When life gives you lemons

This recipe for preserved lemons will give you their zing anytime.


If you like the taste of fresh lemon, you’re going to need this recipe from my friend Stephen Grace. Steve is a retired chef who spent his career in well-known restaurants in Massachusetts (like Wiggins Tavern in Northampton and Two Mattoon in Springfield) and Connecticut (Gelston House in Haddam, the Griswold Inn in Essex). He spent time in Vineyard kitchens as well, including Le Grenier and David’s Island House. Steve is also an avid gardener. In his last professional business, Artisans Caterers, his mobile wood-fired oven produced creative pizzas topped with ingredients fresh from the Farmers Market or his own garden.

Life has given Steve plenty of lemons — literally and figuratively. He won a hard-fought battle with cancer, and in 2019, he lost his wife after she suffered a massive stroke. These days Steve divides his time between Martha’s Vineyard and Palm Springs, Calif. During his first winter in California, the lemon tree in his backyard produced more lemons than he could squeeze, cook, or give away. So he started to experiment with methods to preserve them.

This recipe will give you jars full of the bright yellow fruit to store in the fridge and use with fish or chicken, desserts, and beverages. Having preserved lemons on hand makes it easy to give every dish a fresh lemon burst of flavor.

Stephen’s Preserved Lemons
Makes two one-quart jars. ONLY use fresh lemon juice, for best results.

2 dozen small lemons
2 cups sea salt (high-mineral salt works best)

Juice half the lemons, or enough to make 16 oz. juice. Set aside the juiced lemon skin and pith in a large bowl.

Cut the bottom of each whole lemon so it stands flat. Slice from the top into quarters, not quite to the bottom. Rub the inside of each sliced lemon with sea salt. Put the sliced lemons into the bowl with the juiced lemons. Toss all lemons thoroughly with ¾ cup sea salt.

Put one teaspoon of sea salt into each quart jar. Add one tablespoon of the lemon juice to each jar. Stuff each jar with the salted lemons from the bowl.

Pour the rest of the lemon juice into the jars, completely covering the lemons. (Tip: If liquid does not cover lemons, you can add more lemon juice, or a small amount of water.)

Store jars uncovered at room temperature for two days, then seal and store in a cool, dark place for up to nine months. Refrigerate if opened.

Use preserved lemons in sauces, spritzers, or chopped onto roasted vegetables. The rich, mellow flavor will have your dinner guests asking, “How did you do this?”