It’s Meyer lemon season here in Northern California!
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, which is why the Meyer has great flavor with less sourness than traditional lemons. They arrived to the US in 1908, when USDA “plant explorer” Frank Meyer encountered a dwarf lemon tree near Beijing, and returned home with it. Mr. Meyer mysteriously drowned during another expedition, but his namesake tree became a California favorite. Commercial growers deemed the lemons to soft for shipping, but they won the hearts of home gardeners. Now no longer a California secret, you can find them used in menus all over the country or have them shipped to you, like from the Lemon Ladies.
While I don’t have my own tree (we lost ours in those few weeks of hard core frosts a few years back), I always manage to find a supply of them each winter. In my part of the world, people are happy to share their bounty. If you put it out to the Fates at be that you’re looking for lemons, you’ll come home to bags on your porch from neighbors and Facebook messages offering trees that can be harvested. While Meyers are technically available from November though April, they are their best right now. I love taking advantage of local fruit, that I no aren’t sprayed or waxed. But despite their long season, they don’t last forever off the tree. I use as many as I can fresh within a week or so of harvest, and then I try to get the most out of them as I’m able; preserving them in various ways to use throughout the year.
How I Take Advantage of Meyer Lemon Season:
Make Preserved Lemons. I did a post on this on the old blog, you can read it here. Preserved lemons are packed with salt and cured, and are a staple in my kitchen.
Make Limoncello. This is actually my first year making this, but pretty sure you can’t go wrong with lemon, vodka and sugar. My research yielded a wide range of ratios and techniques, but I settled on 2 cups of vodka (I went with 80 proof, I can’t stand the “traditional” 100 proof Everclear) and 5 lemons. I took the zest of 2, peels of 3, added the vodka, and stuck in the back corner of the pantry. I’ll let you know how it turned out in 3 months once I add the sugar!
Dry the peel. Using a vegetable peeler, I strip off the peel, and lay on cookie racks and sheets to air dry for a week or so. I’ll store in a glass jar and will add to my loose leaf herbal teas. I’ve also thinly sliced whole lemons and dehydrated, also to use in tea or in glasses of water.
Freeze the zest. I regularly use zest while cooking, so I spend the time now to use my microplane zester to grate off the peel and freeze in glass jars. When I need to use some, I simply scrape some out with a fork and add to my dish. Based on my freezer inventory, I had a lot left from last year, so I didn’t freeze anymore from this batch.
Freeze the juice. Once the peel is removed, don’t forget about the juice! Using a wooden hand juicer, I juice all the fruit. Other than a jar for the fridge to use immediately, all juice gets frozen. I’ll do some in ice cube trays for single use portions, and some in various sizes of jars. Make cleaning products. Those juiced and zested lemons might not look like their good for much, but they still have a use! While most end up in the compost, a few get put in a jar and covered with vinegar. This will sit on a windowsill until needed, then strained, and then used in my homemade cleaning solutions that use vinegar as their base. I also take a whole lemon, cut in half, and rub over my cutting boards to clean and disinfect.
Of course, there are lots of more traditional ways of preserving, like lemon curd or marmalade. I usually make a small batch of curd and eat it fresh with scones, but I’m still well stocked with jams to bother with the pain of marmalade.
I’d love to know, how do you extend the lemon season for year round?