preserved lemons

the humble beginnings of the preserved meyer lemons

You’d think I fell down a rabbit hole; I might as well have. This is what happens when you hand in one book to an editor, and without so much as taking a day to breathe, plunge into another one.

That’s right, I’m doing another book. I won’t yet go into it yet, but in time, I will divulge. It’s very exciting, I feel immensely fortunate and lucky to be involved in this project. And with each passing day, even though the pressure mounts, I feel luckier and luckier. To be doing this, however stressful the struggles are, is something I have been wanting to do for so long. Is it scary? Absolutely? Do I question my abilities about this every day? Yes. And do I worry about how financially sustainable my career choice will be? Yes. This isn’t an easy path, but it’s the one I love and have chosen.

preserved meyer lemons

We are currently hiding out in Florida, visiting Andrew’s grandparents and hanging out with his brothers and significant others. My days have been consisting of work in the early morning, brunch, work until about dinnertime, dinner, then break. To say this is a working vacation would be to suggest that there’s been some R&R going on. Sadly, that’s been lacking. Even by the pool, my computer is at my side. I find a shady spot and type away.

I look at it this way: in this time of building a career and laying down important foundation, this isn’t a time to rest. Instead – this is a time to work. Still, it’s nice to be out of chilly New York, surrounded by the palm trees and golf courses. And no, I don’t play golf. I just like looking and seeing all this green grass.

preserved meyer lemons

Yesterday morning I woke up in our hotel room to an ominous and oppressive sky. A storm was gathering, and minutes after I emerged from the bathroom with what might be the worst cup of coffee known to man, the sky opened up and sheets of rain poured down. The poor palm tree visible from our window was getting knocked around every which way. For a few intense minutes, I couldn’t see a thing through our windows. Water obscured everything. I could only tell that the sky was getting darker. It was beautiful and violent. These were the remnants of the violent tornadoes that swept through Kentucky, Tennessee and several other states. Tornadoes that took lives and left so much damage in their wake.

After awhile, the rain subsided, and gave way to sunshine and clear skies. The grass was once again a vibrant green and the palm tree outside our window seemed to have forgotten its violent morning. I worked as diligently as I could all afternoon, and after I was done with my allotted work for the day, Andrew and I took a walk through the golf course, in the gloaming.

preserved meyer lemons

I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a month now. But since it takes a month for this recipe to develop so to speak, it would’ve been silly to write about it immediately after I made it. I had to let it do its thing; let the magic happen. And I had to make sure that the magic was, indeed, magical enough to write about. And so it is.
Preserved lemons (or preserved Meyer lemons, for that matter) are hardly a novelty. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the first or the last to make them or write about them. I’m not trying to discover a new continent here. Hardly. But what I want to say is this – preserved Meyer lemons are a game changer.

I was gifted about ten or so Meyer lemons, from my kimchi cookbook co-author, Lauryn. He boyfriend’s mother keeps a beautiful garden in California and apparently has had a bumper crop this year. The lemons were tiny, pristine, fragrant, and never sprayed with a single pesticide. In other words – they were perfect for preserving.

preserved meyer lemons

With a tiny bit of patience and a short waiting game, these Meyer lemons are going to be tucked into tagines, roasted chicken(s), and stews. They’re going to sneak into pastas, soups, and stir-frys. I don’t really mind the waiting game; the recipes I’ve been laboring over these past few weeks, the ones that have kept me away from here, are the kind you start preparing a day or two in advance – clearly, an exercise in delayed gratification. Plus, I’ve too many recipes to edit to even notice the passing of time; like I said at the beginning – the rabbit hole.

preserved meyer lemons

Preserved Lemons
Technically, what we call Meyer lemons are not really Meyer lemons. They are actually Eureka lemons – as real Meyer lemons were all wiped out by a virus and are now extinct. David Lebovitz tells more here.

8 to 10 Meyer or regular lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed very clean (mine were a gift from someone’s California garden!)
1/2 cup kosher salt, plus more if needed
Fresh lemon juice, if needed
1 dried bay leaf
10 peppercorns
3 cloves
1 star anise
1 dried Thai chile
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick, optional

1. Sterilize a quart-sized jar. Place 1 tablespoon of salt on the bottom.
2. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons and remove about 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon. Cut 2/3 to 3/4 of the way down the lemon; repeat at a 90 degree angle, so the lemon is quartered, but not all the way through. Place lemons in a large nonreactive bowl and dump the salt somewhere on the side. Put on a pair of disposable gloves – if you have any cuts on your hands, the combination of lemon juice and salt won’t be pleasant. Holding the lemon over the bowl, gently open each lemon and sprinkle salt all over the inside of the lemons. Rub the salt around the outside.
3. Pack the lemons tightly in a jar, pressing down so that the juices are extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. If your lemons do not produce enough juice, add more lemon juice as needed. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves, coriander, or cinnamon stick, if using, cover, and let the jar sit at room temperature for 3 days.
4. Place the jar in the refrigerator and allow to sit for at least 3 weeks. Periodically, turn the jar upside down and let sit a few days. Repeat.
5. To use, rinse off the salt off the lemon prior to cooking. Pick out the seeds. Some people prefer to discard the pulp before using, others prefer to keep it. Entirely up to you. Store, refrigerated for up to 6 months, though I’ve gone as long as 9, and they were fine.


  • Aaron

    I love preserved lemons. I too have been sitting on a recipe, waiting to make some and it keeps getting put off in place of other things. I like the idea of bay leaf. Thanks for sharing!

  • Erin

    I have a Meyer lemon tree, and have made preserved lemons as well. They are divine. You can addthem to anything while sauteeing, and they give your food the deepest lemon flavor. Be careful not to add salt until the end, because they are pretty salty.

    Such a great way to preserve a bounty of yummy meyer lemons!!!

  • Abby @ Fig & Fork

    Somehow I’ve coaxed a Meyer lemon tree to grow indoors in Minneapolis and it has five baby lemons on it. You know I’ll be preserving them! Thanks for sharing!

  • Margarita

    Wow, what I would give for a jar of these. Where I live, Meyer lemons are not sold in the grocery stores. Lemons are a necessity to me, I hoard them and as soon as I only have 1 or 2 left, I need to take a trip to the store and stock up again. Looking forward to your kimchi cookbook… I love kimchi and everything Korean food…

  • Gayle

    It’s amazing to see preserved lemons getting mentioned so much around the Interwebs these days. Five or six years ago, they were kind of of a freak ingredient (even in DC) that required trekking to a Middle Eastern market if you didn’t have the time or know-how to make them at home. And they cost a fortune! Which is silly once you see the recipe is mostly just spices-salt-patience. Thanks so much for this.

  • Barbara | Creative Culinary

    I get a very limited supply of Meyer lemons from a wonderful friend who ships some to me each year. Mine have already been peeled and juiced; the peels for Meyer Limoncello and the juice for lemon curd…but I have to remember this for next year. Sounds lovely.

  • Kathy

    Where is Forrest while you are hanging out by the pool in Florida? Maybe he has some good friends he can visit during this time.

  • Lys

    Olga, I’ve been at such a crossroads. My boss recently told us that the lab was going to be relocated at Stanford. And, to be honest, I’ve never pictured my life away from Boston before.
    With so much on my mind, it’s been nice to see a new post now and then; a welcomed break to just sit and read.
    Your updates have been inspiring, so relatable and having me question (in a good way) if moving with the lab is the right thing to do. So, if anything, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to climb out of the rabbit hole and share your experience so far. Hopefully I can figure out if I want to take my own leap or not, soon.

  • Emily

    We have several Meyer trees in the backyard, so Meyers are the only lemons I use during the winter. I made up a jar of these for the first time just a few weeks ago and used one today, and oh my goodness… they’re just so perfect. I’m dreaming of a chickpea and couscous tagine… maybe a dash of cinnamon and some roasted butternut? Oh, the possibilities are endless!

  • Melissa Aronson Bihl

    The thought of preserving Meyer lemons warms my heart. Your writing is beautiful and draws me in…and inspires me to preserve Meyer lemons! Hats off to you and your next book!

  • Anne Zimmerman

    Thanks for the tidbit about Eureka lemons — I bought them (5 for a dollar!) at the Glendale Farmer’s Market yesterday. I had no idea they were actually Meyers — or that Meyers were actually Eurekas.

    Would love to know your favorite preserved lemon recipe, too. My husband’s batch is just finishing doing its thing and I have no idea what to do with them.

  • Radish

    Anne – I do the same thing with regular lemons when I’m out of my Meyer lemons. As long as the fruit is organic and well-scrubbed – it should all be good.

  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    I feel terrible that I missed this post! First of all, I adore you. And secondly, this is one of those recipes that I am bookmarking because I just love preserved lemons, but i love meyer lemons even more. This would make any moroccan stew magical or I may use it in a nice light salad.

  • The Cozy Herbivore

    These look so sweet and tangy! I have a jar of kumquats preserving on my counter now, and I can’t wait to break into them when they’re done in their briny solution. So glad you are doing well and keeping busy…

  • Megan Gordon

    Well no wonder you’re relating to that busy post today!! Sounds like you’ve got A TON going on — congrats ten times over, Olga. You deserve every bit of it…can’t wait to hear more about the new project. In the meantime, enjoy summer Florida. And lemons (beauties!)

  • Doryce

    he Meyer Lemon Tree is named for Frank Meyer. He brought it to the United States from China in 1908 while working for the USDA. The tree became very popular and was widely grown until a virus that attacked Meyer Lemon Trees was discovered in the mid-1940s. Meyer Lemon Trees were banned in the United States in an effort to insure the safety of other lemon varieties from the virus. A new version of the Meyer Lemon Tree was developed that was virus-free and it was reintroduced in 1970. Since that time, the Meyer Lemon has become a favorite for the home grower.

  • Kate

    I can never find Meyer lemons in New Jersey. I often wonder if there’s some random store or farmer’s market that I have yet to discover that has these coveted little jewels. Surely, if I ever get my hands on some I will preserve them. And such an interesting tidbit that they aren’t even truly Meyer lemons but Eureka! I never knew. Wonderful post!

  • Radish

    Brian – you are too kind! Thank you!

    Megan – thank you! The florida sojourn was pretty much 85% work and 15% play :) But such is life of a freelancer.

    Kate – I don’t know if Fresh Direct delivers to your neck of the woods, but they have Meyer (Eureka) lemons.

    Tori and everyone – thank you!

  • Christine

    @Kate, I live in Philly and work in Cherry Hill and I saw Meyers at Wegman’s not too long ago if you’re in the S. Jersey area.

    In any case, I make preserved lemons whenever the jar I have in the fridge gets low, because I love them something fierce. Roasted chickens? yep. Tagines? of course. Quinoa salad with fennel? yes. yes. yes. I usually just use regular ol’ organic lemons though because I can’t be bothered to hunt down anything else.

  • umair

    its a good idea for me to preserve meyer lemons because i have a meyer lemons tree and so now i can easily preserve meyer lemons.

  • Nadia

    Meyer lemons! I eat them as is or add juice to salads that changes the aroma to a more delicate side in comparison with just plain lemons. I used to preserve lemons with sugar, but never tried savory. It sounds exciting to add these lemons to meat recipes. Olga, thanks for yet another interesting idea and good luck with your writings! :)

  • pasta with meyer lemon zest, ricotta, arugula, and bottarga | Sassy Radish

    […] Because there are currently sixteen Meyer lemons in my crisper, I’ve been making this pasta semi-regularly. During the Meyer lemon season a month or so ago, I stockpiled those lemons like they were non-perishables. When I did the actual count, the number of lemons was thirty. That’s not counting the lemons that I was gifted by my Kimchi Cookbook co-author, Lauryn, which became preserved Meyer lemons. […]

  • Emily

    The guy you referenced regarding Meyer Lemons being extinct based his information off his “produce guru”. The information is inaccurate which you can see by reading this:

    The Eureka is still it’s own separate varietal and has a distinctly different flavor being more acidic and less sweet than the Meyer lemon. My boyfriend worked on a citrus farm and at the farmer’s markets selling 3 varieties of lemons (Eureka, Meyer, and Lisbon), 4 different orange varieties (Valencia, Navel, Blood, & Cara Cara),Tangerines, Mandarins, Pomelos, and Grapefruits here in California. I would take the word of a farmer over some “produce guru” any day :)

  • Becki

    I have been meaning to do this for so long, and this morning was the day. You make it look so easy!

    Question for you. My lemons are juicy and release lots of juice, but not to cover the lemons themselves. I added more lemon juice, but the lemons themselves seem to float to the top and poke above the liquid level. Is this a problem, do you weight the lemons down in the jar? Or am I overthinking this, I should just let it go and stop worrying?


  • olga

    Becki – it’s a very good question you asked. What you need to do is to stuff enough lemons in the jar that they’re in there snugly. Does that make sense/help?

  • Becki

    Thanks for the advice! Yes, that helps. I noticed that this morning the lemon texture seems to be changing and they are ‘floating’ a little less. Much less is poking up above the liquid. I’m hoping that continues in the next day or so and they’ll sink completely!

    I hope so, I’m determined this will work this time. I’ve labeled the jar with the start and stop dates and added reminders to shake the bottle… more expensive fancy jars of preserved lemons from the store!

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