Preserved Lemons

By Josh Reeder-Esparza   |   January 23, 2018

You know what tastes like sunshine and dreams? Winter fruit. Not in the sticky-coconut-sunscreen-and-heat-exhaustion-sunshine kind of way, but in the grilled-sea-bass-with-lemon-and-parsley-I-just-saw-god kind of way (I don’t actually like fish but you get the point). Citrus: it’s tops.

Somewhere around November you start see lemons & limes along with tangerines, if you’re lucky your market will get Yuzu or Citron as well as weird things like finger limes. Just after Christmas you’ll start to get some blood oranges with little specks of red inside, and by January comes crimson thin-skinned oranges.

So this winter I’ve become a crazy person. I’m an adult that still believes in show-and-tell: showing up at friends’ homes with a bottle of wine and armfuls of weird citrus. Twice I knocked on doors to inquire strangers if they’re planning on using the bounty currently laying waste on the lawn of their Victorian, all the while wondering how many times the original schmuck that planted it rolls over in their grave each time a lemon hits the dirt.

Fueled by my crave to share and a strong belief that the citrus lady at my farmers market will disappear if I don’t keep buying, I brought a ton of citrus into the office for show-and-tell and preserving. The main goal was to preserve some Meyer lemons with the possibility of a few ancillary projects. Meyer’s are the ones that have a thinner rubbery skin, taste less acidic, and have a slight furniture polish smell about them.

One of the ancillary projects was making limoncello. I won’t bury the lede: it came out reeeal bad. Bitter, over-extracted, and a lot closer to actual furniture polish in your mouth than smelling “kinda like it,” it was undrinkable. It made for great pictures so you’re going to see a lot of those, at least it doesn’t hurt to look like furniture polish.

Anyways, the lemons. Preserved Meyer lemons are a wonder: they look beautiful in a pantry and they add a certain je ne sais quoi (I’m told that’s French) to any recipe that needs a little acid, think dishes with parsley, carrots, or root vegetables — they add a ton of zip. More importantly? They’re a piece-of-cake to make and are a great first-time project if you want to dive into preserving. Go to the farmer’s market this weekend and pick up a box of citrus so you can take a crack at it yourself, ingredients and directions are below!


Preserved Meyer Lemons

Makes: enough to fill up a quart mason jar.

Ingredients

The beauty of a recipe like preserved lemons is that it’s not exact and is very scale-able, these are some roundabout numbers on how much you’ll need but you’re gonna have a better time if you eyeball it.

  • 5-6 Meyer Lemons
  • 1/3 cup Salt (Stick to kosher when you’re pickling/preserving)
  • Whole Cloves
  • Coriander Seeds
  • Cinnamon Sticks
  • Bay Leaves
Directions

Get a sharp knife, a large mason jar, all your ingredients (sans lemon-juice), two medium-sized bowls, and a cutting board. Use as many or as few of the spices as you like; try a few different batches: spicy with urfa biber and cayenne, floral with lavender, or bitter with fenugreek. Mix spices into a bowl that’s easy to get to, you’ll be scattering them in throughout the process; put your salt in a bowl that you can easily grab a handful out of.

  1. Add a layer of salt on the bottom of your jar.
  2. Take a lemon and cut from the stem end (where the branch was) to the tip pausing at about an inch—do this twice to make quarters. Take a look at some of our pictures, you’re trying to get them to look like Demodogs (if you don’t know what that is, may I introduce you to Netflix?).
  3. Hold the lemon over the bowl and open it like petals of a flower in your hand, fill it with a handful of salt. Close it up and nestle it in the jar.
  4. Make a layer of lemons and scatter in some spices, repeat this process until you reach the top.
  5. Put a weight on top of the lemons, a plate or a slightly smaller mason jar filled with water will work fine. Leave overnight.
  6. The next day take the weight off, if your brine is below the top layer of lemons add lemon juice until they’re covered.
  7. Leave for 30 days at room temperature, checking from time-to-time that the lemons are pushed under the brine.

After the 30 days, your lemons are ready to use—they’ll hold at room temp for a few months and up to a year sealed in the fridge. To use: scrape excess salt off, chop and toss into dishes that need a little acid or call for lemon.

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