Thursday, January 19, 2012

Preserved Meyer Lemons


Today, I opened the front door to a great surprise! A big bag o' fresh-off-the-tree Meyer Lemons*!


It seems crazy to think that I had never even seen a citrus tree in bloom (or bearing fruit) until I moved to California 11 years ago!

When I first moved to California, I lived in the Bay Area. Since then, my family and I have been slowly inching eastward. The past 5 years, we have lived in the San Joaquin Valley and there are literally thousands of acres of fruit bearing trees of all kinds everywhere. In fact, I can't walk 50 feet with out being in eye sight of some sort of fruit tree.

I find food so inspiring when it comes directly off the tree or picked freshly from the ground. Luckily, I have some very generous friends who like to surprise me with food treasures fairly regularly.

This summer, a lovely friend gave me a small jar of preserved lemons. They were beautiful and I used them up all to quickly. I've been wanting to replenish my supply and gift back my own creation. This being in the back of my brain for nearly 6 months, I saw that bag of Meyer lemons on my door step and I went directly into canning mode.

(Yes, I have at least 2 cases of glass canning jars and lids at all times. Something, I have learned living in this agricultural epicenter that is the Central Valley -- you never know when some one is going to offer up a ton of apples, 8 buckets of beefsteak tomatoes, or free reign of their apricot or Meyer lemon tree. Since I lack the ability say "no" to free food, it's best to be prepared.)

Before you start, you must sanitize** your jars and any utensils you will be using -- even if they are brand new. Boil a 12qt or larger pot of water, big enough to hold and cover your jars completely. Boil them for at least 10 minutes and if you have any sanitizer/sodium percarbonate, use it [Editor's note: most people don't, and we are on the fence on wether or not you should substitute a cap full of bleach instead; we consulted the normal experts for such things (Brown, McGee) and they don't specify, but it should be safe -- chlorine is not harmful in trace amounts]. Turn off the heat and wait 5 minutes before adding the lids, so that the heat does not melt the glue they come with. The jars themselves are reusable but the lids are not. You can find sanitizer where you would buy brewing equipment or at a restaurant supply store.


On to the fun part…


I took my lovely lemons and gave them a good washing.

I measured out 1/2 cup kosher salt, 2 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick broken in half, 6 black peppercorns and a stem of about 8 pink pepper corns, which I have plenty of because my kids love to pick them for me when we find the trees randomly around the neighborhood.

I cut 5 or 6 lemons in half and give them all a good squeeze, by hand, and let the juice fall into a big bowl. Seeds and all, it's OK, your going to strain it later.

Preserved Lemons:
  • 1/2 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 6 (abt 1/2 table spoon) peppercorns
  • 8 (abt 1/2 table spoon) pink peppercorns
  • 5-6 Meyer lemons, juice squeezed and reserved
Then, I rubbed about 2 teaspoons of salt inside the fleshy part of each lemon half.


Using your sanitized tongs (you can use your hands but you should wear food prep gloves), mash the lemon halves into your sanitized jar. Once you have one layer of juicy, salted lemons in the bottom of the jar add a bay leaf, a few black and pink peppercorns and half of your cinnamon stick. Continue to push in another layer or two of salted lemons until you are about 2/3 the way up. Add the rest of the peppercorns and cinnamon stick and bay leaf then fill the jar with the last of the lemons, pushing down to release any juices. Pack tightly.

Pour the juice through a strainer and into the jar filling half way -- then give it a little jiggle to force any air bubbles out and continue filling to the top. Put on your sanitized lid and ring. Give it another little jiggle again to clear any remaining air bubbles.

Now for the hard part -- waiting [Editor's note: cue Tom Petty]. Those pretty lemons won't be ready for 30 days. I suggest writing the date they will be ready to use on the lid with a permanent marker.

Sit them on a shelf in your pantry or on your counter top, but don't forget about them! They still need you to give them a lil' shake to distribute that liquid every few days.


When mine are done (29 days and counting!), I will put up a few of my favorite ways to use them.

Happy Cooking~ 99%BitterSweet.

* Any type of lemon can be preserved using this same method.

** For more in depth information about canning go here;
http://www.freshpreserving.com/getting-started.aspx

[Editor's note: here's one of the Alton Brown articles we referenced, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/spiced-blueberry-jammin-recipe/index.html ]