Sunday, June 19, 2016

Preserved Lemons from the Middle Ages to the Present

My preserved lemons some time last
year before I used most of them.
In the book Hesperides by Samuel Tolkowsky, published in 1938, there are virtually no recipes, just a thorough history of citrons, oranges, lemons, and other citrus fruit  (my review here). One exception is a recipe for preserved lemons from the author Ibn Jamiya, "which has been widely used throughout the Middle Ages and right up to modern times" --
"take lemons that are fully ripe and of bright yellow color; cut them open without severing the two halves and introduce plenty of fine salt into the split; place the fruits thus prepared in a glass vessel having  a wide opening and pour over them more lemon juice until they are completely submerged; now close the vessel and seal it with wax and let it stand for a fortnight in the sun, after which store it away in a cool place for at least forty days; but if you wait still longer than this before eating them, their taste and fragrance will be still more delicious and their action in stimulating the appetite will be stronger."
Indeed, this recipe is nearly identical to many recipes for preserved lemons that one finds by searching the Web -- except of course that modern canning jars have lids so we don't need wax!

Paula Wolfert, expert in Moroccan cooking, gives almost the same directions in recipes quoted at Epicurious and by Julia Moskin in the New York Times. Author Julia Moskin says: "The brightness of this pickle has lately elbowed its way out of Morocco’s tagines. New York chefs add the minced peel to salads and garnish fried seafood with it; the cured-lemon flavor is particularly friendly to salmon, carrots, olives, parsley and potatoes. The lemony brine is great in a bloody mary."

When I made preserved lemons last year, I followed Paula Wolfert's directions; I've enjoyed them in small quantities for a number of different recipes including salads and tagines.

Ibn Jamiya's best-known work was titled "Treatise of the Lemon." Written in the twelfth century, it was eventually published in a Latin translation in the sixteenth century. The author's full name was Abu'l Asher Khibat-Allah ben Zeyn-ed-Din Muwaffeq ed-Din, a Jewish physician from Cairo "who was personal physician to the sultan Salah ed-Din (A.D. 1171-1193) -- the Saladin of the Crusaders and Richard Lionhearted's opponent in Palestine." His book also contains many recipes for drinks and syrups made from lemons and other fruits. "There is a ring of modernity in Ibn Jamiya's dissertations on the lemon, and he might aptly be called the theorist of the art of the preparation and use of lemonades."

All quotes in this post are from S. Tolkowsky, Hesperides, pages 132-134.


Debra Eliotseats said...

I've made some fake and quick preserved lemons (rinds only), but I need to try this again!

Jeanie said...

I've never done this but love lemons so.... maybe!