Food is life. Even theologically, Christ refers to himself as bread. Food is required, abused, a drug, a commodity, processed or whole. I feel food’s greatest strength is its communal power. Handing a person a hot drink on a cold day, delivering food to the needy, the family meal on Thanksgiving day each transcend food as nourishment to food as a metaphysical bridge. The range of human emotion can be said to be induced by food. From disgust and fear, to elation and unquenchable desire.
I discovered years ago food can bring pleasure without the act of consumption. The act of creating, bringing the whole or elemental food to the derived. We exist in a society that has embraced simple processed foods and convenient assembly kits over cooking, creating. I myself enjoy and often indulge myself in processed and assembled foods, as there are selections that I find a bit of a vice and also a fit after a busy Tuesday on the dinner table. Processed and assembled choices are meant for immediate gratification. They can bring joy and happiness as easily as an exotic evening exploring micro-gastronomy. But I find food can bring pleasure without consumption. Modifying elemental foods for future use as ingredients (pickling and canning, partial or complete cooking and freezing, fermenting, drying) all impart gratification by way of taking what is elemental, ripe and fresh today and making it derived for future use or whole consumption. The joy of cooking need not be an activity solely for tonight’s dinner table but enjoyed at anytime; even if a meal is not to be prepared for weeks.
One of my favorite things to prepare annually is preserved lemons. A staple of Moroccan cuisine, I find that they are perfect as a substitution for lemon juice. When Meyer lemons are in season, I spend weeks ducking into the store to buy the best i can find. This simple act of preservation changes the lemons from a basic element of simple lemon juice, to a complex enhanced ingredient. As the lemons preserve in the lemon juice brine, the peel becomes cured. To use the lemons you take a wedge or two and separate the rind and incorporate it as needed for lemon flavor. I use it in homemade salad dressings, sauces, marinades, or really anywhere lemon is called for. I also use the syrup that is produced, however, this is very salty so you need to adjust a recipe accordingly.
The following recipe is a modification of the basic preparation of preserved lemons. I like to use fresh bay and coriander seeds. The lemons preserve very well simply in salt with or without spices or herbs. I will add that one year I had a mold that grew in my jars. I suspect that I did not clean the bay from the tree in my yard well enough, so I do highly recommend all non packaged additives be well washed and even disinfected with a solution of crushed Campden tablets. You need the lemons to preserve for at least three weeks, but I let them cure for much longer as I am usually still using a batch from the prior year. Once you use them, you need to add fresh lemon juice as needed to keep the remaining wedges submerged.
- Meyer Lemons
- Kosher Salt
- Cheap Lemons, juiced
- Coriander seeds
- Fresh Bay Leaves
Enough 1 pint Mason or Weck jars to fit. I prefer Weck because I think they look better and the lids do not rust.
- Quarter the Meyer Lemons or cut them almost to the navel in quarters
- Salt the lemons generously
- Pack the lemons tightly in the jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace
- Add 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- Add 1/8 cup kosher salt
- Fill to top with lemon juice
- Place 2-4 bay leaves on top
- Put lids on jars
- Age at least 3 weeks