One of many lemon pickles

Lemon Pickle

Indian style preserved lemons, commonly referred to just as “lemon pickle,” come in probably not hundreds, but thousands of varieties. Here’s how to make just one of these amazing creations: Gujarati Lemon Pickle.

Sweet, salty and easy to make, it takes a few spices, a few minutes and about a month.

Lemon Pickle 1

We started with this recipe for its simplicity. It fills about a half-gallon initially, and reduces to about a quart later. Wide mouth mason jars are best, unless your lemons are small enough to fit through a narrower opening. You can make it in a couple of quart jars at first and consolidate later, or use a larger jar if you have one.

Lemon Pickle 2

For the first part, you’ll need about 2 pounds of lemons, 3/4 cup of salt, and 2 teaspoons of turmeric. Wash the lemons well and dry them thoroughly. Mix the turmeric with the salt. Slit the lemons most of the way through, and pour a big spoonful of the salt mixture in the middle and close the lemon. Stuff the stuffed lemons into your jars.

Lemon Pickle 4

Pour any remaining salt mixture over the lemons and seal up the jars. Make a note in your calendar to check on them in a month, and write the start date on the top of the jar. Many pickle recipes call for the jars to be left in the sun, but this one didn’t specify, so we stuck it in a pantry cupboard, where it was out of the way at room temperature.

Lemon Pickle 6

The recipe says, “The lemons will leave some water.” A fascinating liquid will gradually accumulate at the bottom of the jar, but it is clearly not just water.

Lemon Pickle 7

After a while, strands of disintegrating lemon pulp and particles of turmeric are visible in the viscous fluid.

Lemon Pickle 8

Once your month is up, pour out and reserve the liquid, and take out the lemon pieces to cut them up.

Lemon Pickle 9

The liquid is syrupy and has an intense salty scent, and the as the turmeric that settled on the bottom wafts out, you’ll remember that this is an Indian recipe.

Lemon Pickle 10

I like my lemon pieces on the smaller side, so I cut them into eighths rather than the quarters the recipe suggested. You can optionally remove the seeds at this point as well.

Lemon Pickle 11

Once your lemons are cut into pieces, you’ll need two cups of sugar, four teaspoons of red chili pepper powder (e.g. cayenne), and one teaspoon of asafoetida.

Lemon Pickle 12

Mix the sugar and spices in with the reserved liquid.

Lemon Pickle 14

Pour the sugar mixture over the cut lemon pieces. It will take a little while or a little stirring to get most of the air bubbles out so that you can put as much of the mixture as possible in with the lemons.

Lemon Pickle 15

Many of these pickles seem to last forever if they’re well sealed, but you can start eating it right away. It should gradually improve as the flavors merge over time, and according to the recipe, it should keep for a couple of years. I’m not sure ours will last long enough for us to find out! It’s a fine condiment to go with different types of Indian fare. We like the guilty pleasure of just spreading it on our naan.

If you liked this recipe, you might also like our simple marmalade walk through. It’s slightly more complicated, though–that one involves cooking.

17 thoughts on “One of many lemon pickles

  1. Hi – in Europe, and I suspect in North America too, all lemons that aren’t "Bio" (organic) are treated, and even washing won’t necessarily cure that. If you’re going to eat the peel, use organic lemons!
    Might I also suggest that cayenne pepper is often very basic and tasteless, just hot – a good chili paste or, best, fresh or dried chili pods, might be good…

  2. After you add the sugar, does one have to boil the jars to seal them for storage? Do you keep the finished product in the refrigerator?

    And how would you describe the taste of the finished product (besides good): sweet, salty, hot, or sour?

  3. I’ve never seen reference to boiling jars for any of the Indian pickle recipes I’ve seen. I cleaned the jars before putting in the lemons in the first stage, but didn’t boil them. I put the pickle back into the same jar without cleaning it in the second stage. The amount of salt should kill any undesired organisms. I’ll probably store this pickle in the fridge because it’s a little soupy, and I think the cold will thicken it up. Storing it in a cupboard is probably just fine.

    The flavor is very sweet, very salty, a little bit spicy, with a touch of onioniness from the asafoetida. The lemon peel is very soft, like in marmalade, and not bitter. I used meyer lemons (because that’s what I have hundreds of pounds of) so that may help keep the bitterness at bay.

  4. Pickle brand most famous is Tamilnadu?

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    C) Ruchi

    D) Homemade Pickle

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  5. Pickles are usually stored in vitrified, earthenware Jars, with wide mouths.

    A thick layer of oil acts as a preservative – not to be consumed. The Jars are not usually refrigerated – stored at room temp. Small quantities removed for daily consumption – excess Pickle is stored in refrigerator.

    I’ve seen a piece of muslin/cotton cloth tied around the mouth of the jar – dunno why.


    Anool :

      1. Hmm it’s food grade plastic so it should be ok. And after I cut the lemons and add the sugar I’ll transfer it all to a smaller glass jar anyway.

        1. A week ago we had a picnic and I decided it’s time to try the pickled lemons at last.

          Well, the sauce was good but the lemons were so salty they were impossible to eat. :(

  6. I’ve just finished making my own batch following your recipe. It’s fascinating watching the lemons slowly fall to bits. I used dried chilli flakes instead of chilli powder, and if I’d have remembered I would have put some raisins in too.

    I think I’ll try your marmalade recipe next, I bought some from a local fair which had vanilla and rum in which might make a nice variation to attempt.

    1. Oh, does anyone know where to get "Ball" pickling jars from in the UK? Or any sort of pickling jar with the two-part lid? Currently I’m recycling jam jars, but there’s no way to tell if the seals are intact before using them.

        1. My mom makes these. One of the "rules" is to use non metallic containers for storing and non metallic spoons to extract them from the jars for consumption. This is because the pickle is acidic and corrode the metal and thereby making it toxic.

  7. I have pickled before with success but I had to throw my lemons out. The top ones were growing green mold!! I never got to the second stage of the process. I don’t think I did anything wrong and was real careful with the containers.

  8. You’ve led me astray, Evil Mad Scientist Labs! This recipe is foul. This is the saltiest thing I’ve ever tasted and earlier I ate a big bowl of salt. I cannot convey in words how gross this is. If you were my neighbor I’d force you to try it for yourself. I even used slightly more lemons than called for in the recipe. SOOOOOOO SALTY!!

    1. As far as I know they’re not meant as a main dish. You take itsy-bitsy bites of lemon together with normal size bites of whatever else you’re eating. Try it! It’s delicious! I don’t know how I ever got through forty years without salted lemons :-))

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