Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pickled Limes

Last year I experimented with several ways to pickle lemons.     They were all fabulous and we use them all. 

This year I decided to do some pickled limes.    We used the easy Moroccan style method of pickling - just slice them up and put them in a jar with layers of salt in between.  Then squeeze lime juice over them all to fill it up and let it sit in a window for a few days to pickle.   

Pickled limes have been around for a long time.

James Lind, a Scottish surgeon, documented the use of citrus fruit to treat scurvy in 1753.   After several decades the British navy began requiring sailors to have a daily ration of citrus to prevent the disease.   Limes were more readily available than lemons, so they became the citrus of choice on ships.  Hence, the nickname 'Limey' for British sailors.    Wiki rumor has it that once it was found that lemons were a better treatment for scurvy, that fact was a closely guarded military secret.  A navy that used lemons was stronger than the British navy that used West Indian limes.  [No documentation of that rumor, but it's a great story.]

Limes were pickled to preserve them for long sea voyages.  But they were made and used at home, too.   Louisa May Alcott's book, Little Women refers to Amy's love of pickled limes that she purchased from the store.

Linda Zeidrich, who wrote my favorite pickling book The Joy of Pickling said this:
“There they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low – importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle – children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just a recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes, too; in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the “unnatural and abominable” substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.” Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit.
 Here's another site that talks about the history of pickled limes: Food Timeline  includes this recipe for pickled lemons from 1747:

"To pickel LEMONS.
Take twelve Lemons, scape the with a Piece of broken Glass, then cut them cross in two, four Parts down right, but not quite through, but that they will hang together; then up in as much Salt as they will hold, and rub then well, and strew them over with Salt. Let them lay in an earthen Dish for three days, and turn them every Day; then slit an Ounce of Ginger very think and salted for three Days, twelve Cloves of Garlick parboiled, and satled three Day, a small Handful of Mustard-seeds bruised, and searched through a hair-sieve, some red India Pepper, one to every Lemon; take your Lemons out of the salt, and squeeze them very gently, and put them into a Jar, with the Spice and Ingredients, and cover them with the best White Wine Vinegar. Stop them up very close, and in a Month's time they will fit to eat."
---The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, facsimile 1747 edition [Prospect Books:Devon] 1995 (p. 133) 

Sounds kind of good. I may have to try this with lemons and with limes.


  1. I read that last entry with interest from a linguistic viewpoint, but also because of the idea that a staple utensil for women of that era might be merely a piece of broken glass. :-) When I think of all our fancy zesters and graters and chef knives, it's a bit humbling. And then there's the 'hair sieve'. Uh... not sure I want to go there?

    1. You know, I had that same thought when I read about the piece of broken glass.

  2. Can you tell us how you use the pickled lemons and how you intend to use the pickled limes? Thanks!

    1. We like to pull one out, wash off the extra salt [unless you need it in the recipe, but hoo-boy these are salty!], then cut it up and drop it in meat dishes. Claire makes a lemon chicken that's based on these. Pretty darn good! We'll use the limes for Thai food and in a peanut-lime pasta sauce that Eric makes. Right now Claire's all about using the limes with Chipotle on pork. Heaven.


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