Homosteading: Preserve Lemons, Impress the Hell Out of Everyone

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Got boatloads of lemons? Turn them into boatloads of respect.

Citrus is abundant if you live in California (or, you know, just happen to be living in parts of the world where globalism brings non-seasonal produce to your grocery store at every time of year). Fabulous to eat plain and whole, lemons are more commonly used to add brightness to food, cut salt and fat in a dish, and freshen a drink. But as winter marches on, and the weather outside becomes inhospitable for lemon trees, it’s time to start thinking about putting things up, if you haven’t already.

Preserved lemons are a wonderful way to keep citrus in your cupboard year round, and the rinds become soft and subtle in flavor when allowed to soak in their own brine for four weeks. The recipes that use them call for the rind exclusively, which allows you to create a self-preserving brine out of the juice and pulp of the lemon. Just add salt!

sliced lemons

You will need:

  • One 32oz mason jar, or two 16oz, sterilized and ready for canning
  • 10 organic lemons, preferably Meyer
  • Tons of sea salt
  • Fresh herbs (optional)


Slice freshly washed lemons into quarters, making sure to cut off the little nubs on the ends. Pat a teaspoon of salt into each lemon quarter and smash into the bottom of the sterilized jar(s), so that the juice of the lemons is covering the rinds. Continue with each lemon quarter until the jar is full. If the juice doesn’t completely cover the rinds, you may add distilled (or boiled and cooled) water until it is completely covered. Add two tablespoons of salt to the mixture, cover with lid, and shake. Let the lemons sit in the jars for one month before using. You may keep them opened in the fridge for up to thirty days, or unopened on the shelf for up to two years.

jarred lemons

Curious about what to use your new lemons in? Answer: everything! Remember to use the peels, not the pulp, and to lightly rinse your lemons before use! Here are some great, tried and true recipes from The Huffington Post, but my favorite ever is Chicken With Olives and Preserved Lemons, made in a tagine. I’m also partial to preserved lemon cocktails, which can easily be made into mocktails, or adding a little preserved lemon to your hot tea, kombucha, or toddies! Remember, the lemon brine and preserve will be more salty than bitter/acidic, so anything that pairs well with salt could be a great addition to a cocktail or dish! Happy cooking!

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July Westhale

July Westhale is a Pushcart-nominated poet, activist, and journalist. She has been awarded residencies from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Sewanee, Napa Valley, Tin House and Bread Loaf. She is the 2014 Poetry Fellow at Tomales Bay, and was recently a finalist for the Creative Writing Fulbright.

July has written 12 articles for us.


  1. This is awesome! I made lemoncello last year, which was super fun. And I was super looking forward to doing it or something else with them again.

    However, it is with great sadness that I announce/admit that this year my lemon tree only has one lemon on it. One lemon on the whole huge tree! It’s a very attractive lemon though. So I’m super proud of my one lonely lemon. But sad that there will be no lemon party for me featuring my very own home grown lemons.

  2. So, the next time life gives me lemons, instead of saying “Lemons?! Screw that,” I’ll make something.

  3. “Fabulous to eat plain and whole, lemons…”

    I’m sorry. Who eats *LEMONS* *plain* and *whole* ?

    not without miracle fruit.

  4. These instructions are so timely! I recently found a recipe for Chicken Tagine which required preserved lemons. It sounded great, but I had no idea how to find them, let alone make them. Thank you!

    • If you’re desperate, usually the Indian section of the supermarket has lemon pickle, which is the same thing!

  5. Ooh there are so many slow cooking things I can think of for preserved lemons.
    And some marinades.
    Greek yogurt and lemon pack a powerful punch for tenderizing meat and are refreshing change of pace if you want a break from the heaviness or smokiness of teriyaki and worcestershire type things.

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