Pondering Pickled Limes

May 7, 2009(updated on October 3, 2018)

Pickled lemons

Awhile back, I caught the tail end of a Twitter conversation in which many folks were discussing memories of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. During the back and forth, the subject of pickled limes came up, as they related to the moment in the story when Amy has her precious limes taken away and her hands beaten for bringing them to school. A suggestion was made that someone (cough, cough, Marisa, cough) try their hand at making some pickled limes.

I remember that book fondly as well (although I’ve always been more enamored with the chapter in Little Men when a young girl is given the gift of a miniature stove and kitchen set and taught to prepare tiny meals. It is a true foodie delight) and was always curious about those pickled limes over which Amy was paddled.

Mrs. Beeton's

I’ve taken up the project (I’m highly suggestible) of finding a way to make a batch similar to which Amy would have eaten, and while there’s much mention of pickled limes on the internet, there’s not much in the way of consensus as to how exactly her limes would have been prepared. I’ve consulted the knowledgeable Mrs. Beeton, and she offered two recipes for pickled lemons (and as far as I can tell, preparation would probably have been identical for limes). However one recipe calls for the lemons/limes to be pickled with the peels on, while the other has the cook remove the peel.

For those of you who are as curious about this as I am, what do you think? Peels on or peels off?

Sharing is caring!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

19 thoughts on "Pondering Pickled Limes"

  • I was going to say that it would most likely have the peel on to look better and hold its shape…

    But then I went back to Little Women, and the packaging is described as, “A moist brown-paper parcel,” which sounds more like peel off to me.

  • my vote is for peels on. I have a batch of lemons and a batch of limes pickling now – and i am about to do another batch of lemons with a different recipe this weekend – all with peels on. i am sure that these three recipes are different than the little woman limes because they all have indian spices in them. but in my book, i can’t imagine pickled limes or lemons without the peels! they are the best part! i am looking forward to hearing about your experiment marisa!

  • OH my god! I forgot about the pickled limes!

    My vote is for peels on. But then again, I always envisioned them as more candied than pickled when I was reading (a distinction I never thought about until now).

  • I make pickled limes by slicing key limes in half and layering them in jars with salt. I really pack the salt in. Then I set them out in the sun for a few weeks. After that you make a drink out of muddled, pickled limes, simple syrup, and soda water. I’m glad you brought this up, because I forgot that I have a jar to be used hanging out on my canning rack now!

  • I think you have to try both. Also how excited am I about this project?! I’ll finally be able to try Amy’s pickled limes. The world may never be the same.

  • I am cracking up about the Little Men comment. That was – hands-down – the best part of that book. I’m going to have to go dig that up and re-read it tonight, and it’s already late for me.

    (Another childhood food book? Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Oh! The descriptions!)

    1. Oh Farmers boy was going to be my suggestion too! Anyone who’s read the Redwall Series will know what I mean when I say the food descriptions in there are enough to die for!

  • Oooo, I don’t remember this reference. Now I’ll have to go look it up. Sarah’s recipes for sliced, salted limes in jars sounds amazing. I’ve made pickled lemons from the recipe that David Lebovitz has on his blog, and they’re divine. I use the pickling juice in bloody marys, which gives them a salty, citrusy zing. Divine.

    Tenaya, I’ve always meant to make David Lebovitz’s pickled lemons. I’ve also got a recipe from a Sunkist trip I went on last winter that sounds amazing. Ah, pickles!

    1. They like ’em, that’s why. We don’t all like the same thing, do we? What a dull world if we did.
      To Mark – good, yes, quite right. But I’d question whether the Royal Navy could be considered an authority on food. Hard biscuit, baked three or four times and they still had weevils in them after a few months. And salt beef – Jack used to sing “Old Horse” when he got an especially hard piece.
      Same in your ships I think – “Two years before the Mast” is my authority for that.

  • Limes with peels on. If the limes are pickled correctly, the peels are easy to bite through. A hard to bite lime skin is a good indication that they need more time to pickle. How about publishing pickle lime recipes? I am curious as to recipes people are using.

  • Gosh, I LOVE pickled limes and haven’t had them since I was a child growing up in Massachusetts. They used to sell them for 5 cents a piece from great big jars like the dill pickles where in at concession and ice cream stands. Definitely, skin on (you eat the whole thing). They are so delicious. Please print the recipe! Thanks.

  • I would say peels on like a pickle you don’t peel them, and they would easier to eat. I also watched the Little Women movie with the trivia game at the end, that said pickled limes were very popular in the 1800’s. I also would love to have a good recipe!

  • This conversation seems to be going on over a couple years. I’m 63 years old and am reading Little Women now. I read about the pickled limes last night in the book and googled it. Wouldn’t Jo have loved the computer–but that’s another conversation. Anyway, I have to agree with Sue from 2009–I can’t imagine pickled limes being a treat. Sounds awful to me but then I don’t like homemade pickles either. Loved the discussion though.

  • I can lay this debate definitively to rest. The traditional meaning of ‘pickled limes’ is with skins on.

    Why? Well, about the time of the American revolution, the Royal Navy knew about limes as a way of preventing scurvy and used to haul barrels of limes in salt water aboard.

    Before we Americans had a Navy, we had privateers – legal pirates who raided British shipping. We Americans were dying of scurvy, yet we regarded the use of lime to prevent scurvy as superstition and were loathe to copy our enemy’s method. Eventually we did, and seafaring types like my (x11)grandpa would bring home these little yellowed treats.

    But at first, Americans would ridicule these silly English.

    So now you know where the term “limeys” came from!

    Mark L Palmer