When Life Gives You Lemons: Preserve Them


Growing up on a farm, my mother used to can everything she could. She learned to do this when we were living in the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia. Our neighbor always made pickled okra and pickled green tomatoes. I would sit in her house, eating jar after jar.  I was obsessed with it.

Eventually, the neighbor reached out to my mom and started to share her recipes.  I will admit there were more misses than there were hits.  The only thing she did get right was the pickled okra.  While there are many friends and family that will say it is her salsa that was the hit, I have to disagree, because I was always adding extra vinegar and salt to her salsa.  My brother, now he makes a mean salsa that he refuses to give me the recipe for.

This summer, I decided to start canning and freezing the summer’s bounty.  I’ve pinned so many canning recipes and ‘how to’s’ because there is a science to canning and preserving food.  The quick way to canning (and to avoid the water bath science) is to put the food into a jar, close the lid and put it into the refrigerator.  That’s how I’ve started out this summer’s preserving.  I’ve put everything into the refrigerator.

Starting Off Easy With Pickled Eggs and Sausages

I started off simple.  I ordered a large jar and made pickled eggs and sausages.  The linked recipe is a cajun version.  I decided to not add the spice, but added garlic and ginger instead.  I put all the ingredients into the jar, closed the lid and put it into the refrigerator.  The result?

The next morning, I pulled one sausage and one egg from the jar, made some toast and sat down to some excellent eats.  It was so filling, I wasn’t hungry again until lunch.

Pickled eggs and sausages is a simple way to start off learning how to preserve and to quick pickle.  You can do a variety of things with pickled eggs.  Eat it with Ramen soup, make egg salad (for an extra kick), and Deviled eggs.  The egg salad has been a huge hit in my home.

Confident that I could do this canning bit, I decided to focus on fruits and vegetables that I love.  I decided that I’m not going to make a bunch of jams (because I stocked up on jams when Food Emporium had a sale on my favorite brand).  I was going to focus on preserving food in a way that will help with my every day kitchen.  In other words, I would only can, freeze and preserve as if I was creating my own pantry from scratch.

Lemon Mania

I had read from Aimée at Simple Bites that she had treated herself to a box of Meyer lemons!  I love lemons.  I thought that would be the best gift to give to myself for my 40th birthday, so I went to the site where she purchased her lemons, only to find out their harvest was done for the year, but they did recommend a few of their farm friends.

I found Birch-Hill Organics through Lemon Ladies Orchard.  I ordered 10 pounds of lemons on Tuesday.  They went out and picked the lemons from the trees.  On Wednesday, I came home to a 12 pound box of lemons (they added a couple of extra pounds as a bonus).  Considering I’m on the other side of the country, talk about service!  Ordered it on a Tuesday, they went out and picked the bushel, I got it the very next day.

So what does one do with 12 pounds of lemons?

Simple Bites offers a few suggestions (including how to’s and recipes).  Here are a few extras I’ve done this past week:

  1. Lemon preserves for Moroccan and French recipes.  Simplest recipe ever to preserve (see Simple Bites link above).
  2. Grate lemon rinds for recipes.  Place in plastic bag and freeze.
  3. Juice the lemons into ice trays, freeze.  Keep lemon juice ice cubes in a freezer bag, use when you need lemon juice.
  4. Take leftover grated rinds, remove pulp (use pulp for recipes, like cobblers, etc.), place rinds in a jar, cover in vinegar.  After two weeks, you can make a simple organic all-purpose cleaner.
  5. Leftover lemons you don’t know what to do with?  Put them in a gallon sized freezer bag and freeze the whole thing.  Take out to defrost when you know you’ll need to use them.

I want you to note one important thing about the above…you’re not wasting any of the lemons.  You are using the entire lemon somehow.  You are making every part of the lemon go the extra mile.   Between food recipes, cleaning solutions and beauty products you can create, that 12 pound box of lemons can go the extra mile…every single part of the lemon. [See my Pinterest Board for additional lemon uses and recipes.]

Like I said above, I wanted to make sure that I used the lemons the exact way I use lemons now.  I didn’t want to make lemon curd or some other strange lemon recipe that I will never use.  I wanted to make sure I only used the lemons for things that I already use lemons for.  That is the art of creating the pantry.  Don’t create recipes that you’ll never use again.  Preserve the produce in a way that you know you’ll use them over the next year.

For those rushing to get your box of Meyer lemons, just FYI, I was lucky to get the box.  Meyer lemon season is in the fall and winter.  The fact they still had some in June…the owner said that these were mature and end of the season fruit.  So you can put off purchasing a box until the fall/winter months, maybe even the spring, to preserve.

I Did What With Mangoes?

Other produce I’ve purchased so far this summer and started preserving include mangoes, tomatoes, herbs, and cucumbers.

People don’t generally think of preserving mangoes.  Mangoes were at the top of my list because I love pickled mangoes, an Asian snack.  I have had a problem finding them in Chinatown, so I decided to make my own.  It’s a simple recipe.  I bought two boxes of mangoes from a street vendor.  He made me buy the box as is.  I couldn’t switch the produce around to just green mangoes.  He made me buy the mix of overly ripe mangoes along with the green mangoes.

When I got the mangoes home, I separated the overly ripe ones from the green ones.  I peeled all of the ripe ones, took all of the meat, placed it in a blender and pureed it.  I froze some of it into ice cubes (for an interesting twist to lemonade), and kept the rest in a jar in the refrigerator to add to smoothies and baking recipes.

For the green mangoes, I made six pint jars of pickled mango, and put the rest into an apple mango cobbler.

What about the peels?  Well, they made my garbage smell so much nicer.  I assume it will do the same with garbage disposals.  You can pickle the peels, put in smoothies, make mango chips, zest it for salads and even make mango extract.  The peels are probably the best part of the mango…as far as nutrients go.  BUT only go the extra mile with the peels if they are organic.  If they are not organic, it is better to be safe than sorry.  Toss the peels if they’re not organic.

How to Preserve Your Herbs

When I buy fresh mint or basil, I always end up having to toss a bunch because they went bad.  These days, if I don’t use all of the herbs within 5 days, I freeze them.

Just put the leaves in an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze.  Keep them in a freezer bag after they’ve turned into ice cubes.  Toss into recipes, drinks, etc. when you need them.  My favorite is putting mint ice cubes in with my lemonade.  Yum!

Stop Wasting Your Food

This past week, I was watching the HBO Documentary “How to Let Go of the World and Love All Things Climate Can’t Change” and it really made me think of how I could be better about my own carbon footprint.

One thing that I’ve noticed a lot is how much food I waste. When I eat out, there is always more food than I can eat.  I usually get a to go box to give to the first homeless person I see.  But at home…that’s a different story.

Each week, I noticed more and more spoiled food that I had to toss.  I started thinking about what I can do to stop this waste.  So I decided to become more proactive with how I use the food in my kitchen.  It starts with careful planning and learning about all of the different uses for the produce I bring home.

There are certain tools I have found that help me.

ICE TRAY – I use this ice tray.  It’s king sized so you can pack a lot of herbs into it.  It’s also great for when you want to make ice for cocktails.  A lot of the high end restaurants use these trays to create giant sized ice cubes to go with your drink.

JARS – For jars, I like to get the wide mouth jars, because they are easier to use when you are spooning the food into the jars.  I like to keep jars in various sizes in the house so that as you preserve throughout the months, you can grab a jar and put your favorite marinara sauce, pie fillings, lemon rinds, etc. into the jar.  Quart. Pint.  Jelly Jars.

CANNING EQUIPMENT – This set includes everything you need for doing water baths.

FREEZER BAGS – I use whatever is on sale that says “FREEZER BAG” on it.  I generally buy the gallon sized freezer bags in bulk.

If canning for shelf life (and not the refrigerator), I highly recommend using recipes that are focused on using the water baths.  They are a little more complex than just putting it in the refrigerator.  Make sure to do plenty of research on how to do water baths.  Start by finding a canning recipe you want to make and then follow their instructions.  [You can find my Canning Pinterest Board HERE.]

Preserve As You Go

You could spend all day trying to preserve all of the produce you purchased or you can preserve as you go.

Take for instance, marinara sauce.  Make a little extra when you are making the sauce and preserve the rest.  That’s one bottle of marinara sauce down.  Continue to make a little extra with the ingredients you purchase to make sure you have a pantry full of preserved food for the next year.  This will not only save money in the winter months, but it will also help you create your own stockpile of food.  It comes in handy during an emergency.

For Home Cooks That Love to Cook

One thing I have realized in this process of preserving food is that all cooks need to do this.  You know what ingredients you use often and which ingredients you have to look all over for when you want to make a recipe.  I can never find lemon preserves when I want to make a Southern French recipe or a Moroccan tagine.  Ends up, I could just preserve them myself.  It only takes a jar, a bunch of lemons and sea salt (with no iodine).  After five weeks, they’re ready.  Why not prepare for those recipes when the lemons are in season?

Why buy marinara sauce in the winter when you can make batches of it over the summer when tomatoes are still in season?  Why spend a lot of money on herbs in the winter when you can grow them at home or freeze them in ice cubes when they are in season?

You know what you use the most of in your kitchen.  When the produce is in season, buy as much as you’ll need for the year and start preserving them.  Dice tomatoes.  Pickle eggs.  Preserve apple slices.  Preserve all those ingredients you know are hard to find during the year.  You’ll find that they’re a lot easier to make and preserve than running all over God’s green Earth to find it (and then spend an arm and a leg for it).

Stay away from recipes that ‘look good’ that you want to try.  Focus on creating a pantry you can use all year long.  Don’t bother making batches of stuff that you won’t even use.  This is about stopping the waste and focusing on using all the food you bring home throughout the year.

You can freeze, can and dehydrate produce.  Make it a habit of doing this every time you bring food home from the grocery store or farmer’s market.  Make it a habit of preserving the produce right off the bat.  It will save you so much money in the long run because you are not wasting the food.  You’re just saving it for a much later date.