Ever had the experience of your in-laws or neighbors or your CSA handing you a big box of lemons from their tree, and you’re left wondering what the hell you’re going to do with all these lemons. You might love lemons (who doesn’t?) and want to take advantage of this bounty that’s fallen into your lap, but you don’t know where to start. You’ve never faced a pile of lemons this large before. You’re flummoxed.
Don’t do what most people end up doing and use a few here and there, letting the rest rot on the counter because you had no clue what to do. Instead, read on and find out how to preserve, store, and make the most of the lemons life gives you.
How to Store, Preserve, and Use Lemons
The best way to quickly and easily store lemons long term is to freeze them whole.
Some people advocate washing the lemons first, but if they’re from a source you trust I don’t find it necessary. Plus, washing lemons prior to freezing means that you have to fully dry them or else you get icy lemons. Just brush off any obvious dirt and toss ’em in the freezer.
Whenever you need a lemon for anything, leave a frozen one on the counter to thaw. If you need one more quickly, simmer it in a covered pot until softened. The freezing actually ruptures the cell walls in the lemon, making them easier to juice. You’ll get more lemon juice out of a frozen-then-thawed lemon than you would from a lemon that’s never been frozen.
Freeze the juice in ice cube trays.
This is more work, but you get very convenient lemon juice ice cubes.
To truly freeze lemon juice ice cubes, you need extremely cold temperatures. A standard freezer on your fridge might not cut it; they’ll still freeze, but it’ll be a little syrupy and gooey.
If you’re going to juice the lemons and freeze the juice, don’t waste the rind. Peel it with a vegetable peeler, then dehydrate the ribbons of lemon peel either in a food dehydrator, the oven on the lowest setting, or the warm sun.
One the rinds have all dried completely—they should cleanly snap in half, rather than bend—store them as is or grind into a fine powder. Store in an air tight container.
Lemon rind powder is excellent in salt and spice mixes, marinades, and salad dressings.
Make lemon vinegar.
Another option for all those rinds is homemade lemon vinegar, a powerful, multipurpose DIY cleaning solution.
Make salted dried lemons.
Boil about 12 cups of water with 2 cups of kosher salt dissolved in it. When it’s boiling, drop your lemons in and boil them for 5 minutes. Remove them from the water and place on drying racks.
If it’s hot out, let them dry outside. If it’s not, dry them on the lowest setting in your oven. It may take several days (oven) to a week (outside), but let them dry until they’re hard and crispy. Once they’re totally dry, you can add them whole to stews, break apart, or even grind and use in spice blends and rubs.
Dried salted lemons will last for years and provide a tangy, salty, umami earthiness to dishes.
Make preserved lemons.
People have been preserving lemons using lactofermentation since at least the 12th century, which is when the first recipe was committed to writing, but they’ve probably been doing it even longer. Preserving lemons takes some elbow grease.
Cut each lemon into fourths without cutting all the way through. The four sections should still be attached together.
Pour a tablespoon of kosher salt into each quartered lemon. Place in sterile jar.
Really ram the lemons down so they all fit. Juice will gush out, mingle with the salt, and begin to fill the jar. This is what you want to happen.
When all the lemons are crammed into the jar, add extra lemon juice until they’re all submerged.
Shove a sprig of rosemary and a hot chili or two down into the jar between the lemons.
Cover with a thin layer of olive oil and leave out on the counter to ferment for several weeks to several months. Taste as you go and when you like the taste and texture, stick in the fridge. Or don’t. Legend has it that Near Eastern and North African cultures would often leave the preserved lemons out at room temperature for years.
To enjoy preserved lemons, make use of everything: The juice is great in marinades and salad dressings. The lemons themselves are excellent in marinades, stews, salads, and when cooking fish. You can leave the lemons whole or blend the entire jar up and use the preserved lemon paste as needed.
Use them in ways you didn’t think possible.
Most people just don’t have any creativity when it comes to using lemons.
Squeeze fresh juice over freshly cooked steak or lamb. It’s delicious.
Add lemon juice to a tall glass of Gerolsteiner sparking mineral water with a dash of salt. Great morning pick me up or overall hydrator.
Use the juice in place of vinegar. Salad dressings, recipes, marinades, etc.
Grill asparagus (or any vegetable, really) and toss in olive oil and lemon juice. Finish with salt.
Fresh lemon juice is a killer finisher for homemade gravy. Cuts through the richness.
Take an avocado, a can of sardines, maybe some smoked oysters, and lemon juice. Mix it and mash it all together, then eat.
Put a whole lemon inside your chicken when it roasts. Cook veggies and tubers in the pan juices midway through.
Make ceviche. Lots of lemon juice, salt, onions, garlic, chili peppers, and fish marinated until the fish “cooks.”
If you eat legumes, a chickpea salad is a fantastic meal. Chickpeas, sardines or chicken, lemon juice, olive oil, salt. Stir to mix, consume.
Lemon juice with water at a 1:1 ratio soothes a sore throat.
Yes, you can make healthy lemonade that doesn’t involve any sugar or artificial sweeteners at all. All you need:
Juice from 1-2 lemons.
Sparkling mineral water. I recommend Gerolsteiner or Topo Chico.
Inositol and glycine.
Add a teaspoon (or more to taste) each of inositol and glycine to a cup. If you’re including salt, add a few pinches now. Add an ounce of sparkling water and stir until dissolved.
Add the rest of the water, leaving enough space for the juice.
Finish with lemon juice. Enjoy.
That’s what I’ve got. A big box of lemons is an incredible gift that can last you for years, if you play your cards right.
How do you deal with a ton of lemons? What are your favorite uses for lemons?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.