Lemon Pickles

Hop down to the recipe

Happy round lemon slices

This post has been a long time coming. I really wanted to make sure I liked these little guys before posting them. Last night, we finished the jar of lemon pickles we made around the time we had Iron Chef Lemons at work. That’s how many lemons there were – it took over three months for the two of us to eat the whole batch.

When faced with an abundance of lemons, I remembered my mother pickling pretty round lemon slices as a child. I didn’t enjoy the acidic taste then. But then, there are many things I didn’t enjoy as a child that I enjoy now. I decided that I had to make them myself before completely ruling them out.

Before calling my mother, as I tend to do in these situations, I decided to pull out my copy of Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews by Poopa Dweck. This book has saved me many a how-to phone call when it comes to family recipes. My mother heard of its existence a few years ago and went out and got one for every household in our family. The recipes are very close to the way my grandmother used to cook, and the pictures might as well be of my own family gatherings (right down to the dishes the author uses for olives!). I will say,  however, that since these recipes have been passed down so many generations without being written down, the instructions can often be confusing or include editing errors. I’ve learned to use this book as a guideline but not an exact set of instructions.

Sadly in all the months I had these around, this is the best picture I managed to take.

Luckily my instincts were correct; the book did indeed include the recipe for lemon pickles. The instructions didn’t make perfect sense to me, so I adjusted as I saw fit. I cut the lemons into slices instead of wedges, I added a bit more salt, a bit less lemon juice and alot less olive oil. Of course, this was my first time pickling anything so I know I made a few mistakes. Here’s what I did:

Recipe: Lemon Pickles, Syrian style

Makes 1 quart of pickles
Pickling time: 3 weeks to 1 month until edible

  • 6 lemons
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon hot paprika
  • lemon juice from 2 additional lemons
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A glass jar cleaned and rinsed with boiling water
  1. Slice the lemons into beautiful rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Remove the seeds (you’ll thank yourself for that when you’re ready to dig into the final product). Place the slices into a strainer/colander over a bowl. Salt liberally and toss to make sure the lemons are covered thickly with salt.

    Lemons coated generously in salt, draining

    Lemons coated generously in salt, draining

  2. Let stand and allow to drain overnight (though I think that just 2 hours would suffice if you are pressed on time).
  3. After they have drained for a period of time, pack tightly into the glass jar, sprinkling the paprika and remaining salt every few layers.
  4. Juice the 2 extra lemons and add the juice to the bowl that the sliced lemons dripped into.
  5. Pour the juice into the jar and then top off with water until the lemons are just covered with liquid in the jar.
  6. Top with olive oil. Seal the jar as tightly as possible.
  7. Leave at room temperature and shake daily. After about 3 weeks, taste them and if the rinds are soft enough to eat, place the jar in the refrigerator.

Try these on a regular turkey sandwich or chopped and mixed into pretty much any kind of salad*. You can thank me later.

Some notes:

  • Don’t be tempted to taste them earlier than 3 weeks into pickling. I tasted them 3 days after I put them in the jar and freaked out because they tasted like soap and I thought they were ruined. I forced myself to be patient after that and crossed my fingers that I hadn’t wasted all those lemons. I just had to wait for the salt to do its job – at 3 weeks on the dot they were not just edible but delicious.
  • I’ve seen other lemon pickle recipes that say to discard the juice that is pulled out of the lemons in the second step because it is bitter. I’m not sure if that’s really the case, but if you find your pickles too bitter, you might try this technique the next time you make them. If I do, I’ll be sure to update the post.
  • The original recipe says they will last for up to a year in the refrigerator and will continue to pickle – I am pretty sure they lasted in the fridge for months on end when I was a child. The pickles just got better the longer they were in my fridge, if we didn’t polish them off sooner I bet they would have been fine months later.
  • The juice is probably the best part about these pickles. We used it as the flavoring in all manner of salad, and occasionally just sopped it  up with bread. Every once in a while I would replenish the jar with some water and give it a shake. Until close to the end of the jar there were enough lemons to keep the juice from being too diluted – in fact the juice was so concentrated the dilution enhanced it.

*For the record, we used little bits of lemons and the juice from the jar as dressings for many a green salad, baked green beans, steamed broccoli, warm quinoa salad, and even chicken salad.


About this author:  I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...


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10 Responses to “Lemon Pickles”

  1. martinaNo Gravatar

    Thanks for the cookbook suggestion. I’m hard pressed to buy a new cookbook without a recommendation from someone I know!

    Reply
  2. Tim BurrowsNo Gravatar

    Hi, Sarah. Love your weblog! Here is another one I will try – wish I had filled my pockets with lemons to make it with! 😉

    Reply
    • SarahNo Gravatar

      Absolutely! Just make sure you wait until it’s really pickled. I’ll actually be making some adjustments to the recipe soon, I’ve found out a bit more since I wrote the post.

      Reply
  3. Tyler NgoNo Gravatar

    It’s been 3 weeks, and the pieces of lemon on the top are growing molds :-(. Any idea? I am thinking maybe the jar isn’t air-tight enough. I did wash it over with boiled water before putting in the lemon.

    Reply
    • SarahNo Gravatar

      Oh no. Were they covered in liquid/oil or did pieces peak out? I wish I could help a bit more, are there any pickling or mold experts here?

      Reply
      • Tyler NgoNo Gravatar

        The pieces of did peak out. I just threw out the moldy pieces, re-washed my container and put the good pieces back in (with more salt water and topped with olive oil again). This time, they are all immersed in liquid. We’ll see. Is yours bitter even after the 3-week period? I had a little taste and it’s kind of bitter, but smells very good.

        Reply
        • SarahNo Gravatar

          That seems like the best way to go.

          They are kind of a bitter pickle, but in my experience they usually mellow over time. If they are still too bitter to eat, give them another week or so.

          Also, to condition yourself to the bitterness, try eating the pickles chopped up in small amounts first. Using them as garnish in other recipes helps to disperse the strength of their flavor. The juice itself, however, should not be too bitter, especially as time passes.

          Reply

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