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in the kitchen : preserved lemons

March 5, 2012

Like so many other folks here in New England, I’m getting a little tired of winter. Not that it’s been harsh by any means; its the lack of fresh food that’s bringing me down. That, and the lack of sun — on a sunny day, when the weather hits the forties and a few birds are singing, why, its enough to make my whole body react with Spring! Spring!

Citrus does a pretty great job of standing in for that feeling. Bright flavors, bright colors, and such scents — luckily for us, it’s in season during our dreariest! And, luckily for me, my farm share includes citrus fruits from kindred farms in Florida, so I’ve been hoarding about 10 grapefruits a week for a few months now. And such grapefruits!

I’ve been obsessed with grapefruits. But after eating two a day for months, infusing my own pompelmocello, and perfecting my gin & grapefruit juice cocktail, I have to admit, I’ve become a little uninspired. It’s not that I’m bored with these big pink citrus—oh no. In fact, just two days ago I canned some grapefruit-heavy mixed citrus marmalade with Mediterranean sea salt. But during that jamming session, I rediscovered — the lemon.

The lemon is such a little star. Commonplace, to be sure, but just because you see the moon every night doesn’t mean you could go for days without her. Lemons have such a clean, bright flavor. The smell of their zest alone is enough to make me smile!

I’ve been wanting to try preserved lemons for awhile. I discovered them by accident while browsing through a natural foods store, and have since only come across them by chance. Although curious, I never wanted to risk the purchase — What do you use them for? Could I use up a whole jar? Is the taste worth the price? So, I came to the only logical conclusion I could come to : make them myself, and make three times as much. Obviously. Well, it turns out they are pretty simple, and the cost is so cheap and prep time is so short it would be hard to say its not worth it. I left one jar plain, added whole black peppercorns to another, and I pushed some juniper berries, fennel seeds, and a bay leaf into the third. The only downside is that they’ll take about a month to ripen — but once they do, they’ll last for up to a year, and, as it turns out, you can use them endlessly : in Moroccan food, as a garnish to fruit desserts, with fish, or as the flavor for a homemade soda.

Preserved Lemons

3 – 4 md size lemons, washed
5 tbsp kosher or sea salt, approx
spices of your choice
pint size mason jar, wide mouth, with tight sealing lid

Cut the stem tips off the ends of the lemons. Cut the lemon almost in half length-wise, leaving about one half-inch of the base intact, and do the same again on the other axis so the lemon is almost in quarters.

Using about 1 tbsp per lemon, fill the cavity of each lemon with salt, rubbing slightly to moisten and incorporate. Add a bit of salt to the bottom of the jar, and push the lemons in, trying to release as much of their juice as possible. Add any spices you may chose. Cap the jar and store over night.

In the morning, press the lemons again. If the juice in the jar hasn’t yet risen to submerge the contents, add enough lemon juice to completely cover the fruit. Cover, and store in a dim, draft-free area for 3 – 4 wks, or until the rinds are soft and the fruit flavorful.

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