Citrus season: pickled lemons.

Pickled Lemons

Rebecca asked for details on my citrus liqueur recipes because she has too many meyer lemons on her hands. What a lovely problem!

I’ve had the same “problem” on occasion myself—whenever I visit my grandmother in California, I come away with shopping bags full of meyer lemons from her prolific backyard tree.

One of my favorite ways to preserve an onslaught of lemons is by pickling. I do my pickled lemons Sephardic/Moroccan style. They turn out sharp and salty, like sour olives. You can use them almost anywhere you would use green olives, and the pickling liquid makes an interesting vinegar substitute for salad dressings.

Oh, and these pickled lemons are lacto-fermented. Which means they’re full of helpful critters for the human ecosystem. And they’re very simple to make.

Here’s what to do:

Use fresh organic / unsprayed lemons.

Cut each lemon almost into quarters: slice lengthwise from the stem end toward the blossom end, and leave the last quarter of an inch intact.

Coat the inside of each lemon with a generous amount of coarse salt.

Put the lemons in a clean glass or ceramic jar, sprinkling some extra salt over each layer of lemons.

Cover the jar. For the first few days, shake and turn the jar as often as you remember. After three or four days the lemons will have juiced out. At this point, add enough fresh lemon juice to cover the lemons. The lemons should be fully submerged in the liquid. Now cover the jar, but not too tightly—enough to keep insects out but allow a bit of air in.

Put the jar in a cool, dark place and wait a month or so.

You have pickled lemons.

Related post: Citrus season: candied grapefruit peel (and bitters too).

30 Comments »

  1. ling said,

    March 5, 2007 @ 9:35 pm

    thanks for the recipe.great for Arizona, where I live..only if you don’t mind my asking, what do you think they might taste like with added apple vinegar?

  2. crabappleherbs said,

    March 6, 2007 @ 11:34 am

    I think the vinegar would mask the delicate taste of the lemons. And you certainly don’t need it for acidity — the lemon juice combined with the lactic acid from the salt fermentation are enough to preserve the lemons just fine.

  3. ling said,

    March 8, 2007 @ 11:32 pm

    thanks! will do this recipe.

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    March 9, 2007 @ 12:21 am

    Let me know how it goes!

  5. andy said,

    March 9, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

    I have very much been wanting to make these lately, missing the California lemon trees. Seeing this is a good reminder to look for some affordable organic lemons in the markets.

    These are typically used in all sorts of Morrocan tagine-type dishes. I mostly use them with roasted chicken (packed in the cavity and under the skin with garlic and sage), in lentils, or various stews. I most recently missed having some in the fridge when I found a great recipe for seared tuna in a tomato / black olive / preserved lemon stew.

    The good news is they keep just about forever in the fridge. The last time I made them was with a big bag of Meyer lemons when I lived in California, that batch lasted me several years and came along with me on a move to New Mexico. They also made a great marmalade of Meyer lemon and rosemary, but that’s anmother story. Thanks for the inspiration to make another batch sometime soon.

  6. andy said,

    March 9, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

    I have very much been wanting to make these lately, missing the California lemon trees. Seeing this is a good reminder to look for some affordable organic lemons in the markets.

    These are typically used in all sorts of Morrocan tagine-type dishes. I mostly use them with roasted chicken (packed in the cavity and under the skin with garlic and sage), in lentils, or various stews. I most recently missed having some in the fridge when I found a great recipe for seared tuna in a tomato / black olive / preserved lemon stew.

    The good news is they keep just about forever in the fridge. The last time I made them was with a big bag of Meyer lemons when I lived in California, that batch lasted me several years and came along with me on a move to New Mexico. They also made a great marmalade of Meyer lemon and rosemary, but that’s anmother story. Thanks for the inspiration to make another batch sometime soon.

  7. Revka said,

    March 10, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

    What a unique recipe! Thanks for sharing.

  8. The Herbwife’s Kitchen » Citrus season: candied grapefruit peel (and bitters too). said,

    March 10, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

    […] post: Citrus season: pickled lemons. Bookmark […]

  9. Chris said,

    April 22, 2007 @ 11:56 am

    I have recently discovered lemon stuffed cocktail olives. In a word they are divine and I want to attempt to make these at home. I am going to give this recipe a try and take the finished product to stuff the olives.

  10. Vojje said,

    September 27, 2007 @ 2:30 am

    If you have an Arabic store in your area they should be selling pickled lemons imported from the Orient or Maghreb.. Go and find out how yours compare with the original. They use small plum-size lemons and do not cut them… Ahh.. I’d forget… Lactic fermentation requires slight pressure and precise amout of salt or your risk very salty brine that never ferments..

  11. crabappleherbs said,

    September 28, 2007 @ 7:02 pm

    Vojje, the pickled lemons I make are very similar to the ones I used to buy at the Moroccan market in Montreal. (Those were semi-quartered, though, the way I do it.) I’ve never measured salt for lemons (though I do for most other pickles), and my pickled lemons always turned out tasty. I’m not sure what you mean by pressure. Do you mean something to keep the pickles submerged in the brine? Around here those are called “pickling rocks.” I’ve found that I don’t really need one for lemons, though, since the acidity of the fruit keeps them from spoiling while they ferment.

  12. Myra (Australia) said,

    October 12, 2007 @ 1:57 am

    Am just about to open the jar I pickled a few weeks back, once opened – how long do the lemons keep for? Presumably refrigerated once opened.

  13. crabappleherbs said,

    October 14, 2007 @ 10:37 am

    The lemons should keep for quite a while either in the fridge or in a cool, dark place. I’ve always used mine up before they go bad… I’ve kept some for up to a year in the refrigerator, though, and they’ve been fine.

  14. Judy said,

    June 20, 2008 @ 5:04 pm

    Hi I did some over a year ago. Very good as I have been cooking lots of Moroccan type recipes lately. i had about half a jar left and they went very slimey so I threw them out. Not sure if they would have been okay or not

  15. Nalini said,

    October 13, 2008 @ 11:44 am

    I read this article and thought of an interesting thing.. Thought I’d share it with all the other enthusiasts here. I had Bronchitis a few months ago and my cough did not go away immediately. There is a food court in the building that I work and I like chinese food. The lady in the chinese restaurant saw how sick I had been and gave me a blend of pickled lemons, pickled tangerines with honey and Hot water and it really soothed my throat. then i remembered that my grandmother used to pickle lemons for her cooking. And now I read how other cultures also pickle lemons for cooking and other recipes. BTW I’m from India.. I just thought how it is interesting that some of the best things are common to most cultures..

  16. Naomi Radunski said,

    November 28, 2008 @ 12:48 am

    Hi – Advice from anyone please? I am wanting to preserve fresh oranges, skins on, in sugar to get a useful, syrupy fruit that could later be used in lots of different ways.
    Pretty much the same as preserved lemons, only sweet rather than salty.
    Any reason why this might not work?
    Have found several recipes on Google, and all recommend boiling the oranges first – and also that you add salt to the cooking liquid. Any ideas why?
    Also the best-looking recipes suggest adding vinegar and honey or treacle to the preserving liquid – to me that means the results will really only be useful in savoury cooking.

    What is nice about the recipes though is that they all include lots of different spices, especially star anise, in the preserving liquid … that makes sense to me. Anyway, your comments will be appreciated.

  17. sherry mcdonald said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 9:11 pm

    thanks so much, been lookin 4 the recipe all day on food network n my daughter said google it i did and found u thanks agian…

  18. sherry mcdonald said,

    March 13, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

    it was the lemon pickling

  19. Shadia said,

    April 23, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

    Could I do the same with limes? I’ve got lemons and limes and thought that in Egypt they have more limes than lemons, and these are the ones I am familiar with when my mum used to make them, or when we used to buy them from the pickling shop.
    Thanks for that.

  20. crabappleherbs said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    Judy: Slimy shouldn’t be a problem, as long as they smell OK.

    Nalini: What a neat story!

    Naomi: You might want to check out my recent marmalade post for information on preserving citrus in sugar. (It’s a very different process from preserving in salt.)

    Sherry: You’re welcome!

    Shadia: Yes, I think you could do the same with limes, or any other citrus.

  21. Nick said,

    July 19, 2009 @ 9:23 pm

    I recently purchased a jar of pickled lemons at an oriental marked. They smell and taste remarkably like lemon furniture polish. What would one use these in?

  22. Sylvia Everett said,

    August 3, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    Ok-
    So I pickled my lemons about 5 months ago and canned them as well to maximize safety.
    I just opened a jar and don’t know if they came out they way they are supposed to.
    How can I figure it out?
    I’ll poison myself, but not my kids!!!
    thanxs

  23. Anne said,

    August 13, 2009 @ 4:19 am

    Hi,

    New to this thread, but interesting as I’ve just discovered teh world of lemon pickling!!

    Sylvia, the recipe I have says that once you first open the jar, that you should smell a sweet citrusy smell… if they smell like ammonia then something’s gone wrong along the way…

    If there is another way to tell if they’ve gone off I’d appreciate it… My very first batch is curing right now!! But the jar that I’m using is venting air – i guess pressure is building up – At first i was very worried that this might be bad, ie, bad for the lemons and i will have to throw them out eventually – but in this recipe, it looks like extra air during fermentation is not a bad thing!!

    Another nice thing is to put some spices – cloves, anise, peppers etc… into the spice mix. could be a nice idea!! 🙂

    best
    Anne

  24. lina suchov said,

    June 2, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    I would like to know more exactly how much salt for the pickled lemons.

  25. carol said,

    August 2, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    okay, now that I have pickled all these lemons and waited a few months, what do I do with them. Can’t seem to find recipes using these friuts

  26. Penny said,

    August 4, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

    Pickled my first batch of lemons a few months ago and am using them, but notice that the liquid is a bit gunky, swirling opaque stuff???? Asked the guys at my local deli and they said its the pectin in the lemons?? What does anyone else think?

  27. Understanding Orange Wines 4: Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project: The Prince in His Caves 2010, San Floriano Normale 2006 | Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    […] by a bouquet and flavor of honeysuckle, touches of white pepper, and a surprising, lovely bite of pickled lemon. For such a range of characteristics, the Prince still shows as well balanced. The finish here is […]

  28. Carnival of the Recipes – Company Dinner edition | Our Family Porch said,

    April 16, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

    […] Oh, that is a uniquely tangy side dish from Rebecca Hartman. I came across the recipe for these pickled lemons at The Herbwife’s Kitchen. Not only are these pickles outside the realm of the ordinary but […]

  29. Zzz said,

    May 5, 2015 @ 6:48 pm

    Hi

  30. Cuttwood Liquid said,

    June 29, 2015 @ 7:12 pm

    Cuttwood Liquid

    The Herbwife?s Kitchen » Citrus season: pickled lemons.

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