I noticed this morning that we had a rather large pile of lemons in the fridge – a sad indication that we ran out of gin a couple of weeks ago! We have now restocked the drinks cabinet, thank goodness – but even we can’t drink enough gin and tonics to get through 12 lemons before they get past their best..
But all is not lost – too many lemons = time to make preserved lemons… making some now means that I will have some ready for early autumn, when rich vegetable stews and tagines will seem like a good idea again. If you’ve never cooked with preserved lemons then I really urge you to give them a go – they give an amazingly rich, aromatic, sweet-sour edge to a dish. They are essential to a lamb tagine – like this one – or a wonderful vegan feast like this delicious vegetable couscous dish. They are very quick to make, but they need a month to mature before you use them, so you need to plan ahead. They make fantastic gifts – maybe with a couple of recipe cards included for inspiration.
The method here is based on the one described in one of my favourite inspiration books for preserving – Preserved by Johnny Acton and Nick Sandler.
I can’t give you exact quantities because it depends on the size of the lemons you have, how juicy they are, and the size of the preserving jars you are using – as a guide, I used 4 large lemons to make a 350ml jar, and 7-8 to fill a 500ml jar. The trick is to have more lemons than you think you will need…
Equipment and ingredients:
- preserving jars with a clip top lid
- bay leaves (fresh is best if you have them)
- coriander seeds
- Sterilize jars by giving them a good wash in hot soapy water, rinsing them with hot water and then drying them in a cool oven (150C, Gas mark 3), then leave to cool. Alternatively use jars fresh from the dishwasher (but make sure they are cool).
- Chop half the lemons into 8 slim segments: slice in half lengthways, then slice these halves into 4, again lengthways – remove any obvious pips, but don’t worry too much about this.
- Pack a single layer of segments into the bottom of a jar, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, then add a bay leaf, a clove, 3-4 coriander seeds and 3-4 peppercorns.
- Add another layer of lemon, then sprinkle salt and add spices as before. Continue with this layering, packing the lemons down tightly until you are within 2cm of the top of the jar.
- Finish with a sprinkle of salt.
- Squeeze the juice from more of your lemons and use the juice to top up the jar, so the lemon is completely covered – make sure there are no pockets of air in the jar by giving it a tap on the work surface (gently!) – add more juice if you need to.
- Close the lid of the jar and then store in cool, dark place for at least a month before using.
If you have segments of lemon left at the end of all this – and I always do – here’s a neat trick a friend taught me… Freeze the segments on a tray covered in baking parchment. When the segments are completely frozen, remove from the freezer and bag them up. Then next time you have a G&T (or drink of your choice of course…), you can add a piece of frozen lemon, and hey presto – you add the ice and slice all in one go! And as my friend pointed out – it has the advantage of not diluting your drink…