Tips for Selecting, Prepping, and Preserving Lemons

January 21, 2015

January 15

Every January, I order a ten pound box of unsprayed Meyer lemons from the Lemon Ladies in California. I spend the next week or two transforming those lemons into marmalade, lemon curd, preserved lemons, dehydrated slices, syrups, and even infused vinegars. These preserves satisfy many of my lemon needs and help bring a much-needed bright spot into an otherwise dreary time of year.

Now, I realize that spending $65 on citrus isn’t in the cards for everyone. However, that doesn’t meant that you have to write off all lemon preservation projects. There’s a lot you can do with regular grocery lemons that will be delicious and won’t break the budget.

First off, if you’re making marmalade or using the zest in some way, organic lemons are best (but no judgment here if you can’t swing it). When you’re selecting the fruit, make sure to search out the lemons with the very smoothest skin. That almost always leads you to lemons that have thinner pith layers, which will make for a better marmalade or preserved lemon.

You also want to look for lemons that have a touch of green on the tips. Many years ago, I went on a press trip hosted by Sunkist and they taught us that lemons are always picked with some green remaining on the skin. They yellow up during storage and shipping. A hint of green means that they haven’t been off the tree as long as some of their compatriots.

When you’re ready to use your grocery store lemons, put them in the sink. Bring a kettle of water to a boil, let it cool for a moment, and then rinse the lemons with it. When they’re cool enough to handle, give them a good scrub with a vegetable brush and rinse with warm tap water. This process will remove any traces of the wax that lemons are typically coated with to extend their lifespan.

Now you’re ready to preserve. You can make just about all the recipes listed in this post with your grocery store lemons. You can make Kaela’s citrus salts. You can juice them, heap the peels in a jar, and cover them with distilled white vinegar to make an effective cleaning fluid.

How are you all preserving your citrus this year?

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13 thoughts on "Tips for Selecting, Prepping, and Preserving Lemons"

  • Funny…just went to the store over the weekend to stock up on organic lemons to make your lemon marmalade. I also want to make more of the lemon rosemary sugar scrub….which I love!
    And lemon sugar…can’t forget the lemon sugar…

  • Green tip, smooth skin – I did not know that! I will file that away for a rainy day, thank you!

    I have only tried preserved lemons that I am not totally sure how to use – I used them on fish en papillote – and I did make a couple killer citrus salts for gifts. Lemon rosemary and Sriracha lime. I will have to branch out and try some other ideas.

    1. I rinse and then dice up a few preserved lemon slices and mix with olive oil, pepper, and parmesan cheese as a “sauce” for pasta. Sometimes I add ricotta cheese. OH. MY. GOODNESS. So good!

  • We just got a box of lemons from family in Phoenix. The peels of a lot of them are steeping in vodka, I intend to can the juice from them, and the rest are going into marmalade. I’m hoping to get a box of meyer lemons to make curd soon. Yum!

  • Boy, I am itching to start marmalades curds and other citrus fun.

    I can skip a few steps as my parents have lemon and lime trees so no insecticides, chemicals or wax on the lemons I’ll get. Yep, we live in California.

    I can also see I planted the wrong tree; I planted Eureka in stead of Meyer. Don’t have room for a second tree so I’ll have to rely on my parents for Meyers.

    What I really covet is a Bergamot orange tree. I can’t afford to buy them but would be more than happy to grow my own.

  • I have been making your Meyer lemon and honey jam but adding fresh grated ginger. I adore it and my mother in law is addicted to it.

    I also preserve a few lbs of lemons every 6 months or so using the basic recipe from Tigress in a Pickle’s site and play with the seasonings, although it often includes cardamom, clove, cayenne, along with the salt. I use them for all kinds of Indian and North African food, but they give a wonderful acid and spice kick to almost any soup or stew. I saw that you don’t care for the texture of the peel. Chopped up in cold pasta or couscous salad people have thought they were raisins or currants and you can always leave them in large pieces and pull them out of the dish as you might a bay leaf.

  • Marisa, I had to read this post closely and more than once. Sunkist was walking a fine line! “Yellow up” could be misconstrued as a statement that citrus continues to ripen after picking. But it seems they acknowledged the truth: Any yellowing that happens to lemons off the tree is a sign of deterioration (loss of flavor, structure, pectin) which is why the rep was steering folks to the green-tipped fruit. I’d never intentionally pick greenish lemons off my own trees but my takeaway from this post is that if grocery store lemons are your best option, it’s better to work with fruit that’s slightly underripe than risk fruit that’s begun to break down. Is that fair to say?

    1. Shae, that’s exactly right. Obviously, supermarket fruit isn’t the best option, but if it’s all you’re able to use, looking for the green will get you the freshest fruit possible.

  • Living in Northern California, meyer lemons are plentiful. I’ve never even thought about people outside of California NOT having access to a crap-ton of them, and spending $65 worth of them! When they are in season, I get bags of lemons from friends or trade eggs for them. I preserve a few jars, then zest and juice the rest, freezing it in ball jars.

  • I’m so fortunate to live in citrus country – Florida. A friend and neighbor brought me a bag of the most beautiful, blemish-free, naturally grown, unsprayed and unwaxed lemons you could find anywhere. They grow in her back yard and I get lemons, grapefruit, and juice oranges for free every year. In return, I give her back some of the things I make from her fruit. I’ve made orange marmalade, hot gingerbread with warm lemon sauce, orange sorbet, and this year, I have lots and lots of lemon, orange, and grapefruit extract that is so beautiful I’d love to just set it in a sunny window so I can enjoy the jewel-like colors! With a very fine grater that won’t pick up any pith, and a good sharp vegetable peeler, some elbow grease and a bottle of vodka, I made my extracts. I had saved some hot sauce bottles which were sparkling clean and I got out my small funnels after the peels had soaked in the vodka for a month. First I strained the peels and discarded them, then filtered that liquid through a coffee filter, and there was my so, so pretty extract, all done. I have a digital paper and vinyl cutter, so I cut out some simple vinyl labels for my bottles, and they’ll bring me much good flavor and a smile every time I open that cabinet! The juice from all those lemons was immediately frozen in my ice cube trays, so that each cube equals exactly 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, and what a treat that is! I will make some orange sorbet soon, and I’m going to can some citrus salad made up of pink grapefruit, oranges, and an occasional lime. The latter has to come from the grocery store, but I may just be the neighbor who buys and grows a lime tree! Another neighbor has kumquats, so the citrus family is well represented just on our block alone! It’s all liquid sunshine, healthy and delicious and so welcome in the winter! I have recently seen Meyer lemons in just one grocery store for the first time ever. They were much smaller than I had thought they should be.