Welcome to the home page of the Mount Waverley Lemon Preservation Co-operative. Our humble organisation is dedicated to the preservation of lemons, all lemons, irrespective of variety, colour, size or shape. All fresh lemons, that is. Members of the MWLPC have no truck with lemons that have been picked by a machine, waxed, boxed and transported across state or international boundaries before being stacked on a shelf like so many blocks of Lego.
Let me introduce the foundation members of our co-op. Firstly, there is Maggie, a paid-up member of the Salters and Packers Union (that’s an Australian industrial relations pun, folks). Maggie is responsible for cutting the lemons into quarters lengthways, salting the pieces and packing them tightly into a glass jar.
I am known as Maggie’s Chief Squeeze. My duties include picking the lemons from our tree, then washing them to remove any dust or wasp droppings. However, my main contribution is to squeeze the bejesus out of those almost-special lemons that have been selected to be preserved as the vitro, in which the lemon quarters will spend the rest of their lives.
If you would like to join the MWLPC, membership is free. All you need is your own supply of fresh lemons and a willingness to follow the co-op’s authorised procedures. Here is an example of what co-op members strive to achieve:
We began to make preserved lemons in 2008, a couple of years after we moved into our home, which came with an old lemon tree at the rear of the property. Initially, we used Stephanie Alexander’s recipe from The Cook’s Companion.
Stephanie recommends that you use 250g of salt for 10 medium-to-large lemons. Having done it many times, we no longer bother to weigh the salt; Maggie works by sight and feel. In her recipe, Stephanie advises you to press down hard on the fruit to release as much juice as possible. This is important; otherwise, you will have to squeeze lots of lemons to have enough juice to cover the lemon quarters. Even so, you will still have to make some extra lemon juice, a good use of lemons with damaged skin.
A further lesson from our experience is that you will have to top up the fluid level in your jars with more lemon juice a few times over the first month or so, as the salt dissolves, thereby lowering the liquid level. An unsightly but non-toxic white mould will form on any exposed lemon skin.
Stephanie adds fresh bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon sticks to her jars of salted lemons; we prefer fresh bay leaves and black peppercorns.
Over the years, we have found more and more ways to use our preserved lemons: when roasting lamb or poultry; in couscous; when cooking fish; virtually anything in which tangy lemon works well. For example, when roasting a whole chicken, we use the flesh to rub the bird’s cavity before adding some herbs or stuffing, then drape thin slices of the skin on the breasts for the last 20 minutes in the oven. The results are quite different to what can be achieved using a fresh lemon, mainly because the flavour is more intense, the skin is soft and the tartness of the juice is gentler.
In 2011, we began to roast two or three chicken Maryland pieces at a time for an easy mid-week dinner. Before we cook the chicken, Maggie slashes the pieces on both sides, prepares a paste of finely chopped preserved lemon flesh (no skin), grated (or crushed) garlic, pepper and olive oil and presses the paste into the slashes. We roast the pieces on a bed of stems of fresh marjoram (oregano gives the same result) in a lightly oiled baking pan for 35-40 minutes at about 180C.