Throughout the year, you have thoughtfully taken care of your lemon tree; attentively fertilised it, made sure it had plenty of water but that it drained away quickly, adequately mulched it and diligently inspected it for pests. Come harvest time, it has rewarded your efforts with a bumper crop of beautiful lemons. If all these glorious lemons have you scratching your head wondering what to do with them then we have a suggestion that is guaranteed to bring a new depth of flavour to your cooking, preserved lemons.
What to do with a bumper crop of lemons has always been an interesting topic, especially amongst our ancestors who did not enjoy the luxuries of modern-day refrigeration. It has been said that the first recorded recipe for preserved lemons dates back to 12th century Egypt and that recipe, in essence, mirrors the one we are offering you today.
Salt (rock or cooking)
• The first step is to get your lemons ready for preserving. Cover your lemons (preferably ones with unblemished skin) in lukewarm water and let them soak overnight.
• Select a glass jar that is big enough to fit all your lemons but small enough for them to fit very snugly. It is important to sterilise your glass jar. You simply need to wash it in soapy water, rinse it and place the jar without drying it directly into an oven preheated at 180o C for 30 minutes.
• When it comes to cutting the lemons, there are different methods to choose from but the one that best keeps the integral shape of the lemon is to cut four vertical slits into lemon starting at the center working your way to each ends but stopping short keeping the lemon in one piece.
• Now the fun begins: You can now pack your lemons with salt. The general consensus is one teaspoon per slit so four teaspoons per lemon. Gently and ever-so-slightly squeeze your lemon down holding both ends to open up the slits.
• Once salted, pack the lemons tightly into the jar, sprinkle an extra tablespoon of salt on top, add three bay leaves and seal the jar.
• Store your jar at room temperature in a dark cool corner of the pantry. Check it after three days to ensure that the lemons are completely covered with their own juices. If not, top up the jar with fresh lemon juice, reseal and place it back in the pantry. Gently turning your jar over every week or so will distribute the flavours evenly but is not mandatory
• Your preserved lemons will be ready in about six weeks and can be kept for well over a year. The longer they are stored, the more intense the flavour will be and the darker the lemons will become.