Preserved Lemons and New Perspectives

It’s almost a new year. We’ve got a handful of days left in this one and then it’s on to the next. It is now – when the days are shorter and colder, when reflection is encouraged, when hope is on the horizon – that I crave coziness and comfort. This manifests in many forms: fig cakes, pots of soup, hot chocolate puddings, and preserved lemons, to name a few.

Lemon Rinse

This is also the time of year when my mind turns inward to its most contemplative. I slow down. I grow more observant. I finally start reading the book that’s been on my bedside table for the past two months. I go on long walks instead of runs. I…sound like I’m 75 years old. Help.

But honestly, slowing down has led to some interesting discoveries. One of which is the meditative process of preserving lemons…more on that in a minute. Another of which is a very worthwhile short video called Overview.  In it, Planetary Collective documents “astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.”

You should watch it. It’s a perfect year-end tonic that encourages expanding your view and recognizing the interconnectedness of life. There is an interview in the first few minutes that hooked me, when the co-founder of the Overview Institute explains what one of the astronauts said once he’d returned from space:

When we went to the moon we weren’t thinking about looking back at the earth, but now that we’ve done it that may well have been the most important reason we went.

I love that quote. The astronauts hadn’t thought about looking back at the earth! They had focused solely on the moon. That’s incredible to me. It lends such perspective to our own individual lives. I like to think that if I were to bottle all of my experiences from the past decade in a big jar, then shake them up and have only those experiences remain that will prove the most important in the overarching span of my life, that I’d be astonished. I truly have no idea. Or not much, at least.


Juxtaposed to a jar of life experiences, I give you this recipe for a jar of preserved lemons. When you sprinkle lemons with salt and add a few spices, you get exactly what you’d expect – a bold, bright, salty, and sour complement to many a meal. When the preserved rind is chopped, it’s an excellent addition to seafood and chicken dishes, blending particularly well with briny olives, harissa, rice or couscous.

I used Meyer lemons, a bit sweeter and thinner-skinned than regular lemons, that Ellie generously gave me from her aunt and uncle’s place up in Napa. I found the act of preserving to be suitably meditative for this season. The best part is that once they’re preserved, they will keep perfectly well for at least a year. This I know to be true.

Salty Sour

Preserved Lemons

  • Lemons
  • Kosher salt
  • Sterile mason jar

Optional spices:

Below are the measurements for 1 pint jar’s worth of lemons, feel free to add more depending on the number of lemons you have.

  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 to 4 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if necessary


Scrub the lemons so they’re very clean, then quarter them from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.

Sprinkle a thin layer of salt at the bottom of your Mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the optional spices between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them, add freshly squeezed lemon juice — not chemically produced lemon juice and not water.) Leave some air space before sealing the jar.

Let the lemons ripen on the kitchen counter, shaking the jar every day or so to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for 30 days. To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under running water, removing and discarding the pulp, if desired. Keep in the fridge for up to a year.


Towards the end of Overview, one of the astronauts describes very eloquently how he came to understand that “we are star dust.” He starts off by explaining that while he was on the space shuttle he “had a little more time to look out the window than the other guys.”

Maybe that’s the secret? With a little more time to look out the window, who knows all of the incredible things we might discover. Seems to me the possibilities are infinite.

Happy New Year, dear Happelsauce friends! May 2013 be our best year yet…


6 thoughts on “Preserved Lemons and New Perspectives

  1. Ah, thanks for this. 🙂 A little too late to save the lemons my wife zested for fruit-cake this year, but I’ll keep it in mind for next.

  2. Lovely post as always and so excited to know how to preserve lemons, i will be trying this…next a post using preserved lemon please??

  3. Brenna and Nattie! So happy that you’re going to give preserved lemons a try. After they marinate for a month, you can chop the rind and add it to all kinds of savory dishes. I think they go best with fish and chicken. Toss in olives, harissa, parsley, maybe Greek yogurt too…I’ll post a recipe with preserved lemons soon. I promise.

  4. From my perspective preserved lemons add zest to just about everything this side of dessert and the spectacle of our earth in “Overview” is sensational. Hooray for Happelsauce for introducing the wonders of both worlds. XOXOXOXOX Pom

  5. Pingback: Anytime Salad with White Beans,Tuna and Parsley Vinaigrette « happelsauce

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