Sunday, August 09, 2009

Preserving lemons

It's August now and after a prolonged heatwave in July, the weather has suddenly turned cool and nippy. Night is falling remorselessly earlier every day, and the first leaves are starting to turn. But instead of mourning summer, I've decided to try and capture a little bit of its making preserved lemons.

Nothing says summer to me more than a bowlful of lemons sitting on the kitchen counter, right beside an icy pitcher of lemonade. Even if lemons (and many other produce) are available all year round, there is nothing so delicious as fruits and vegetables harvested, prepared, and eaten at the peak of their proper season. Tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes...freshly picked berries...peaches, corn, and of course, lemons.

Preserving summer lemons ensures that you have a way to add a bright note to many meals well into the fall and winter. As the weeks go by, the yellow colour deepens, so that the jar looks like it's full of congealed sunshine. And when you open the jar, you get a whiff of concentrated lemon fragrance, combined with a certain sweet saltiness, which to me is the very essence of summer.

Preserved lemons

I've had this magazine clipping on preserved lemons for years. Unfortunately I didn't keep the publication info. I'm hoping this method is universal enough that it doesn't need attribution.

  • 1 quart Mason jar
  • 6-8 organic lemons, plus a few more for juice; washed thoroughly
  • 1 cup coarse Kosher or sea salt
  1. Sterilize the jar or run it through a complete dishwasher cycle. Make sure the inside is thoroughly dry before starting.
  2. Place enough salt in the jar to cover the bottom.
  3. Remove the stem from each lemon and slice into quarters, but don't go all the way through the stem end. Leave about 1/4 inch uncut.
  4. Holding the lemon over a bowl, pry it open gently and pack the inside with salt. Rub salt over the outside as well. Put each lemon into the jar as soon as it has been salted.
  5. Pack the lemons tightly into the jar so that the juice runs out. Add more juice if necessary, covering the lemons completely.
  6. Seal the jar and let it stand at room temperature for a couple of days, then transfer to the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, turning it upside down from time to time.
  7. When the lemons are ready to use, remove from the jar as needed with a wooden spoon, chopstick or skewer. Wash before using and remove seeds. The entire lemon - rind and pulp - can be used. It will have a salty, sweet, sour flavour. Chop into stuffings for roasts, or add to salads, rice, couscous, vegetable dishes...the list goes on and on!
  8. As long as you are careful not to introduce any bacteria into the jar, the lemons will keep six months or more in the fridge. Just make sure they are always covered with lemon juice. Top up as needed.


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