It’s the time of year when many of us are wondering what we can do with the rest of the bountiful harvest of Meyer lemons that are still hanging on the tree. We can, and should, give some to friends. Everyone seems to have one or two recipes to use these lemons.
These lemons are special. Their skin is thin and off the tree they don’t hold up very well. For these reasons and more, commercial growers stay away from these varieties, so we seldom can find them in the grocery stores.
The Meyer lemon can be substituted for a regular lemon any time you are looking to point up flavors of a dish without the acidic bite. The skin is relatively soft, not leathery, when compared to a regular lemon, and its pith is so thin it can be eaten along with the skin. Don’t try that with a regular lemon.
The Meyer lemon came to us from China. It’s a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. In the early 1900s, Frank Meyer, an agricultural explorer, was sent to Asia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discover and collect new plant species. He collected more than 2,500 species, but unfortunately, he died on a trip to Shanghai and the lemon he introduced to the states was named in his honor.
The Meyer lemons we enjoy today are not the same fruit that Meyer introduced. In the 1960s, a virus carried by the plants decimated the Meyer lemon crop, and it was feared the entire citrus industry would be destroyed. One stock, thankfully, was deemed disease-free and became the source of the new and improved Meyer lemon that we enjoy today.
The Meyer lemon can take center stage in dishes like lemon pie, lemon cookies, lemon bars, chutneys and marmalades. It can take the leading role in drinks like lemonade, lemon drops and limoncello. It also excels in supporting rolls.
A light squeeze of juice can brighten the flavor of many dishes without imparting extra acidity. This is a favorite trick of chefs all over the world. Combine thin slices of Meyer lemons with your choice of root vegetables, fish or chicken and roast. Using a micro plane, zest Meyer lemons into ice cube trays, fill with juice, freeze and then place the cubes in plastic bags. Drop a cube into almost any dish for a fresh burst of flavor.
Meyer lemons will make wonderful vinaigrettes and sauces.
Here is a simple vinaigrette that is wonderful on any salad. Using a blender, put one cup of freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice, ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ ripe avocado, ¼ cup honey or agave nectar, ½ teaspoon sea salt and a pinch of pepper into the jar. Blend until smooth. This will keep well in a tightly closed jar for about a week. The small amount of acid in the juice is enough to keep the avocado from oxidizing and changing color.
If you are looking for a quick topping for roast pork, chicken or fish you may want to try this quick compote. Take three Meyer lemons and cut into 1/8-inch slices. Remove any seeds and chop the slices into ½-inch pieces. Heat about a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Soften ½ cup of sliced shallots for six to eight minutes. Add 2/3 cup of white wine (consider a Riesling or chenin blanc), simmer with the shallots and reduce by a third. Add the chopped lemons, with 4 teaspoons of sugar, 2/3 cup of chopped dates and continue to simmer until the wine is almost completely reduced. You can substitute the dates with any dried fruit of your choosing. Try this with dried cherries, golden raisins, dried cranberries, candied pineapples or any combination of these fruits. Salt and pepper to taste and finish, at the last second with some chopped mint or chopped fresh oregano.
Maybe you need a quick two-minute cream sauce for salmon. Over medium-low heat, warm ½ cup of heavy cream with two tablespoons of Meyer lemon juice and a pinch of dried dill. Fresh dill can and should be used if you have it. In fact, almost any fresh herb can be used. Try tarragon, oregano, thyme or rosemary.
There are so many more things that you can do with Meyer lemons, but I’m out of space right now.
Look for other uses in an upcoming column. I have included a recipe for one of my favorite risottos.