Lemons are one of nature’s best fruits; so useful, so versatile and packed with Vitamin C. If you find yourself with a lot of lemons to use up, why not preserve them? A frequent flavour in North African cookery, preserved lemons are often added to tagines and cous cous dishes to bulk up the flavour whilst they are also used to stuff meats or fish and even in risottos and pasta dishes in the Mediterranean. Here, we’ll show you how to preserve your own at home for minimal cost.
Image (c) Jules, StoneSoup
Makes enough to fill a 2l jar
- 10 medium, unwaxed lemons
- 750ml lemon juice (about 10 lemons’ worth again)
- 300g flaky sea salt
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp of whole black peppercorns
1. Choose your jar (2l capacity-size works best, with a tight-fitting lid) and begin my cleaning it. Pre-heat the oven to 140°C. Meanwhile, wash the jars well in hot soapy water then rinse thoroughly under warm running water. Leave the jars and lids to dry, upside down, in the oven (or you can clean the jars by putting them through the hot cycle of a dishwasher).
2. Scrub the lemons clean with a soft brush all over the skins, then cut each lemon – almost to the base but not quite – into quarters. Don’t cut all the way through. Gently open each one and remove any seeds that you can visibly see.
3. Pack 1 tbsp of salt inside each lemon and then push them back into shape. Line the now-sterilised jar with a good layer of salt and pack all the lemons in, with layers of salt between each lemon layer. You can poke the bay leaves and peppercorns around wherever you like.
4. Tightly pack the lemons into the sterilised jars, packing the salt around them generously as you build up the layers. Poke the herbs and spices, if using, around the lemons.
5. Pour one third of the lemon juice into the jar followed by any leftover salt, then pour the rest to top the jar up until it’s full. Seal tightly and leave in a cool, dark place for six weeks.
6. That work of mere minutes has already completed most of the process, now, each week, simply invert the jar so that the salt gets dispersed and dissolved. Don’t worry if the liquid is cloudy, by about three to four weeks in it will become clear again.
Image (c) Alex Bayley
7. Once six weeks have passed, open the jar and check the lemons. If you cut through the centre of one of the lemon quarters and the pith is still white, they aren’t quite ready, give it another week or two.
8. Once opened, keep in the fridge and top with additional lemon juice if necessary and a layer of olive oil after each use. You only use the rind in cookery, so when ready to use scrape away the pith and salty flesh as you chop the rind finely.