What do I know about preserving lemons?
How hard could it be?
All it takes is time, salt and lemons. If you have spices then send them in too. If you have cuts on your fingers or cat-scratches, bandage them before you start. Not after. Before.
Sterilise your jars
I use vacola jars of varying sizes. The smaller ones I boiled in water for fifteen minutes. A sane person uses tongs to retrieve them from the water. An insane person bobs for them as though they were apples.
My larger jars wouldn't fit in my largest pot of boiling water. I keep vats of different sizes boiling away. What's wrong with that? Don't you?
I spoke to my mum. Today is conveniently mother's day and so I was going to call her anyway. She never boiled water to sterilise things. She gave them a wash in the sink and then baked them for twenty minutes. This worked.
All the recipes that I've read online say to cut the lemons down about three-quarters of the way down. Unfurl the lemons like a budding flower, add salt –killing the flower– and close them back up. Put in jar.
Why cut them to three quarters of the way down? Why not cut them all the way down? You'd get more lemons into the jar that way. I suspect tradition. We've always done it this way. It must be correct. There can be no other valid approach. Tradition is the scapegoat of prejudice. In India they make lemon pickle using smaller chunks of lemon. How do they feel about our heathen lemon-flower ways?
I don't think it matters too much.
I think it helps keep the salt pressed up against the flesh of the lemon. You've salted the insides, closed it up and put the whole lemon into the jar. As the siblings of the lemon push down upon it like corpses in a mass grave, the salt can't escape from it's sour lemony coffin. This is what we want. Salted lemons.
On the topic of forcing the lemons in. I've always felt that if you've got to force something you're doing it wrong. Here, forcing is part of doing it right. It frees the juices from the lemons and lets you get more lemons in. A coffee tamper works a treat. Just make sure it's clean.
When you’ve finished seeing how much force you can apply to lemons without breaking the jar it’s time to add some lemon juice. Do you have any lemons left? Otherwise, it’s a long, sobering walk to the tree out back. If your lemons are like mine then they’re going to be the fruit equivalent of an echidna. Spiky balls of sour joy and a bitch to juice. Cut just the ends off before you slice it in half. Now it’ll be easier to juice. Do the same to the lemons.
With the lemon juice pour it into your jar of salted lemons until it’s almost full. You want the lemons submerged but there’s usually a hunk or two sticking out. When you come back tomorrow open up the jar and use something to mush the lemons down a bit more. Add some juice too if you can.
Preserved lemons are unsuitable for those who don't enjoy delayed gratification. Soon the peel will soften and they will be ready. Soon is thirty days. Come on already.