Lemons are common in California. They’re available year ‘round in nearly every grocery store. Most lemons are highly acidic and wonderful used to enhance flavors whenever a bit of acidity is needed.
The most common lemon varieties are Lisbon and Eureka. The two are almost indistinguishable. The Lisbon lemon produces all its fruit in one major flush, while the Eureka lemon produces a heavy crop in the winter and spring, plus a lighter flush (or sometimes even two) of fruit during other seasons. Growing up we had a Eureka lemon tree in our small family orchard, and there were almost always lemons to pick whenever we needed one.
Why is it, then, that people get so excited when Meyer Lemons are in season? Meyer Lemons are milder and sweeter than their highly acidic counterparts. Brought to the United States from China by Frank Meyer in the early 1900s, they are thought to be a cross between a common lemon and a mandarin.
It is the sweetness imparted by their mandarin parentage that makes them so special. Terrifically fragrant and mild, Meyer lemons have a more floral taste than other lemons. Too tart for most people to eat out of hand, some like to add pieces to salads and desserts.
Meyer rinds are very thin making them difficult to transport and store. More seasonal than common lemons, your best chance of finding Meyer lemons is December through April.
Meyer lemons can add a wonderful flavor note to traditional lemon recipes such as lemonade and cocktails. Their unique flavor makes great lemon bars or lemon pie, but it’s best to use recipes specific for Meyer lemons due to their lower acidity.
WHAT ARE PRESERVED LEMONS?
People in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco originally preserved lemons so that they could enjoy them when they were no longer in season. The earliest mention of preserved lemons was close to 1000 years ago and the recipe used today is virtually unchanged.
Lemons preserved in a salty, lemony brine add a fermented quality that regular lemon does not have. Chef Michael Solomonov says “They add a big punch of flavor: heavy citrus, heavy floral notes from the oils in the peel, and ultimately heavy umami. It’s that extra something in the background of a dish that piques your curiosity.”
Preserved Meyer lemons are available in the NP deli, or make your own. All you need are lemons, salt, and patience.
TO MAKE YOUR OWN
Cut the stem ends off 6 to 8 lemons and then cut the lemons into quarters leaving a small amount attached at the base. Spread the lemon quarters apart and add 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt in each lemon. Pack the salted lemons into a quart jar as tightly as possible, using a wooden spoon to release the juice. When the jar is full, top with another tablespoon of salt and extra lemon juice to cover the fruit. Store in a cool, dry place until they ferment, about 4 to 5 weeks. They are ready to use when the skins become soft and translucent.
When you are ready to use your preserved lemons, rinse off the excess salt, then cut up the according to the recipe you are using. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year or longer.
Add a bit of chopped preserved lemon to a salad, whiz into salad dressings, add to grain dishes, put in a sauce for grilled fish or meats, add to pasta dishes, salsa, dips or stews.
Moroccan Chicken (see recipe below) is one of the most popular dishes in Morocco. It is full of vibrant flavors, but the star ingredient is the preserved lemon. They add intensity of flavor without the sourness of fresh lemons and completely transform any dish in which they are used. There is no substitute.