Undiscovered Ingredient: Meyer Lemons

Undiscovered Ingredient: Meyer Lemons

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I'm a lemon lover through and through. I love lemon desserts better than (dare I say it?) chocolate ones. So maybe I'm unconventional in that respect, but I know there are other lemon lovers out there just like me.

I'm always on the lookout for lemons. Just a few years ago I discovered Meyer lemons in my local supermarket. I had heard of them some years earlier, but no matter how hard I looked I could never find them. These pretty orange-hued lemons eluded me. But once I did find them, I couldn't stop using them in everything from desserts to roast chicken recipes. So what are Meyer lemons?

You've probably heard of them before (Martha Stewart uses them a lot!), or maybe even seen them on display at the farmers' market with other citrus fruits. Meyer lemons are unique lemons -- they're slightly sweeter than regular lemons, and they have a thinner skin with an orange hue -- and they turn more orange as they ripen. You can almost eat them as is because they're not as tart, but they're still very much tangy. Before you'd ever even pick up a Meyer lemon, the first thing you'd notice is the aroma. Meyer lemons have an exotic fragrance unlike any other citrus fruit. It's almost hard to describe, it's just so perfumed and wonderful.

Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between lemons and possibly tangerines or mandarin oranges, but they date back so far to ancient China, that no one really knows their gene pool for sure. In 1908 the Dutch agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, who worked for the USDA, introduced the lemons to the United States. The citrus fruit was named in his honor.

Ever since the 1940s, Meyer lemons have been widely grown in California. They became very popular in later years with people like Alice Waters and Martha Stewart advocating their use. Meyer lemons are relatively easy to grow by home gardeners too. The lemon trees are small and can be grown as ornamental trees in pots. Meyer lemon season stretches from November to April. The height of their season is in the winter, so check your supermarkets and farmers' markets now.

Many recipes benefit from Meyer lemons, the best being desserts. They're great in pies, tarts and cakes. Savory recipes, from chicken to fish, also are great with Meyer lemons. Feel free to replace any recipe that calls for regular lemons with Meyer lemons. You'll be surprised at how appealing the result will be.

Have you used Meyer lemons before? Leave a comment.

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