Preserving Meyer lemons
The winter months aren’t often thought of as big preserving months. Maybe preserving your own sanity through the cold and grey months is enough! And when it comes to saving the season, I don’t have much to save. Except for this year when I couldn’t quite seem to get enough of the Meyer lemon. I’ve been using them in cocktails, zesting and juicing them into salad dressings and pretty much any other dish that could use a bit of bright flavor. Not to mention that a pretty bowl of them on the kitchen counter couldn’t look more sunny if they tried!
But Meyer lemons definitely have a season around here, unless you are one of those lucky people with a tree in the greenhouse or a shrub at your front door step, ahem. So when I found a short video posted on Food 52 with a quick glance at how they were preserving lemons, I was hooked. I headed down to the grocery store and picked up a bursting bag of Meyer lemons. I think the check out girl may have looked at me a little funny. Then it was off to the kitchen supply store for another oversize jar. I like the old school ones with wire bale closures. I do have a few, but as it turns out, they are full of kimchi!
My favorite taste of preserved lemon came at the Marché des Enfants Rouges in Paris. The late autumn afternoon was filled with a strong, cold wind. The clouds hung dark with rain and off in the distance, I heard the rumble of thunder. As we entered the market, the downpour began. We huddled by the glass display counter, filled with platters piled high with delicious offerings—tagines, salads, couscous and breads. On the counter just behind stood shining stacks of ornate tea glasses. Nearby, a grey-haired man poured glasses of fragrant mint tea. We ordered and the waiter hurried our food off to a sheltered table just under the eaves of the building. All around, the rain rushed and splashed. But the vegetable tagine, enjoyed from a rough earthenware bowl, sparkled with the bright flavors of lemon and green olive. Fingers curled around the burning hot glass of tea, a downpour couldn’t have come at a better moment.
Thinking back, I don’t know why I didn’t rush home to try some preserved lemon in my own cooking. Maybe that memory was enough to last me for a little while. Or maybe it was the mint tea binge that ensued when I returned home and completely captured my attention for months. But now that I’ve returned to that lemony flavor, I can’t wait for all of that salt and some time to work their magic on those lemons. In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming of pairing that deep lemon essence with spring-fresh asparagus when it finally arrives in from the fields, or maybe even brightening up a potato salad or deviled egg filling.
As I read through the comments following up on the Food 52 post, I found suggestions of using the lemony brine to flavor martinis and salad dressing. Genius, I’m guessing! I can’t wait to try a little dash with some sautéed spring peas or to season a simple sauce for pasta. I also found reference to a Paula Wolfert recipe for preserved lemons, which includes a handful of spices in with the brine—cinnamon, cloves, pepper and bay leaves. And I can attest that hanging my head over a jar filled with lemons and topped with those spices was intoxicating.
This is not so much a recipe as an idea to get started you started. It also doesn’t matter so much what size jar you use. The biggest one you have, or just plain old mason jars should do the trick. The main matter is how many lemons you want to get you through until next season. I made two jars…
Preserved Meyer lemons
Meyer lemons, organic, if possible, scrubbed
Spices, 3 to 4 pieces black peppercorn, pink peppercorn and cloves; 1 cinnamon stick and 2 fresh bay leaves, if desired
Cover the bottom of the jar with a layer of kosher salt. Working one at a time, trim the top off the lemon, cutting into quarters length-wise. Don’t cut all the way through the lemon so the quarters remain attached. Carefully pull apart the quarters and generously sprinkle with kosher salt. Press the lemon back together and place in the jar. As the lemons accumulate, gently press them down with your hand to release the juice and allow for more room in the jar. Continue until the jar is almost full. I got about 14 lemons in my 1½ liter jar. Top the lemons with spices, if using. If there is not enough juice to cover the lemons, squeeze another lemon or two to fill the jar.
Cover and let sit in a cool, dark spot. Within the first couple of days, open the jar once or twice during the day to release pressure from the fermenting process. Sealed tightly, turn the jar over once a day or so to allow the salt to mix well.
Let the lemons ferment at room temperature for three to four weeks, then place in the refrigerator, where they can keep for months. Before storing, remove the spices, as they may get bitter with time. Just be sure to use clean utensils when retrieving the fruit from the jar.