Like the lemons in my sister’s Californian backyard, the New Zealand lemons were unwaxed and softer and heavier than store-bought, having ripened on the tree instead of being picked green and coated for protection during storage and shipping. That also meant they had to be used more quickly. I was more or less keeping up with the flow until a friend delivered a huge basket of lemons. Daunted but determined, I remembered another use for them: preserved lemons. These are a tradition from the Middle East and Mediterranean, where lemons were first actively cultivated in the fourth century after arriving from northwest India and Pakistan. Preserved lemons, which are essentially pickled lemons, are a simple, winning combination of salt and pucker. Some recipes for preserving lemons include chile peppers or spices, but I like mine straight up for versatility: just lemons, extra juice and coarse salt. Four large jars were soon sitting on my counter ready to punch up an earthy braise of saffron-scented lamb and prunes with their tangy salinity or add a briny, tart kick to a simple dressing for a salad of winter greens.
Back where January means deep winter again, I dream of backyard lemons and gentler climates where it’s now the heart of lemon season—and I buy lemons for the sunlight they shine onto cold, gray days.