One of the joys of having a yard full of fruit trees is that there is always plenty of produce. We have something delicious in season just about all year, from citrus in winter to plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries, pears, figs, grapes and finally pomegranates. In most cases, we only have one of each tree (this is only a 1/4 acre lot, after all), but it’s incredible how much fruit one tree can give! That’s especially true of our Bearss lime. It gets packed with fruit in the late fall, and we spend months using as much as we can, giving bushels to neighbors and the food bank, putting boxes out for free on the curb and making ice cubes from the squeezed juice to use later. This year, I decided to try preserving the limes to use in recipes this summer.
I know these might not look like limes – they’re bright yellow like lemons – but this is what a fully ripe lime looks like on the tree, and they’re sweet and juicy and delicious. We’re down to the last couple dozen, and I like to give the tree a little breathing time before it starts in on the next batch (already lots of baby green limes on there!), so I want to harvest almost all of them.
Although most of the information on preserved limes I could find centered on Amy from Little Women and her obsession with them, they originated in North Africa and the West Indies. In the 19th century they were imported into New England, and were apparently very popular there as snacks, though they didn’t seem to gain much popularity in the rest of the country until more recently. I’m not planning to snack on these, but am excited to use them as flavor in vinaigrettes, salsas, marinades, soups and stews.
To make the limes, I cut the top off each, and then made two deep cuts lengthwise, quartering the limes to within about 1 inch of the bottom. I then packed salt into the center of the limes, and put them in a clean and sterile glass jar. When the jar was close to full, I used a wooden spoon to press the limes down, squeezing the juice in the process, and continued to add more limes to the jar until I absolutely couldn’t add more. By this time, the juice had nearly filled the jar, and I topped it off with juice from the last couple limes I had picked. I let the limes sit out for a day to steep, and then put them in the refrigerator where they will brine from a month. When I’m ready to use them, I’ll rinse the brined limes as needed and remove the flesh, using only the peel.
I made mine plain, but you can also add spices like chilis, coriander, ginger, pepper or peppercorns, cinnamon – whatever flavors appeal to you! Just add the spices in as you’re adding the limes and they will flavor the brine.
If you’re curious to make these, here are a few tasty-looking recipes I’m excited to try. Enjoy!