Pickled Lemons

April 11, 2013

About ten years ago, I realized that using fresh citrus in my cooking made a huge difference in the way things tasted.  It all started the year we lived in London and my refrigerator was so tiny that I couldn’t justify taking up room with a bottle of lemon juice.  Instead, I bought fresh lemons and stored them in a fruit bowl out on the counter.  Suddenly, my food was so much brighter.  I never looked back.  Living in Seattle, I bought lemons at Costco and kept them in my crisper drawer.  They keep well and I never wanted to be without them, which is why I bought them in bulk.

It makes me laugh now.  Thinking of buying lemons at Costco.  Imagining of a day when I would need a lemon and be out of them.  That day will never come as long as I have this tree in my front yard.  I’ve mentioned this before, but our house is in the fire zone of the Oakland hills.  In 1991, over 3,000 houses burned down, including all the homes on our street and the streets below us.  For some reason, this tree survived.  I’m not sure how a house can burn down and a tree, that is made of wood, can stay standing, but there you go.  There are many lemon trees in our neighborhood but this one is one of the largest and most prolific.  When we moved in last fall, I was delighted to see so many lemons.  Little did I know it would go truly gangbusters once the late winter set in.  Now they are literally falling off the tree. I use a lot of citrus in my cooking and yet I can’t keep up.  We picked a bunch last week, gave them to the neighbors who don’t have trees of their own, and there are still so many just waiting to be picked.  Lots of lemons calls for drastic measures.

When I was in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, Lara, the lovely owner of Book Larder, mentioned that she had made the lemon pickles from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem.  Glancing at the recipe, I realized that this would be a good way to use a lot of lemons since you are pickling them in their own juice.  I made a double batch, put some aside for friends, and have been using the rest ever since in likely and unlikely places.  They were a delicious condiment for an Indian feast and also tasted good on top of poached eggs that were sitting on top of a potato cake.  Basically anyplace where a big dollop of flavor and a dose of sour would be welcome.

One Year Ago:  Chickpea, Artichoke, and Spinach Stew
Two Years Ago:  Pane con Formaggion (Cheese Bread), Banana-Date Tea Cake
Three Years Ago:  Black Bean Tostadas, Cinnamon Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Four Years Ago:  Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake, Orange Cinnamon Biscotti

Quick Pickled Lemons
Makes about 1½ quarts

½ red chile (DT: I used a green jalapeño because I had some on hand)
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 small-medium unwaxed lemons, halved lengthwise and sliced widthwise as thinly as possibly
3 tbsp. superfine sugar
1½ tsp. coarse sea salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. sweet paprika
¼ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric

Use a mortar and pestle to smash the chile with 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice; you want to get a rough looking paste.  Transfer this to a large bowl along with all the other ingredients.  Use your hands to mix everything together well so that all the flavors get massaged into the lemons.  Leave in a covered bowl overnight, then transfer to sterilized sealed jar the next day.  The lemons will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.



  1. I bought a house a year ago that has a lemon tree and am amazed at the amount of fruit it produces. It went crazy about 2 months ago and I was able to give out about 70 lemons a week for 5 weeks. I gave them to neighbors, friends, co-workers and left a little basket at the end of my driveway with some in for whoever wanted them. That tree makes me happy :)

    Comment by GPS — April 11, 2013 @ 11:37 pm

  2. Oh, wow, the idea of these bright and spiced pickled lemons on top of a potato cake with poached eggs for breakfast? That sounds amazing! Brunch heaven!

    Comment by Sarah — April 11, 2013 @ 11:47 pm

  3. I live in Oregon and have been nursing along a Meyer lemon tree on the South side of my house. I just picked the last lemon for the season (I get about 15 a year) and am deeply envious of your tree. How about having a lemon giveaway?

    Comment by Lynn D. — April 12, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

  4. It keeps insisting I’ve made a duplicate comment!

    Comment by Lynn D. — April 12, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  5. Oh what I wouldn’t do for a citrus tree of some kind! And to have them literally falling into my lap! In college I used a lot of bottled juice and then once I moved back to NYC I started using actual lemons and limes..and now I could never go back. The flavor difference is HUGE.

    Comment by Joanne — April 13, 2013 @ 1:13 am

  6. I’m so jealous of your productive lemon tree! I have two Meyer lemon trees that have to live in containers so I can move them when we have a freeze, and they produce not much fruit. I love preserved lemon but have never made pickled lemons. I have to try this!

    Comment by lisaiscooking — April 16, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

  7. We have apple trees on our property, but how wonderful a lemon tree would be. We use lemons all the time and it would be mighty handy. :)

    Comment by Timothy — April 16, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

  8. Wow, this is a geat idea! Very curious about how this will taste… I wish I was living in an area where lemon trees could survive.

    Comment by Anna — April 21, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

  9. I too am jealous that you have a lemon tree.
    I think I need to live in California, never thought I’d say that, just for the 365 days a year of growing season.

    Hope you are feeling better. :)

    Comment by stacey snacks — April 23, 2013 @ 2:40 am

  10. Mouth watering pickle. Nice pictures.

    Comment by mykitchenstove — April 23, 2013 @ 4:11 am

  11. Looks like a great recipe! Being on the East Coast, I am always in AWE of the prolific fruit trees I see around CA (on my last trip a few weeks ago, I think I drove my bf crazy yelling “fruit tree!” every 5 minutes, ha). Have you heard of the website Neighborhood Fruit? I believe you can register your tree and arrange fruit swaps and exchanges. Always seemed like a cool idea to me!

    Comment by Amanda — April 23, 2013 @ 6:00 pm

  12. […] Dana Treat And, while we’re breaking out, let’s pickle something other than cucumbers or green beans. Dana Treat digs into Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book, Jerusalem, and experiments with a Mediterranean condiment we want to start using more often: Pickled Lemons. […]

    Pingback by Relish Blogs – Week 4.29 — April 26, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

  13. what an interesting idea – would like to try this one day!

    Comment by Sofia — May 4, 2013 @ 9:04 am

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