The scent pulls me in from the doorway to the produce aisle — past the melons, past the apples, even past the cherries, straight to the fragrant Meyer lemons. Its glabrous, delicate skin — the hue of freshly whipped egg yolks, a sizzling Caribbean sunset or the soft belly of a baby canary — comes from its fine breeding. The Meyer is the hybrid of a common lemon and a mandarin, exuding a sweet and savory perfume resembling a blend of honey and sage. Sustainable foodie and chef Alice Waters and Martha Stewart put the Meyer lemon on the gourmet radar screen, and now I'd like to share my love of the Meyer lemon — my main culinary squeeze with some folklore, facts and tips about getting the most out of this remarkable citrus while it is still in season.
Once upon a time ...
The Meyer lemon, a native to China, was introduced to the U.S. more than 100 years ago by a Dutch horticultural explorer — Frank Nicholas Meyer. Employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Meyer went on several expeditions to East Asia to search for plants of commercial value to the USDA. On his various expeditions, Meyer collected thousands of specimens and seeds he shipped back to the United States, introducing such notable crops to this country as the persimmon, soybeans, bean sprouts, Ginkgo biloba, wild peaches and pears, and an assortment of ornamental plants including the dwarf lemon.
During Meyer's last expedition, the political unrest in China forced him and his guide to leave Jingmen and take a steamer down the Yangtze River bound for Hangou. He fell overboard under mysterious circumstances; his body was recovered in the river. But Meyer achieved immortality through the beautiful citrus he bequeathed to us that bears his name.
Meyers are sweeter and less acidic than their lip-puckering cousins, Lisbons or Eurekas, but are still packed with immune-boosting vitamin C and potassium for enhancing mental clarity. They detoxify the liver and kidneys, and provide trace amounts of nondairy calcium for bone strength.
Anti-viral and anti-inflammatory, Meyer lemons are a homeopathic remedy for treating fever and coughs and colds, so brew a pot of green tea with Meyer lemon slices, honey, a smashed garlic clove and a dash of cayenne pepper to cure what ails you.
Loaded with pectin in the outer peel and white, pithy parts, Meyers are not only a good source of dietary fiber, but make great jams and jellies. Squeeze some juice on cut apples and bananas to prevent them from oxidizing and turning brown. That's just the beginning.
Find your culinary bliss with Meyer lemons whether you have a sweet, tart or savory palate. Get things shakin' with a Meyer lemon martini, a lemon and raspberry margarita or a lemon Cosmo ... and for the teetotalers, try a Meyer strawberry lemonade or a lemon and ginger iced tea.
Now for starters, make a Greek lemon and chicken soup (Avgolemono); a chilled mango, orange and lemon gazpacho; mini bagels and lox appetizers with sliced Meyers and capers; and a Meyer lemon hummus or a lemon-infused olive oil with garlic and chilies for dipping your favorite crusty bread.
Heading into the main course, toss a Meyer into the cavity of a chicken or duck before roasting, grill diver scallops with a lemon olive oil marinade, or stir-fry shrimp with a spicy Meyer lemon pepper sauce.
Squirt some Meyer lemon juice in your hollandaise sauce, in some melted butter for lobster dipping, on your snow peas, broccolini or any other veggie. Grate Meyer lemon zest in an asparagus seafood risotto, on prima vera pasta or on a poached piece of wild-caught salmon.
Finally, for some sweet endings, whip up a Meyer lemon curd or custard, bake biscotti with candied Meyer lemon peel, make a Meyer lemon cheesecake or these easy and refreshing lemon butter bars that are one of my family's favorite summer treats.
Lemon Butter Snow Bars
For the crust:
- 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-
- 1/4 cup white cane sugar
- 1/2 cup sweet butter, softened
For the filling:
- 3/4 cup white cane sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixing bowl, combine the crust ingredients and press into an 8-inch square baking pan. Bake crust for 15-20 minutes. While crust is baking, prepare the lemon filling. In a medium bowl, whisk the ingredients till well blended. When crust is baked, pour the liquid over the hot crust. Bake for another 18-20 minutes. Cool before cutting. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.