The Meyer lemons at the grocery store were calling to me, so I picked up a half dozen to preserve, which was a cinch. The key to success (as in any canning project) is having the most sterile jars and utensils, which I boiled the dickens out of and let air dry on paper towels.
Traditional North African and Middle Eastern recipes often call for preserved lemons cured in a variety of spices. Meyer lemons (a cross between a lemon and a mandarin) are most popular for their sweeter, less acidic pulp and heady fragrance. I prefer working with organic lemons, but regular lemons can be used. However, be sure to soak non-organic lemons in hot water to get any waxy coating off the rind. It can mess with the color and overall taste. Recipes use any number and combination of aromatic spices, peppercorns, and herbs, but you can also preserve the lemons in salt only. I chose to spice up this batch.
After cleaning and drying the lemons, use a sterile knife to quarter each lemon, but do not cut the whole way through. The goal is to cover the interior meat with salt and press the lemon back together to be stuffed into the jar. This boosts the preserving process from the inside out. I tend to slice about a half inch off the base of the lemon so it can sit flat the cutting board, but that's just me. My larger jar fit four full lemons, while the smaller jar was maxed out with two. Put a few tablespoons of salt into the bottom of the jar and toss in a few spices before pressing your first lemon into the jar. The key is to squash each lemon down flat and try to squeeze as much juice out as possible to cover the lemon. I had extremely succulent lemons and had no problem using a wooden spoon to press out enough juice. Be sure to keep an extra lemon on hand should you need to squeeze out additional juice to top up the jar. My two containers weren't terribly big so I didn't encounter this problem. They were filled to the shoulder of the jar.
Alternate layering salt, lemons, and spices until the jar is nearly full. I used a few black peppercorns, whole cloves, coriander seeds, and slipped in a cinnamon stick and bay leaf for good measure. These are the fundamental spices used in most of our tagine recipes, so might as well add them to the preserves. This is a pretty standard combination of spices, but I have come across recipes that use garlic, fennel, capers, and even turmeric, which I have never tried- maybe next batch.
Several recipes suggest using olive oil to top-up the whole concoction which seem to get good reviews-- both for the flavor and protective value (the lemons won't be exposed to too much air as the olive oil kind of seals the space). So, I gave it a shot. A few tablespoons of olive oil was all it took. I sealed the containers and tilted the jars to let the juice roll around the lemons. It takes 3-4 weeks to cure and the lemons will shrivel up over time. Each day, flip the jar around and gently shake to let the brine distribute between the lemons. The jars do not have to be refrigerated- assuming you sterilized and sealed them properly. After a month or so, they are ready to be used. Cut off a slice and rinse off the salt. Most people only use the rind- and sparingly, as preserved lemons are very strong, both in flavor and aroma. They do not need to be refrigerated after opening and should keep in the pantry for several months.
NOW WE WAIT....