed’ ingredients in this recipe such as lemon essence and citric acid. In the 1860s, these ingredients had just been invented, and as well as being novel they served a real purpose. People without a lemon tree could suddenly use lemon in their cooking. Lemon essence – literally the essence of lemon – could be transported via ship to even the remotest corners of the empire, such as the Australian colonies.
We tend to deride the global food system these days. Though it certainly has its faults, we forget its benefits. We no longer starve en masse if our crops fail (which they still do, regularly) because the slack is taken up by imports from overseas. Imported ingredients have also made possible the incredible richness of food these days, by making ingredients native to disparate parts of the world available for the home cook.
This is a large part of what makes primary historical sources like this so interesting – they bust some of the idealised myths that have built up around past eras. 150 years ago, people were using processed ingredients and they were loving it.
So how is this recipe useful for the modern home cook? It contains no lemons, so you can make this syrup without access to the formerly ubiquitous back yard lemon tree. You also don’t have to purchase any of the rather flavourless and exorbitantly priced lemons that haunt Australian supermarkets for most of the year. This is also a very economical recipe – the two ingredients (citric acid and lemon essence) can be bought for less than $5 at the supermarket.
Here is the original, from 1865:
To four ounces of citric acid add three pints of water, ten drops of essence of lemon, one ounce of spirits of wine, seven and a-half pounds of white sugar. Dissolve the citric acid and sugar with a gentle heat, and, if possible, in an enameled pan. When cold add the essence, previously dissolved in the spirits of wine, and shake well together.
Lemon Syrup. (1865, December 23). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 9.
Modern Lemon Syrup
(No Lemons Required)
Ingredients30g citric acid
¼ t lemon essence
2 t wine
Jars for storing, if you intend to store it, and you think you can protect this delicious, delicious syrup from you friends and family.
About an hour, because you need to let the syrup cool. But you don’t need to be standing there watching it while it cools. You could be off doing something cool like planting heirloom vegetables or collecting all the stones of Berenziah on Skyrim.
One bottle for you, one bottle for a close personal friend who shares your love of lemony goodness.
Put the citric acid and sugar in a non-reactive pan. (Note: non-reactive refers to something that will not be stained by, or leach into, food with an acidic ingredient).
Add the water to the pan.
Put the pan onto the stove on low heat – you do not want it to boil as this will put you on the path to making toffee. You just want to syrup to be gently heated while you stir it to help the sugar dissolve.
Soon before it is done, the syrup will become cloudy and you will no longer be able to see if there is still undissolved sugar. Time to use your other senses. Keep stirring until you can’t feel any more sugar granules with the bottom of the spoon, and you can’t hear a scraping sound of the sugar being pushed around the pan as you stir.
Once the sugar is dissolved, take the syrup off the stove. Allow it to cool.
While the syrup is cooling, you now have a bit of time to get the other ingredients ready, and to sterilise your jars (if you intend to keep it for a while – if you don’t think it will last that long, then any container will do).
You can sterilise glass jars in the microwave, the oven, or a pot of water. I find it easiest to use the microwave method, which you can read about here.
Mix the lemon essence and wine together in a separate container. The wine is there to help the lemon essence mix into the syrup rather than just sitting on the top. (Note: the wine will only make the syrup about as alcoholic as a cough lolly, and you will be further diluting it when you serve it).
When the syrup is cool, add the lemon essence and wine mixture. Stir well.
Store the syrup in jars or bottles that you have sterilised.
You can use your delicious new friend in a number of ways, including cocktails, mocktails, baking, and iced tea. You can also use it as cordial – just add some ice cold water and you’re set.