As a high acid fruit, lemons are perfect for canning. Lemon juice finds its way into all manner of canning recipes in small amounts to make them safe for water bath canning, but people rarely talk about canning lemons themselves. It’s easy to can lemons as juice, jam or whole sections for use all year long.
Canning Lemon Juice
One of the most versatile ways to can lemons is as juice. Start by juicing the fruit and then putting it through a fine-mesh strainer. While you can safely leave the pulp in the canned lemon juice, it will change the flavor slightly and make it ever so slightly bitter.
In many recipes, the pulp only gets in the way anyway. Make a clear filtered lemon juice and you’ll save yourself time later, and get better flavor.
I found that it took about 5 lemons to make 1 cup of filtered lemon juice. A half-pint jar takes one cup to fill it up to the top rim, but since you have to hot pack the lemon juice you lose a slight bit to evaporation bringing it up to a boil.
I measured out 1 cup of lemon juice, brought it to a boil and it precisely filled a half-pint canning jar leaving the required 1/4 inch headspace. Place the hot-packed lemon juice into a water bath canner and process for 5 minutes.
Canning Lemon Jam, Jelly or Marmalade
Citrus fruits are packed with natural pectins, and they’re actually used to make a brand of commercial low sugar natural pectin called Pomona’s Pectin. I made a simple no pectin orange jam that was a huge hit with the kids, so lemon jam was next.
While lemon jelly is really easy to make, I tend to prefer the chunky texture of jams rather than jellies. When making lemon jelly, you just cook lemons slices in water, strain and then add sugar and pectin.
For a lemon jam, I wanted all the chunky pulp left intact to give the preserve a bit of bite, but no peel since these are not organic lemons.
I used 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of lemon pulp/juice and simmered it until the mixture reached gel stage (220 degrees F). The jam was a bit thinner than I’d like and quite sweet.
In the future, I’ll try less sugar and cook the mixture longer to get a thicker set. Lemon jam (or jelly) can be canned just like most jams, with 1/4 inch of headspace and 5 minutes in a water bath canner for half-pint jars.
I wasn’t able to source any organic lemons this year, so I skipped on making lemon marmalade. If you’re looking for a traditional English lemon marmalade, try this one from BBC Good Food.
There’s also this Italian version, which is completely different and really intriguing. According to Food52, “While the English-style of marmalade results in a clear, often soft jam punctuated with finely sliced citrus peel, this is a Sicilian style recipe for lemon marmalade where the cooked, whole lemons are put through a passaverdura, a food mill, for an opaque purée that is then combined with the sugar and thickened over the stove.”
Canning Lemons in Syrup
Lemon juice and lemon jam all canned up, now it’s time to get more unconventional. I recently canned up whole oranges, so I could have a homemade taste of those cute little-canned baby mandarins that are so popular around the holidays. They were a huge success, so I thought I’d try my hand at canning lemon sections.
The first step is to completely peel the lemons and remove every last bit of pith from all around the outside. This takes a bit more work and care than peeling oranges, largely because lemons aren’t bred for easy peeling. Really though, it wasn’t that big of a deal and they still peeled relatively easily compared to grapefruits I’ve tried.
After the lemons are peeled, if they don’t quite want to break down into sections. I used the tip of a sharp paring knife to help split them apart slightly so I could work them apart with my fingers.
Once the individual sections are separated, located any seeds and carefully pinched open a tiny hole in the lemon section and slipped them out.
From here, lemons need to be hot packed. While it may be convenient to just pack the raw lemon wedges into a jar and pour boiling syrup over the top, they’ll be low quality. Lemons have a lot of air in their tissues, and the sections should be simmered in hot syrup for 3-5 minutes before being packed into jars.
Even still, once you’re packing them into jars be sure to pack them tightly. They’ll still shrink considerably during canning.
For lemons, I used considerably more sugar than when I canned oranges, obviously. While I was able to can orange sections in very light syrup, I opted for very heavy syrup for these canned lemon sections. Make a syrup using a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water bring it to a boil for about a minute to dissolve the sugar.
Cook the lemon sections in the hot syrup for 3-5 minutes before packing them into jars and covering with more hot syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.
Now how am I going to use canned lemon sections you ask? They’re actually quite tasty right out of the jar, like a lemon drop candy only with juice.
I can envision creating a tasty real fruit layer in a celebration cake, or using them to top yogurt. My husband has plans to use a few to garnish whiskey sours. Use your imagination.
Other ways to Can Lemons
Beyond these three basic recipes, there are dozens of ways to can up lemons into tasty preserves. One of the simplest is lemonade concentrate, which is just lemon juice canned with a bit of sugar.
The Ball Book of Home Canning has a recipe for strawberry lemonade concentrate using 6 cups strawberries, 4 cups lemon juice, and 6 cups sugar. The strawberries are filtered out after a brief boil, and then the concentrate is canned in a water bath canner for 15 minutes (with 1/4 inch headspace).
It can easily be made without the strawberries for a straight lemonade concentrate, and recipes often suggest a 1:1 ratio of lemon juice to sugar for homemade concentrate. Personally, I’d drastically decrease the sugar because I like a tart lemonade with a lot of flavor, but that’s totally up to you.
Canning lemon curd is also an option, but in reality, that’s a much better way to preserve eggs than it is to preserve lemons. There are 7 egg yolks and 4 whole eggs in a small recipe. Still, there is a full cup of lemon juice used too.
For lemon jam and marmalade there’s endless variation, just use your imagination. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has 20 lemon canning recipes, including Lemon Prune Honey Butter and Prickly Pear Marmalade.
Similarly, another canning book I’m quite fond of called Canning for a New Generation has 10 lemon-based canning recipes, including Blueberry and Meyer Lemon Marmalade and a Meyer lemon and rose petal marmalade. This summer when the roses bloom I’m going to make that rose petal marmalade!
I love my canner, but remember that the world of food preservation does not begin and end in a mason jar. Beyond just canning, there are literally dozens of ways to preserve lemons at home, from drying to freezing and fermenting.
Any other ideas? Have you had success canning lemons at home? Let me know your tasty ideas in the comments below.
Don’t waste those lemon peels. Dry them and make lemon zest or even better, get a bottle of 80 or 100 proof vodka and some simple syrup and make lemoncello.
I came across your page yesterday while I was looking up marmalade. I love your web site. I grew up in rural North Dakota and have been canning alongside my Mom since I was old enough to reach the stove. It was the way of preserving good produce at their peak season 50 years ago. I am always trying to find new recipes and techniques with canning. Marmalade is something I have never known much about except that it seemed very British. I have looked at many recipes and when I found yours, it truly intrigued me. I then looked at the rest of your site and think it’s just as great. My question to you is about lemons. Would Meyer Lemons be a good fruit to use for the recipe since they are in season presently?
I look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day!
Hi Sue, Yes! You could use meyer lemons in any of these recipes. Enjoy!
Last year I juices a bunch of Meyer lemons. It was frozen in ice cube trays and popped into large gallon sized plastic bags and ibto the freezer. They cubes of frozen lemon juice was for lemonade this spring sea
Is there a way to can fresh lemons and still preserve the vitamin C and probiotic benefits of lemons?
I honestly couldn’t say how or if the vitamin C is preserved through the canning process.
I agree with you on the lemonade being more tart than sweet! How much sugar did you use or would suggest if I want a more tart lemonade concentrate? BTW am loving your website!!
I have whole lemons that I froze whole and wanted to make lemon jelly. I can’t find a complete recipe and confused about the pectin, liquid or powdered. I have powdered pectin in the pantry and want to use what’s at hand. All recipes I’ve come across use liquid. Can I substitute?
I didn’t find anything specific to lemon jelly but here is an article that explains how to substitute powdered pectin for liquid pectin.
What would the shelf life be for juice?
It is generally recommended that canned food be used within a year for the best quality but it would probably be safe to use for longer than that.
We have 2 Seville orange trees in our back yard. They are very sour. Do you know if they can safely be substituted for lemons in the recipes you have provided?
I don’t see why not. I think it would definitely be worth a try. Let me know if it works out for you.
I make orange marmalade regularly and it is easy. After washing and trimming the ends, I cut them in quarters and put them, unpeeled, through a food processor using the grater attachment. Then I measure it into a pot and add an equal amount of sugar, cook it to 210F and put in in sterilized jars. Screw on sterilized lids and they will be sealed when it cools off.
I think if the oranges are sour that amount of sugar will be enough. You can even use less sugar. No Pectin needed
Interesting . All oranges are picked but there’s always next year
Love this stuff ! As I was working on getting more things about this, the article has helped me to solve various clarifications. Thanks for the great content.
You’re welcome. So glad you enjoyed the post.
M are Ellen
-Love your site and your knowledge thank you.
You’re very welcome. So glad you are enjoying it.
I am preserving lemons in salt as directed. Several other sites say you have to sterilize (boil) the jars first. Others say just wash. Which do you recommend?
Also- I have glass decorative canisters with the rubber/plastic cap under the glass lid that seem to seal well. Can this be used instead of a canning jar?
Thanks, again, for all the homework you do before you post. I am somewhat new to preserving foods (loving the adventure!) so I consult a lot of sites before I start something new. I trust your site above the rest because I know you have done the research and cite reputable sources. You also give the “whole story” when there is a question instead of glossing-over the pros and cons. (P.S- I am now growing miner’s lettuce, saffron crocus, and bought a baker’s rack with sheet pans to hold all the tasty results of my adventures due to what I have learned from your posts.) 🙂
This particular post is about canning lemons. Are you referring to the salt preserved lemons in this post? https://practicalselfreliance.com/preserving-lemons/
I just made Meyer Lemon Marmalade recipe straight from Ball Blue Book. I followed the directions to a T using a combo of 2lbs Meyer and 2 regular lemons. 45 minutes of constant stirring at a medium heat. As it was cooking it turned dark brown but hadn’t jellied yet so it ended up caramelized. In the end it jellied and it tastes good. I have 2 questions. 1) Is it still safe to can, because it does taste good. 2) What exactly did I do incorrectly so I can do it right next time? I assume I must have had the heat to high but I figured I’d ask.
The marmalade will not gel until it has started to cool. You can test it by placing a bit of it on a frozen plate to see if it starts to gel. The cook time should not affect the acidity level and it should still be safe to can.
I put two segmented lemons in a mason jar with water. In my first attempt at cold canning. I put it in the refrigerator. I forgot about it for eight yrs. In my refrigerator still çold sealed, Did I make some strong vinegar or drain cleaner. The lemons in it look just as good as the day I put them in. Is it something I should sniff to see if I have made really strong lemon juice or something industrial to kill rats .
That’s very interesting. I have never heard of this process before. I definitely wouldn’t recommend eating them after being in the fridge for 8 years but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to smell them.
How long would canned lemon juice stay good in the fridge once you crack open the jar?!
I don’t have an exact time frame but as acidic as it is I would say it would last quite a while.
Has anyone water bathed or pressure canned
Whole lemons before
I canned lemon juice about a year ago. When I pulled out one of the bottles, the juice had turned brownish. The jar was sealed and was not leaking and there was no mold and no bad smell. I tasted about a teaspoon yesterday and it tasted similar to fresh lemon juice. I did not get sick today. Can someone with some canning experience let me know if this is normal and safe to use?
Can you explain the process that you used to can the juice?
I boiled the juice and processed it in a hot water bath like described on the website. Then I put the jars on a towel to cool until the top got sucked down.
As long as you processed it properly, it should be safe to use. It is not uncommon for home canned foods to discolor after a certain period of time.
Had lots of lemons this year. Juiced and strained them. Put 1 and 1/2 cups of lemon juice in a pint jar., added 1/2 cup strawberry purée I made with strawberries and sugar. Processed it. Use one jar, one cup of sugar in a half gallon container. Mix well. Makes great strawberry lemonade. Also did it with raspberry purée!!