A spoonful of sugar helps the lemon go down

Lemons in sugar

Lemons in sugar

Anna Kharzeeva
Sugared citrus was a special treat for Soviet kids.

This piece is part of the Soviet Diet Cookbook, a blog about a modern Russian girl cooking Soviet food. To read more of the series, click here.

Whenever my brother or I were unwell as kids, Granny would always appear with an arsenal of homemade remedies. Among them was always a jar with cut up slices of lemon with honey. It was always our favorite part of being sick – apart from missing school, naturally.

Apart from medicinal sweet lemon, there were always sugared “lemon slices” available. Granny recently shattered one of my childhood illusions by telling me they were actually lemon­flavored gummy candies in the shape of lemons. I always thought they were actual lemons. Their shape played in our favor, as we were allowed to have a fair bit, as though they were actually medicinal.

The Book has a recipe for “lemon and orange slices with sugar,” which caught Granny by surprise. “They have it? Ha! Interesting....!” she said, but it brought back nice memories for me.

As for oranges, while I don’t remember eating a lot of those, for as long as I can remember, Granny’s kitchen always had long “snakes” of orange peel hanging down from cords spread across the kitchen ceiling. The cords hanging above the stove would also be used to hang and dry clothes over the heat of whatever it was we were having for lunch.

“We all used orange peel,” Granny recalled. “It gives a nice aroma and repels moths. We would put it in our wardrobes and shoes, as well as hang it up in the flat.”

She had very specific Soviet-era memories of citrus fruits. “There were imported red oranges in shops – beautiful and each packed in its own piece of paper. Lemons were available in summer from the southern republics. Shops would also sell lemons and oranges with the parts of them that had gone bad cut off – they were 2/3 or half of the fruit, but that part was still good. These were very cheap and there was always a line to get some. I would always join the line, as I would make lemon and orange jam for the winter.”

So desired were these “obrezki” ( scraps), that Granny’s friend was always certain she wouldn’t get any due to her “bad luck” – but was always proven wrong much to Granny’s delight, and was able to get enough for kompot or jam.

The sweet-and-sour combination is very popular in Russian cooking. Another favorite dessert is cranberries coated in sugar. It tastes very sweet at first, and then you get a blast of sour cranberry.

Granny used to tell me that I needed sugar so that my brain would work well ( so many jokes spring to mind, but I’ll resist them). Now, she says, the approach to sugar has changed in the minds of doctors – from “brain food” to “white poison.” That hasn’t changed its presence on the table and in the lemon jar, though.

As we got older, Granny started coming over with oranges sprinkled with sugar and a bit of 

Vermouth. She says it’s a good idea to add some wine into the sugared or honeyed lemons, too. I think I need some for my throat, brain or anything else that could go wrong – right about now!

Oranges or lemons in sugar, pg. 372

Wash oranges or lemons, then cut into thin slices. Remove the seeds, lay in rows in a glass. Sprinkle each row with sugar. Leave in a warm room for three days to let the sugar dissolve and form a syrup. After this, keep your oranges or lemons in a cold place
For 1 kg fruit, use 1.5 kg sugar.

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