Lemon season: we’re in the thick of it, and thanks to a gloriously wet winter, it’s been a bumper crop this year. For those of us who live in California’s temperate zones, there are plenty of backyard lemons to be had. Oh happy, happy day! Perhaps you’ve been blessed with an abundance of lemons or have noticed them at your local farmers market? If so, why not preserve some of that bounty for the lemon slow season?
I preserve lemons by loosely following a friend’s recipe, which in turn is based on a Paula Wolfert recipe.* The master recipe is simplicity personified, requiring only two ingredients: lemons and salt. If you’d like, you can add spices to bend the salt-cured lemons towards Morocco or the Levant (enlarge this pic to see some suggested Moroccan spices). I don’t add spices to my batches, preferring the clean kick of pure lemon flavor. Any variety of lemon is suitable, but note that thicker peels will take longer to cure. The lemons I used this year were from a trainer at my gym who had a garbage bag full of beautiful, PERFECT Meyers lemons that she was giving away to anyone who would take ‘em. But don’t restrict yourself to lemons – this basic recipe can also be used for limes and kumquats (both of which are ridiculously good salt-cured).
The process of preserving lemons is very simple. Start by sterilizing a quart jar. Sprinkle the bottom of the jar with about a teaspoon of sea salt. Wash your lemons.** Quarter the lemons from the top to within ½” of the bottom, sprinkle the cut sides with about a teaspoon of sea salt, and gently rub the sides together. It’s a good idea to do this over a bowl, to catch any errant lemon juice. As you go, pack the salted lemons into the jar, pressing down firmly. Separate the lemons into halves or quarters if that means you can fit more into the jar. Continue until you have filled the jar or have run out of lemons. I didn’t keep track of the number of lemons that went into this latest batch, but I prob’ly packed 8 or so small lemons into a quart jar. Your lemons – and thus, your results – will vary. The salt should have released sufficient juice to cover the lemons; if not, top with additional lemon juice. (Don’t forget to add the juice from the bowl to the lemons in the jar when you are finished packing.) I like to add a few lemon leaves to the top of my jar, as mold catchers, don’t you know, but that’s not required. I also like to use my Ferment’n ceramic weight as a follower über alles – especially in the first stage of the fermentation process. A weight will ensure that everything stays below the brine, cuz submerge in brine and all will be fine.
And that’s it: you’ve just put up a jar of salt-cured lemons. Wasn’t that easy?? The jar should sit on the kitchen counter for about two weeks. Check the jar every day or so for mold. If any mold develops, just scrape it off, wipe the exposed rim down with a damp, hot towel, top with more fresh lemon juice, and put the jar in the fridge. If your kitchen is warm, mold will prob’ly force you to put the jar in the fridge before the lemons have completely softened. No matter: the lemons will continue to cure in the fridge, albeit much more slowly. Start sampling the salt-cured lemons within a few weeks. The lemons will keep for at least a year in the fridge – especially if you used thick-skinned lemons. Just make sure that the lemons stay submerged in their brine. If the brine drops down or gets used in a recipe, top the jar with more fresh lemon juice.
I use both the fermented flesh and peel, thinly sliced, without rinsing. I have seen instructions to only use the peel, and to rinse it, but I pay no heed to that sort of nonsense. Do pick out any errant seeds, however – those will be bitter. I use the slices to garnish everything from warm cooked greens to cold raw salads; roasted chicken and sautéed pork chops to bulgur pilafs and herbed rice. Slices of preserved lemon make a mighty fine garnish for Bloody Marys, too.
And on that high note, I bid you adieu for this post. Do tune in next time to hear me whine about the ants that have invaded our homestead. You don’t want to miss that fun, do you??? I’m off now to check on the ant situation, to find a patch of sun in which I may bask, and to start my mending projects before #mendingmarch is over… Oh, and if Lent is something you celebrate, then I wish you a very happy Ash Wednesday, my pets! If Lent is not your thing at all, then I hope you’re having a generally pleasant Wednesday, unsullied by ashes. With that and much fondness and a smudged forehead, yr little munakins.
*The recipe has a nice backstory, if you care for such things: It was given to the Mister and me as a wedding gift by a lovely couple, and every time I make salt-cured lemons, I think of them.
**If you are using urban backyard fruit, wash the lemons very well – with hot water and soap, if necessary. There are all sorts of nasty particulates in urban air, especially in areas that are near freeways (check), airports (check), or that have been subjected to heavy smoke from wildfires (also check).