Preserved lemons (and limes) pop up regularly in recipes. They are relatively expensive to buy yet so very easy and cheap to make, especially at this time of the year when we have lemons and limes galore.
I remember reading in one of my cookbooks (I can’t remember which one) that some homes have big vats of preserved lemons which are never emptied but just topped up each year.
In 2003, I made jars and jars and jars of preserved lemons and limes. We are down to our last two jars. I think I used 4 different recipes at the time. What I learned from that experience is: they last for ages; you do, eventually, run out; and it doesn’t really matter what spices you add because the overwhelming flavour is salty lemon rind so you may as well keep it simple.
Most recipes tell you to make 4 cuts nearly to the base of each lemon and put salt into the cut. This would be OK if you had a big vat in which to store your lemons but if you are putting them into jars, you are better off quartering them. It is so much easier to pack quartered lemons into jars. Also, choose small lemons – they are easier to pack than large ones. All recipes work equally well for limes.
It is important to realise that the quantities are approximate. Use plenty of salt, ensure the lemons are packed tightly and are totally covered in juice.
This recipe is based on one from Marie Claire Flavours but they are all, essentially, the same. You can use whatever spices you like: coriander seeds and cinnamon are popular. Don’t use garlic – it cannot be preserved in this manner.
- 1/2 cup rock or cooking salt (don’t use iodised salt)
- approximately 14 small lemons or limes (10 to preserve and 4 to juice)
- bay leaves
- olive oil
- Sterilise a 1 litre jar.
- Place 1 tbs of salt in the bottom of the jar.
- Wash and dry 10 lemons or limes, cut them into quarters and put them in a bowl with the remaining salt.
- Rub the salt into the fruit, particularly the skin.
- Pack the fruit into the jar with the skin facing outwards.
- Arrange bay leaves and peppercorns throughout jar.
- If you have any salt left over, put that into the jar.
- Juice the remaining fruit and pour the juice into jar, ensuring that the fruit are completely covered.
- Top with olive oil to seal.
I made four times this recipe for my four jars.
The recipe says to leave for one month before using. I would leave them much longer than that. Remember, I am currently using ones I made in 2003, yes 2003:)
You will note that there is still a lot of non-dissolved salt in the jars. Just rotate the jars every so often until it is dissolved.
To use: wash the preserved lemon in water. Remove the flesh and pith and discard. Use finely chopped rind in recipe.
Can you use something other than bay leaves? Like basil?
Hi Jordan, bay leaves are good as they are sturdy. I am thinking basil would break down quite quickly whereas the lemons preserved this way last indefinitely. You could try it, though …I don’t know ….. maybe not. I would not recommend garlic as it is from the onion family and cannot be preserved this way.
Thanks for the quick response! I’m currently preserving our harvest.
I thought the same thing you did so I’ll stick to a sturdier bay leaf.
What kind of plastic lids
Hi Pat, Whatever lid comes with the jar. It is just that the acid from the lemons eats into metal lids.
Thought I would report on my use of your lemons:
1. Lemons and mandarins given to neighbours and work colleagues- very appreciative
2. 4 jars Preserved lemons made!
3. 3 jars of Lemon butter made- only 3 jars even though I doubled the recipe!
I am making Colin finish all the random chutney in the fridge as unfortunately I am a bit low on jars which is impeding things somewhat!
I am now researching homemade lemon cleaning products!!
I agree that preserved lemons last well beyond a year- but what about olives which I have had sitting there for 18 months..??
Hiya Em. My, you have been busy Olives last for ever too. Xxx
I am eating olives I preserved three years ago and they are brilliant. I used a weak brine mixed 50/50 with a good white wine vinegar then topped with olive oil to make them airtight.
I followed this preserved lemon recipe and the lemons are really, really good. Excellent in Moroccan cookery, my preserved olives and marinades. I do not refrigerate them after opening, they just sit on the bench at room temp. This batch is two years old and just keep getting better.
Hi Lanno, I am with you. Preserved lemons just get better with age.
Your preserved lemons are beautiful. I would like to ask you a question. Did you unscrew the lids regularly to release the gas produced by the fermentation process. I made a 2 litre bottle last week. Yesterday, I found the jar had exploded in the cupboard. I am very shocked and discouraged. It might be there was a defect in my preserving jar. If you could leave me a comment, I would be very grateful. Thanks.
Hi Winnie, I have sent you an email.
It would of been nice if you shared with the rest of us, so we can beware ….to open lid or not????
No I did not open the jars. I kept them sealed until I wanted to use the preserved lemons. Once open I keep the jar in the fridge.
I have kept mine in the refig.
Hi – I had never heard of preserved lemons, (Kiwi bloke!) but found a recipe for roast Moroccan lamb that required them, and it just sounded Delicious…. I googled it and arrived at your page. Thanks for your guidance, I’ll preserve some tomorrow, and can’t wait to surprise my Family with this beaut dinner in a few months time!
Lamb, lemon, fresh veggies and a good bottle of NZ Pinot-noir!
Hi Allan. Thanks for commenting. Your dinner sounds great. Your preserved lemons are sure to be a hit. When you use them rinse them under cold water, discard the flesh and use the peel.
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Hi Liz, thanks for the link and I hope it all turns out fine for you and your family.
I saw something recently -can’t remember where- that suggested that preserved lemons only lasted a year or two, and then should be replaced – in my experience I think that’s silly! Like you, I think these things only get better with age – my current batch has to more than 5 years now – I’d better check the lid – your idea for a plastic lid is great, and the olive oil too.
Hi Doc, most recipes in Australian books say preserved lemons should be used within 6 months but I think that is for legal reasons. About 2 years ago, I had some cream made up at a Chemist and the label said to dispose it after 1 month. After 1 month, I had only used about a teaspoon so Maus asked the Chemist whether it would be ok to still use. He said it would be ok for years (I am still using it) but legally they have to put ‘discard after 1 month’. It is the same with chutneys and jams. All recipes say use within 1 year. I am eating jams and chutneys that are years old and they taste and look just fine. As I mentioned, traditional households in certain Middle Eastern countries would have a perpetual vat of preserved lemons and some lemons in it would be very, very old. I am eating ones 8 years old at the moment and they are absolutely fine. I would check your lids, though. If they are not plastic, the acid and salt will cause havoc with them.
I adore preserved lemons, but only ever make a small jar these days, as like you, it takes me ages to get through them. I don’t put oil on them though – does it help preserve them? I cut mine into quarters too..
Hi Celia, the recipes say to put the olive oil on top to seal. It would also protect the lid, if you are using metal lids. Last time I did it I used plastic lids which I think is probably better. I am guessing I am going to have to replace these lids pretty regularly.