Preserved Lemons: 3 Methods To Preserve Your Lemons With Salt!

By Amanda Rose | Citrus

Dec 07

Here are three methods to preserve your lemons with salt!Since you are even looking at this post, I assume you either love North African food or you have 337 ripe lemons on your tree in the backyard and you’re wondering what in the world to do with them. I offer you three tasty ideas.

Preserved lemons sound exotic to those of us in North America who have never even seen a tree loaded with this bright yellow fruit. Every locale and every cuisine offers examples of preserving their food bounty. I’ve seen large barrels of dill pickles on Pennsylvania farms, jars of pickled okra along the Gulf Coast, and bowls of pickled mixed vegetables on buffet tables in Kansas. When the crop comes bursting in, you do what you can to make it last. Pickling is one of the ancient arts of preservation.

Preserved Lemon: The Classic

The process of preserving lemons is quick and simple — so simple you will wonder if it will really work. The kicker, however, is that those lemons need to sit at least a month before being consumed. Those in the know recommend leaving the lemons to cure for at least six months.


If you can keep your cool and wait that long, the juice will be sweet and thickened, the lemon texture soft and delicate.

Whenever possible, use tree-ripened lemons that have not been sprayed with chemicals or waxed by some over-zealous greengrocer. This is one of the times living in the citrus belt really pays off. If you are not living there, make friends with someone who does and then work out a bartering plan. It is well worth the effort!

Preserved Lemon Ingredients

  • 5 pounds lemons
  • 8 ounces course sea salt

Preserved Lemon Steps

Here are three methods to preserve your lemons with salt!

  1. Wash the lemons then soak them in water overnight.
  2. Drain the lemons.
  3. Using your sharpest paring knife, quarter the lemons from the pointing top to within an inch of the bottom. You want the lemons to open up but stay intact.
  4. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt on the interior of the quartered lemon, then reshape it. Repeat on all the lemons.
  5. Place some salt on the bottom of the preserving jar. Pack in the lemons, sprinkling on salt as you go.
  6. As you pack the lemons, press on each one to release as much juice as possible.
  7. When the preserving jar is full, the lemons should be completely immersed in lemon juice. If not, then add juice from a few additional lemons.
  8. Place a tight-fitting lid on the jar and store in a dark place for at least a month.
  9. Retrieve lemons from the jar with a clean wooden spoon. Never use your hands. You could contaminate the batch. How sad would that be?

Preserved Lemons with a Kick

This recipe is a wonderful variation on the standard lemon-in-salt that I learned from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. These guys are just artists with food flavors and should be living next door. I would be at their house every day looking over their shoulders as they work their kitchen magic. I’d be asking question after question, sniffing the aromas and licking the emptied pots and plates. Dream on!

Here’s the next best thing: Jerusalem, the cookbook those guys wrote (find it here).

This recipe comes from their book with ingredients and method that are just a bit different from what you usually find for preserving lemons. It is still quick and simple. The following recipe will accommodate a half-gallon jar, depending on the size of your lemons. Reduce or increase the recipe based on the lemons you have available. When we are offered multiple bags of ripe organic lemons, I can consider filling a couple of glass gallon jars. You might as well.

Preserved Lemon Ingredients

  • 6 lemons
  • 6 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 large red chili pepper
  • juice of 6 additional lemons
  • olive oil

Preserved Lemon Steps

  1. Wash and dry the lemons.
  2. Quarter the lemons starting from the pointy end and cutting down almost to the bottom end. You want the lemons to open, but stay intact. (As in the picture above.)
  3. Rub 1 tablespoon of salt into each lemon, then press it closed. Restore the lemon shape.
  4. Press the lemons into the jar as tightly as you can. Seal it with a tight-fitting lid and leave in a dark, cool place for at least a week.
  5. At the end of a week or two, remove the lid and press the lemons as hard as you can using a clean wood spoon. Release as much juice as possible.
  6. Place the rosemary and pepper on top of the lemons. Pour in the juice from the additional lemons. Cover it all with a thin layer of olive oil.
  7. Put the lid back on the jar and store it in a dark, cool place for at least one month. If you wait longer, your patience will be rewarded with more flavor.

Fresh Lemons in a Quick Pickle

This recipe also comes from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (find it here). What an inspiring cookbook! This recipe will be ready overnight if you are feeling anxious to get started on your pickled lemons. The flavor is fantastic.

Stored in a sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid, your lemon pickles will live happily in the refrigerator for about two weeks (if they last that long). Every time you open the refrigerator and see the pickles, you will want couscous, chickpeas, felafel, and more. Then you will want some honey wine to wash it all down. If you get going on these lemon pickles, you will start down a path to all sorts of simple and simple delectable North African dishes.

Quick Lemon Pickle Ingredients

  • 1/2 hot red chili
  • 3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 3 medium unwaxed lemons


  1. Make a paste of the chili pepper and lemon juice. Use a mortar and pestle if you have one. Otherwise, finely mince the pepper — very finely. Add some lemon juice and continue to mince until the pepper is basically liquified. You will not be able to work in all the lemon juice using the cutting board method, but it all ends up together in the mixing bowl.
  2. Add the chili and lemon juice paste to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients except for the lemons.
  3. Wash and dry the lemons.
  4. Cut the lemons in half lengthwise, then slice the halves as thinly as possible.
  5. Add the lemons to the seasoned mixture in the bowl. Use your hands to gently massage the flavors into the thinly sliced lemons. It’s smelling good already, isn’t it?
  6. Cover the bowl and allow the pickling project to sit at room temperature overnight.
  7. The next day transfer the lemon pickles to a sterilized jar and refrigerate.

Actually, you will find some clever way to taste test these lemons before they get refrigerated. Enjoy! These are sunshine in a jar.

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