Preserving lemons: Part 1

Martha Knows Best: Years ago, I saw Rosie O’Donnell telling a story about her visit to see Martha Stewart in prison in an interview. She explained how she asked Martha what she missed most in prison, fully expecting her to say things like her friends or her daughter. Instead, the first thing Martha said was “Lemon.” I totally get where she is coming from. I’m not saying that if I found myself in prison that I would miss lemon more than loved ones, pets, or unfettered internet access. However, I totally understand Martha’s devotion to lemons as I use them to cook with and mix drinks regularly. Just the cheery sight of lemons makes me happy. Lemons might even be be blamed for some of my minor dental issues thanks to my habit of dipping sliced lemons in sugar and then sucking on them as a child.

lemons on plateAlright, DIY It Is: Going through Jerusalem: A Cookbook to pick out the next few recipes I want to try, I noticed that quite a few of them call for preserved lemon. The cookbook includes a recipe for preserved lemons but, never the most patient or a great long-term planner, I just didn’t want to wait a whole month (at least) for the lemons to be ready. After getting annoyed with how some of the recipes I want to try soon call for preserved lemon, I finally decided to get my act together and try my hand at preserving them myself rather than buying some.

I noticed that the recipe calls for unwaxed lemons. The local stores have plenty of lemons but I’m not sure I can purchase any that are unwaxed. Maybe I can but I’m just too lazy to go searching for them. I briefly considered a scheme that involved collecting lemons from the trees in peoples’ yards throughout my neighborhood but I’m from Texas and trespassing can result in having a shotgun pulled on you so I quickly abandoned that half-baked plan. So I thought I would turn to Twitter and ask both authors of the cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, whether the recipe would still turn out ok if I didn’t use unwaxed lemons:

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 1.54.10 PMTweet Dork: Aside from the fact that I am the kind of person who’s dorky enough to get super excited about one of my favorite food gods responding to my tweet, I was relieved that I could go ahead and just use the waxed lemons that are much easier to find. I am a believer in buying mostly organic produce, budget allowing, and luckily Trader Joe’s sells bags of 4-5 organic lemons (pretty big ones, too) for $1.49 each.

Preserving Process: After sterilizing some quart-size mason jars, I followed the rest of the simple recipe: cut the lemons lengthwise in a deep cross from top to bottom, stopping about 2 cm from the base, packed the insides of the lemons with 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, crammed them into the jars and stored them in a cool, dark place (my linen closet). I am doing a double recipe, 12 lemons total, which means if they don’t turn out well it will be double the failure! (Even though I sterilized the jars I am still mildly concerned that some bacteria managed to find its way into the jar that will ultimately result in a very sad, disappointing afternoon about a month from now).

stuffed lemon

Waiting Game: Now I just have to wait patiently for about a week, at which point I will open the jars, pull out the lemons, squeeze as much juice as possible out (but save the juice), then place them back in the jars and add some rosemary sprigs, a large red chili, the lemon juice, and some olive oil. At the earliest, they will be ready about a month from now.  I am pretty stoked about them and will write another post about them once they’re ready.

jarred lemons

Related: Preserved lemons: Part 2



  1. I love that someone else loves that Martha story. It’s been lodged in my memory since I first heard it because I totally get it . I mean I’d miss my family, my cats and, well, beer, but lemons are pretty high on my list of things I love. I especially love persevered lemons! yum! Good luck with your batch. =)

  2. That is too funny! I’m not exaggerating when I say that nearly every time I cut lemons and use them for something, I hear Rosie’s Martha voice saying “lemon.” P.S. I checked out your blog and I love it!

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