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Preserved Lemons, Now’s the Time!

At least here in the Midwest, tis the season for Meyer Lemons.  Now is the time to preserve this delightful fruit as they won’t be around for long.

This recipe is from Paula Wolfert’s book, Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco.  The important thing in preserving lemons is to be certain they are completely covered with salted lemon juice. With Wolfert’s recipe you can use the lemon juice over and over again.  She actually keeps a jar of used pickling juice in the kitchen, and when she make Bloody Marys or salad dressings and has half a lemon left over, she’ll toss it into the jar and let it marinate with the rest.  Use wooden utensils to remove the lemons as needed to keep the others pristine.

Sometimes one will see a sort of lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in their jar; it is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used. Preserved lemons are rinsed, in any case, to rid them of their salty taste. Cook with both pulps and rinds, if desired.

5 lemons
1/4 cup salt, more if desired

Optional ingredients that may be added:
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
5 to 6 coriander seeds
3 to 4 black peppercorns [1]
1 bay leaf
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if necessary

Equipment:
Shallow bowl
Sterile 1-pint mason jar
Sharp knife

If you wish to soften the peel, soak the lemons in lukewarm water for 3 days, changing the water daily.

Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.

Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice and not water.*) Leave some air space before sealing the jar.

Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, shaking the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired — and there is no need to refrigerate after opening. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used two or three times over the course of a year.

According to the late Michael Field, the best way to extract the maximum amount of juice from a lemon is to boil it in water for 2 or 3 minutes and allow it to cool before squeezing.

Tips from Paula Wolfert

To sterilize a mason jar for the lemons, place it upside down in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Using tongs (wrap the ends in rubber bands for a better grip), remove the hot jar and dry it upside down on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in a warm oven. To sterilize the jar’s top, boil it in water for 5 minutes, then remove with tongs.

When you’re ready to use a lemon, remove it with clean utensils to avoid contaminating the inside of the jar with bacteria. This way, the remaining contents of the jar will not need to be refrigerated.