What to Do With All Those Lemons: Sea Salt to the Rescue

Lemon flowers and baby lemons just starting to develop

It’s nearing the end of citrus season in the Valley. New flowers are blooming, making the air so fragrant. It smells sweet and lemony in my back yard.

Unlike most other fruits, ripe citrus will stay healthy on the tree for many months, sweetening and continuing to grow. Usually there’s no rush to pick it before it’s needed. However, in January this year I found myself suddenly with over sixty lemons that needed immediate attention when a couple of over-heavy branches broke. And now, too, I want to free my tree up to put its energy into making new lemons. I need to do some heavy pruning. I’m going to have more lemons to use. A lot of us are in that same predicament right now: What are you going to do with all those lemons?

Too low to the ground and heavy for the tree. These lemons need to be harvested and the branches need pruning. I’ve got twenty or more like this.

After you’ve made lemon meringue pie, and lemon bars, and let your kids have a lemonade stand, and gone on that awful lemon-cayenne pepper cleanse until your bowels are squeaky clean and you think you’ll never, ever again want another lemon, what ARE you going to do?

Well, start by sharing: neighbors, food banks, someone who just lost a job, a mom with too many teenagers (ahem!)…..
A friend of mine took this last route, which is why I ended up, in February, with a bunch of Meyer lemons that needed to be used or preserved immediately. So grateful!

There are so many recipes, and so many ways to use those lemons. Lemon curd is on my list, but every time I make up my mind to make it, I remember I don’t have a double boiler and it just gets pushed into the “someday, but not today” part of my brain. I need a quick way to preserve them….preserve, and not think about until I want them again.

Last year I zested and then dried the skin of a bunch of them, and then juiced them and froze the juice. Easy to do. Kind of messy and even that’s sometimes more than I have time to do. I also salt-preserved some. VERY easy and fast and uncomplicated. If you know about salt preserved lemons you’ll laugh at this, but after they were ready I stuck them in my refrigerator and left them there FOR A YEAR because I didn’t know what to do with them! I’d Google what to do with them, and the response was either fancy stuff I don’t have time to do, or the response was something like, “What DON’T you do with them?” And then one day I made stir-fry and all I had to season it was soy sauce, so I took some of that lemon out, mashed it with some of the juice, added that and soy sauce to my chicken…..and my kitchen-world was abruptly turned upside down. I watched family member after family member take that first bite, eyes widen, and rave to me. I used the rest of what I’d preserved within two weeks.

So PLEASE try this! It’s so, so easy.

Start with a setup something like this:

Organic lemons (important, since you’re using the skin), sea salt, a glass jar and a lid, a knive, a spoon, a pusher-downer of some kind, a cutting board with a towel underneath. That’s it!

Slice your lemons. Traditionally they are simply quartered, with the bottom left intact, like this:

Quartered, but left intact on the bottom.

Or, slice them this way. This is what I did last year. I don’t think it matters that much, unless you’re only going to use the rind and not the pulp. These, by the way, are Meyer lemons, but I also preserved regular lemons. Both are delicious!

Generously sprinkle the cuts with sea salt. Maybe a tablespoon for each extra-large lemon. The ones I grew up seeing in the supermarket would probably need only a teaspoon. These Meyer lemons are more teaspoon-sized.

The camera angle here makes the lemons look MUCH smaller than they are: about the size of a billiards ball.

Drop the lemons into a glass jar. This year I used gallon and half-gallon jars after the mistake of using only pint-sized jars last year. Keep slicing and salting and dropping them in until you’re pushing them down to get more in. You want that jar as full as possible. You don’t have to be aggressive; the salt is going to do most of the work, but it’s better to have more lemons and have that jar as full as possible. I try to jam the lemons in under the “shoulder” of the jar.

Lid and label them and leave them overnight to draw out the lemon’s juices. After a few days the lemons should have sunk down and be now completely covered in juice. At this point, if you’re at all worried about mold, you can add a thin layer of olive oil that will protect them. I’ve done this once but it’s generally unnecessary.

Lemons, just after being lidded. In a few days the salt will draw out the juices so they’ll completely cover the lemons.

Store your lemons for at least a month. More time is better! Something subtle yet profound happens to the flavor and the texture that makes me wonder if lemons were actually made for this purpose. Give them time to work their magic. Remember: Mine were a year old when I used them and were still delicious.

These lemons had been in the jar for a month when I took this photo. Completely covered in their juices, they will keep for a very long time. After sitting on my counter for a couple of weeks, they were ready for storage.

Most people today are most comfortable keeping these lemons in the refrigerator, which is fine, but traditionally they would have been been simply stored in a cool spot such as a cellar or cheese cave. I have an extra refrigerator that’s been “hacked” to stay at 55 degrees, and these will be stored there. Honestly I’d otherwise be comfortable just storing them in a cool pantry.

I’ve used salt preserved lemon to marinate chicken and fish; blended it for salad dressing or pasta, and of course mixed it with soy sauce and added to stir-fry. I ran out of lemons and juice before I could experiment any more. I’d love to get more ideas if you have them. Can’t wait for these to be ready!

6 thoughts on “What to Do With All Those Lemons: Sea Salt to the Rescue”

  1. Since salt and lemon are both natural “cleaners”, I’d clean the heck out of my bathroom with that (literal) gold. I’m so jealous! When I have my permanent greenhouse, I’ gonna FILL it with Meyer lemons! Love this post! Pretty colors.

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