There’s a cycle that happens every year in our neck of the woods. Every November through January we have more citrus than we know what to do with. Everyone is “sharing” and hoping someone will take some oranges, grapefruit, and Meyer lemons off their hands before they go bad. Then every summer everyone is wishing for some freshly grown citrus. We usually end up buying oranges a few times but we rarely by lemons. Fortunately I’m able to preserve enough Meyer lemons and the juice to last the year. I’d love to show you how to I preserve Meyer lemons in a zero waste way.
First, let chat a moment about what zero waste means. I honestly don’t think it’s possible truly never waste food in the kitchen, however, I do think we can all greatly reduce the waste in our kitchens. For me that means that we have a plan for leftovers. It also means that we don’t give food intended for us to the chickens or dog, or compost it, just because we don’t “feel” like eating it.
We also use the scraps – we make apple cider vinegar with the apple cores. I leave the skin on peaches and pears when I can them. I save the peels of onions, carrots, potatoes, etc for broth making. When I’ve used all I can, we feed the hens with what they can eat and then compost the rest.
Even when we’re inundated with citrus I still try to make the most of every bit. My system isn’t perfect, but it works for me. I hope it will give you some ideas for preserving citrus in your own zero waste kitchen. I have posts with more details for preserving Meyer lemons in each preservation method, so be sure to click over when I mention them to get more information. I’m going to be focusing on the process of preserving lemons in a zero waste kitchen in this post (all of this can be used for other citrus too.)
Obviously I live in an area where we can grow citrus and can get quite a lot at one time. If you don’t live in an area where citrus grows, this information is still for you. Citrus, especially organic citrus, can be quite expensive the more north you go. There’s no reason to waste any of the citrus – including the peel. Also, if you have to buy citrus you can get it much cheaper when it’s in season. Preserving the citrus will allow you to buy a lot of citrus in season and not have to worry about it going bad before you can use it.
The first thing to do when you get Meyer lemons is to think about how you most like to use them. Do you like to have juice for your water and lemonade? Do you want zest to bake with? Do you like to make medicine with them? Do you like to serve a bit fermented (preserved) lemons with dinner occasionally?
I like to keep a record of what we preserve each year so I’ll know how much we go through and how much we need the next year. You can get the preservation worksheets emailed to you by filling out the form below.
When we first start harvesting the Meyer lemons we enjoy a few in water and as lemonade, it’s always such a treat.
Freezing Meyer Lemons
Next, I put about a dozen whole lemons in a ziplock bag and toss them in the freezer. These are reserved for making medicine throughout the year. This way I know I have organic lemons when someone is sick and don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for them. I have a short ecourse that shows how I use Meyer lemons and other common kitchen ingredients to make simple but effective remedies for the cold and flu season available.
After I get some Meyer lemons in the freezer for illnesses, I’ll start freezing them to use during the year for other things. I like to freeze some slices, mainly because they look pretty in lemonade. But I only freeze enough slices to fill a couple of gallon size ziplock bags. I share exactly how to freeze Meyer lemons and the juice in this post.
We love lemonade and lemon water so the bulk of our lemons are frozen as juice. But before we juice any lemon, we zest it. It’s so easy to just go ahead and remove the peel (zest) before juicing the lemons. This is the zester we use and love. We’ll zest all the lemons we’re going to juice that day, then slice them in half and use the attachment to our KitchenAid to juice them.
The KitchenAid citrus attachment works great, however we don’t use the little strainer that comes with it. Instead we put a large mesh strainer (with larger holes, not the super fine one) over the bowl that catches the juice. We find that this does a better job that the small strainer that comes with the citrus attachment when we’re juicing more than a few lemons.
Once we have all the lemons juice (or once the bowl is full) we freeze the juice – some of it gets frozen in ice cube trays and some gets frozen in plastic cups. You can see exactly how I do that here.
You can either freeze the lemon zest or dehydrate it. I’ve done it both ways but I prefer to dehydrate it. Once it’s dehydrated it’s completely shelf stable. I can put it up in my herb cabinet and not worry about it. Unfortunately I found out the hard way that if lemon zest is frozen and then thawed it releases any moisture that’s in the zest. That means all the flavorful oil is released. While this may seem like a good thing, it’s not if someone takes the zest out of the freezer to use and forgets to put it back. We’ve had one too many jars of zest get ruined because the zest thawed out and the oils were released. So now we only dehydrate citrus zest.
The only thing you should have left is the white pith and seeds. You might have a bit of pulp but hopefully not very much if you used a mesh strainer with large holes. Since citrus seeds are a natural source of pectin you can save the seeds in the freezer for jam making. The pith and any seeds you don’t want to save can be safely composted.
You can also use the seeds to grow your own Meyer lemon trees. Citrus usually grows true to seed so go a head and try to grow your own trees. Here’s some information on growing Meyer lemon trees from seed.
Dehydrating Meyer Lemons, Zest and Peel
We pretty much only dehydrate the citrus zest. However, you can dehydrate citrus slices. I share a step by step process for dehydrating lemon slices and zest in this post.
We use a plastic mesh tray to spread the zest on. I also really like to use my dehydrator that has a temperature gauge so I can be sure to dehydrate the zest on low heat (110°F – 120°F). The oils in the peel can be “cooked out” if you use a higher heat to dehydrate the zest and you’ll lose some of the flavor. This is the dehydrator I have and love; it’s not fancy but gets the job done.
You can also dehydrate the Meyer lemon peel. Peel the Meyer lemon with a paring knife trying to not get much of the white pith. Then cut the peel into chunks and dehydrate just like you do the zest.
Fermented (Preserved) Meyer Lemons
Fermented lemons, also called preserved lemon, are quite pricey in our area but are super easy to make. To make preserved Meyer lemons you just need lemons, salt, and a container. Here’s step by step instructions on how to make preserved lemons.
You can preserve Meyer lemons whole or sliced. Once preserved you can use them for a variety of things such as chutney and a probiotic drink.
What to do with all those Meyer lemon peels?
I’m a firm believer in preserving all that we need and not any more. There’s no need for me to have 20 quart size jars of Meyer lemon zest in my pantry when I really only need 2 to get through the year. But I need more juice than what comes from the lemons to fill 2 quarts with zest.
Therefore, every year once I get all the zest I need we stop zesting the lemons before we juice them. That means that we have to deal with many pounds of citrus peels that cannot be fed to the chickens or composted.
I use some to make lemon extract. I like to make a 5:1 extract so I use 40 grams of lemon zest and 200 ml of vodka. Put zest in a jar and pour vodka over it. Put a plastic lid on the jar and give it a shake. Put the jar in a cabinet for 6-8 weeks being sure to give it a shake ever few days. After 6-8 weeks, strain out the zest and you have homemade Meyer lemon extract.
The other thing I make during citrus season is a vinegar citrus cleaner. I buy 3 gallons of vinegar and pour them into a five gallon bucket. Then I take the leftover peels and remove the insides that are left from juicing them and toss the peels into the vinegar. I let it sit for 3-4 weeks and then strain out the solids. This can be used to clean your house (but not on granite, marble, stone, or ceramic) and as a laundry softener.
If I still have peels left after doing all this (and I usually do) I get out my blender and blend the peels with a bit of water if needed. Then, I go find the nearest fire ant hill, poke a few holes in it with a long stick, and then pour the blended peel on the fire ant hill. I figure if they sell citrus oil as a pesticide then my blended citrus peels will help with fire ant control. I don’t know if it really helps but it certainly doesn’t hurt and there’s really nothing else I can do with them since they can’t go to the chickens or compost pile.
My goodness, this took a lot of words to share my simple process of preserving Meyer lemons in a no waste kitchen. Truly, it’s not difficult, it just takes a bit of thinking through. Tell me, how do you preserve citrus?