Fermented Lemons: Reawakening

As you may or may not recall from my first entry, part of my microbial menagerie involved preserved lemons. Or really, fermented lemons. After about two weeks of their brine sitting, I checked in on them. Contrary to what the recipe had assured me of, but consistent with everything else I’ve learned about fermentation, the one lemon above the waterline was covered in a light fuzz. Fortunately, the mold had not gotten so far as to hit the surface of brine so after carefully disposing of the miscreant into the trash, I decided to see whether or not any magic had happened (the now dubious recipe also assures the reader/listener that they should be ready with a week).

The results were underwhelming to say the least. Sure, it tasted of good organic lemon. And rind. And salt. But beyond that, nothing that I would not have expected of freshly salted lemons eaten whole.

However, John Cage fan that I am, I decided that since having them sit in a jar for two weeks wasn’t interesting, I’d see what would happen if I kept them in a jar for two months. Thus the lemons got relocated into a smaller mason jar where they could be packed in tight and have the brine reach the top, getting pressed down below the surface by the lid.

Two days ago I checked in on them and found that John Cage was a bit of a genius. The lemons started releasing gas, which they had not previously done. Taking of the lid to release the pressure and perform an olfactory inspection of the story thus far, I found that while not appetizing, the smell definitely moved past the “lemon and rind” smell to something new.

This evening  I found that whatever process was responsible for the sudden abundance of gas was speeding up. As I released the pressure, the build up had been sufficient over the past two days to send brine flowing through the small air vent.

I suspect that we have come to a crossroads, where cellulose providing structural integrity to the rind is beginning to be digested. Whether this is due to a different and exciting strain of bacteria finding its voice or whether this is the fruits of the prolonged labor of strains that have been at this for the past four weeks, I have no idea and at the moment I’m hard pressed to figure out how I’d even investigate this. Granted, if there is a sudden shift in aroma, this would indicate a change in metabolic processes within this little lemon world, suggesting that the torch was passed to the next microbial workers in this process. While one might hypothesize yeast contamination, this seems unlikely since the lemons didn’t have much in the way of sugars to begin with and by the four week mark whatever sugars there were would have already been consumed.

I’m quite curious where this is going. And what culinary use these lemons might have in a month


One thought on “Fermented Lemons: Reawakening

  1. PhDeviate

    Did you know that Cage’s 4:33 may have been inspired by Robert Rauschenberg’s white canvases? http://rastelly.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/rauschenberg-1.png Cage wrote this of them: “I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing in these paintings that could not be changed, that they can be seen in any light and are not destroyed by the action of shadows.  Hallelujah! the blind can see again; the water’s fine.” (statement printed in Emily Genauer’s column in the New York Herald Tribune, 27 December 1953, section 4, p. 6) I thought you might be interested in that. I hope well for your lemons!


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