Many North African dishes call for preserved lemons so having spied a bargain that I could not refuse; let alone walk past, in the market – 10 lemons for £1 – I bought 20 and set to work.
“Authentic” preserved lemons are preserved whole. The end is cut off and they are cut into quarters (to an inch of the bottom of the lemon) stuffed with salt and packed into jars, sprinkled with more salt and covered with lemon juice, that all sounds fairly straightforward.
I tried this, none of my stash of jars had a wide enough mouth to get a lemon in.
I took the top and tail off the lemon cut into quarters and tried to pack into jars, fairly unsuccessfully as the pieces were too big to really pack in and there were too many air spaces that would need to be filled with lemon juice.
So having soaked and washed the lemons, I topped and tailed them and cut into quarters, threw them into my slow cooker dish and put a good amount of salt on them, and left for a few hours before giving them a good shake and adding more salt. The salt draws the juice out and make the lemon quarter easier to squeeze into the jar.
I pressed each quarter onto the side of the dish and then stacked them up in my empty jars, really packing them in, adding a few teaspoons of salt to each layer, I poked a half cinnamon stick into each jar and sprinkled some pepper corns and coriander seeds in. I finished off with more salt and topped up the jars with the salt and juice left in the dish. All the lemons should be covered and you may need to add more lemon juice*, or wedge a lemon across the neck of the bottle to push the entire contents down as they try and float. Each of the jars has got around 12 lemon quarters in.
Gently shake the jars every day for 4 weeks and at the end the skins will be preserved turning translucent and be wonderfully soft and supple.
The first time I made them I was slightly perturbed to find the lemons fizzing as they fermented, having had another Internet trawl I found a few recipes that warned me this would happen, you do need to open the jars ever few days so pressure does not build up – I am not sure if there would be enough to explode the lid off, but I have no desire to clean my kitchen ceiling if it did so will not take chances.
When your lemons are ready – in 4 weeks – although on my first batch I cheated and sampled after 2, simply take a piece out, scrape the flesh off and discard and wash well. Finely chop the peel and use. So far they have gone in the lamb with lemons and dates, a few different pasta dishes and they will go in the lemon chick peas very well.
*If you need to add more juice to the jars, remove the zest first with a vegetable peeler and put in a jar with vodka and sugar to make Limoncello. No need to waste any of that lovely lemony lemoness!