Back in November, our Meyer lemon tree started dropping leaves. It was nothing too terrible, but Kyle poked an organic fertilizer stick in the ground, right at its drip line – sort of like when you take some extra vitamin C if you think you’re coming down with something. Precautionary. So I have no idea if that’s what did it, but suddenly in January the tree was stupid with lemons. Like nothing we have ever seen before. This tree barely tops three feet – really, it is more like a bush – but no kidding, there were at least a hundred lemons on it. Not that I’m complaining. I made lemon cakes, lemon loafs, lemon chickens, lemon dressing, some of these various things – and Jacob even made a couple glasses of fresh-squeezed, honey-sweetened lemonade for himself, something he loves to do. But still, the lemons! You can see in the photo above how many were *still* left … And so – I have been thinking for a while about making Moroccan preserved lemons – it seemed now was the time. (This article, by the way, is full of fascinating tidbits on them, including how and why they can ferment in a jar on your counter with just salt and lemon juice and no real ‘canning’).
My source recipe is from Chez Panisse Fruit. Here’s what we did:
(Makes enough for one quart and one half gallon jar)
About 15 Meyer lemons, skins scrubbed clean (I am sure regular lemons would work, it just happens that our tree is a Meyer)
1 cup kosher salt (more or less) in a bowl that will hold the lemons too
8 cardamom pods
4 bay leaves
Lots of 100% lemon juice (I used two 8 oz bottles of organic lemon juice, plus more juice from some additional Meyer lemons off the tree, to be able to cover everything)
Clean jars and lids (run them through a hot dishwasher, or boil for ten minutes)
Lemon prep: cut off the tips of the lemons. Then cut each lemon lengthwise, leaving the end intact, and then again lengthwise at a 90 degree angle to the first cut. They should end up almost quartered, but still attached at one end.
Put a tablespoon or two of salt in each jar to begin.
Put a lemon in your bowl of salt. Rub salt all over the lemon flesh, into it really – careful not to break them apart. You want all the juicy lemony surfaces to be covered in salt. Put them into the jar. As each layer of lemons goes into the jar (you can smash them down in with a wooden spoon) add a cardamom pod and some more salt. Put a bay leaf in to your smaller jar and a few into your bigger jar, too, in between the layers. Once your jars are full of salted lemons, salt, cardamom and bay, press the lemons down so they release some juice. Then pour your additional lemon juice into each jar, filling it entirely. Put on the lid and give everything a good shake.
The lemons will need to sit on your counter for three weeks before they are ‘ready’ – but the longer they sit the better they will be. And, bonus – apparently you can re-use the fermenting syrup that will form in the jar from the salt and lemon juice – just salt a new batch of lemons and fill the jars back up.
Here are two recipes made with preserved lemons that I am looking forward to trying – I will check back in with more once mine are done!