It’s cold, grey, and barren outside. Yet as I walk the streets, I see bright pops of orange and yellow in yards all over the neighborhood. It has always been an interesting contradiction to me. The bright, color-filled, fresh flavors that we associate with warm summer days, actually peak in the depth and dark of winter. Magazines, blogs, and cookbooks abound with ideas on how to bring the sweet tartness of citrus to your winter dining room table. My family and I have been blessed with a Meyer Lemon tree in our yard. While I look forward to this time of year when I can pop outside anytime I need a lemon, I also know their arrival means I have work to do. While it is one thing to walk the aisle at the store and pick up a few tangerines, lemons, or blood oranges, what does one do when hundreds arrive and are at your disposal?
I took a stab at preserving our lemons last year as I worked my way through a list of ways to use them up. From lemon bars to lemon marmalade, I used as many as I could but it barely made a dent. I decided to try preserving them, a bit unsure of what I would use them for. Google searches pointed me towards Morrocan and Middle Eastern dishes with preserved lemons as a key ingredient. However, once I added preserved lemons to a BBQ marinade, there was no going back. All spring and summer we used our lemons in a thick marinade with olive oil, herbs, garlic and salt & pepper. When I used the last few in the fall, I looked forward to this time of year when I could preserve more.
There are only 2 ingredients you need for this undertaking: kosher salt & lemons. I recommend you clean the lemons well, you will be eating the rinds down the road, although a bit of dirt never hurt anyone right?.
In addition you will need some clean, empty glass jars, a citrus juicer, and a sharp knife.
In all my research, it was noted time and time again that Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is the preferred brand to use. There are no additives and it is less salty in taste compared to other brands, such as Morton.
To start, put about a tablespoon of salt into the bottom of each jar. Then move on to prepping the lemons.
Begin by cutting the two pointy ends off the lemon, and then make two cuts in a criss-cross pattern from “top” to “bottom”, being careful to not cut all the way through. If you happen to by mistake, as I did numerous times, its not a big deal in my opinion. Then grab large pinches of salt and put it “inside” the cut sections. I did this by lightly pinching the lemon open in one direction, drop some salt in, then rotate and pinch on the other cut and drop more salt in. (This is the point where I realize how helpful video is, however I was doing this by myself during nap time :o)
One thing to note: don’t worry about seeds. It would be a nightmare to try to remove them, and when the lemons are nice and soft once preserved, the seeds slide right out.
I worked in batches, throwing the lemons into the three jars I was working to fill. I used larger quart size or spaghetti sauce jars, and they fill up fast. This is where a bit of muscle comes in; start smashing them down as hard as you can, causing them to ooze as much juice as possible. Cut and salt some more lemons, throw in, smash. Keep this process going until you have gotten as many in as you can. Don’t worry about breaking them apart, the goal is to push and smash them down as hard as you can.
I repeated this process about 3-4 times until I had as many in as I could muscle. This is where the juicer comes in, because you are going to be able to use up even more lemons to fill the jars to the brim with juice. My jars were only about half full once I had fit in as many lemons as I could, so I squeezed more lemons over the top until the jars were full of juice.
I then sprinkled a bit of salt on the top (just ’cause), put the lids on, and put them in the fridge.
Above you can see what’s left in the bucket after three jars worth. I still have more to use up and plenty more on the tree, but I feel like I at least made a dent!
Last year, ours sat in the fridge for a couple months before I used them. From what I have read you should give them about 3-4 weeks to soften before using.
If you are blessed with a lemon tree, I hope you can find a bit of time to preserve them for future use. As the weather warms up I will share more details on our BBQ marinade, in the meantime below are a few links to recipes which use preserved lemons.
Huffington Post has 12 ways to use preserved lemons here.
Interesting, preserved lemons on pizza? We love pizza in our house so I might be giving this a try…
Bon Appetit has a slideshow with 11 ideas here.
I love caesar salad, pasta, and hummus, so seeing all three with preserved lemons on this blog has me interested…
All photos by Adrienne Schell