Key Lime SyrupIn SoCal the winter is citrus season - lemon trees, lime trees, mandarin trees, etc are all heavy with ripe fruit. I bet a lot of this backyard goodness just goes to waste. At this time of year, even though I try, the ground under my key lime tree is covered with rotting limes.

7 lbs of key limes from my yard.
7 lbs of key limes from my yard.
Simple - limes, basil, sugar.
Simple - limes, basil, sugar.
Cut and sugared up over night.
Cut and sugared up over night.
Boiled in the morning.
Boiled in the morning.

Syrups are an easy way to preserve this goodness for later - like in the summer when a ripe lime is hard to come by on my tree. It has gotten better over the year as both my key lime tree and Meyer lemon tree seem to have some fruit all year. Must be a sign of maturity.

Too start of I picked 7 pounds of ripe key limes. Many people get confused by this but key limes do turn yellow when they are very ripe and juicy. Yes, ripe key limes look like dwarf lemons - so get over it.

What I'm going after is a syrup that I can use for drinks and in cooking. I want to retain the flavor, zestyness and even some of the bitterness of the whole lime. So, I will use the whole lime - skin and all. If you want a milder syrup, juice the limes and only use a few whole ones or if you are totally opposed to the refreshing bitterness - juice all the limes and only add the peel of a few, making sure you have as little of the white pith as possible. Always remember that all recipes are just suggestions that are open to interpretation - own the preserves you make.

These are my ingredients:

  • 7 pounds, ripe, washed, Key limes
  • About 2 pounds of sugar (I used baker's sugar because that's what I had in the house, any sugar will do.)
  • A few sprigs of African Blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal')
  • A few odd citrus fruit I had lying around - 2 Navel oranges and one Meyer's lemon (waste not, want not)

I cut up all the fruit and took out the seeds because you don't want all that pectin in your syrup. For the Key limes it was enough to cut them in half and poke the seeds out with the knife. The lemon and oranges needed to be sliced in 3 so that I could get to all the seeds. I did this over the pot I was going to use for the boiling so as not to loose any of the juice. Don't worry if a few seeds fall in - no biggy.

Once the fruit and basil are in the pot I poured in the sugar and mixed it all up. The sugar will pull the juices and oils out so I let it sit on the stove over night.

In the morning I muddled the citrus to get some more of the juice out and brought the whole mixture to a slow boil, mixing all the time with a wooden spoon. After all the sugar had devolved I gave it another 5 minutes at a slow boil. While still hot I strained the mixture and bottled it. Made about 3 liters of very lovely and tasty lime syrup.

It's very sweet with a distinct lime taste, zesty zing and a slightly bitter finish - not unlike Dundee Orange Marmalade. A teaspoon of this stuff, in a tall glass, some muddled mint and seltzer make for a very refreshing, summer drink. If it's happy hour, and you know it's always happy hour someplace in the world, add a shot or two of Nalewka style Blue Flower gin - very satisfying way to unwind.

Bottled and ready for storage. Key lime syrup, muddled mint amd seltzer. Add a few shots of Blue Flower gin - now we're talking.
Bottled and ready for storage. Key lime syrup, muddled mint amd seltzer. Add a few shots of Blue Flower gin - now we're talking.

It seems like everybody in America is advocating keeping almost everything, "after opening", refrigerated. I'm old enough to remember life before refrigeration - that was back in Poland. You made syrup, pickles, jams, etc so that food would keep because you didn't have refrigeration. Doesn't mean it won't spoil from time to time but my experience has been that real syrups should be fine without refrigeration. I've had a bottle opened for 2 months now and it's fine. Remember, it's not like I'm advocating eating spoiled foods but... use common sense and remember that humanity survived without all of today's modern conveniences for a long time.

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