Alluringly mellow yellow
When Frank Nicholas Meyer encountered a yellow, egg-shaped citrus fruit in China during a collection expedition in the early 1900s, one of the questions he surely had of this unusually mild-flavored lemon was, “How did you get so sweet?” Genetic analysis would eventually produce an answer—that a lemon tree had hybridized with a common orange or a mandarin. Mr. Meyer, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, brought home specimens of this reproductive mismatching in 1908 and so introduced to domestic soil what we now call the Meyer lemon.
Today, Californians are still wondering just what to do with it. Local farmer Annie Main, who with her husband Jeff runs Good Humus Produce in Capay, is now selling Meyer lemons at the Davis Farmers Market. She recently made a lemon meringue pie with the fruits from her trees.
“It just didn’t have the kick you would want,” she says.
By the same token, the fruit is alluringly mellow; it can almost be eaten like an orange and, according to Main, makes an excellent salad-dressing base. Likewise, the fruit may not carry the acidic punch to qualify it as a good addition to guacamole or hummus, but it carries the needed bite to be drizzled over grilled fish. Meanwhile, it is gentle enough that it can improve a fruit salad, and it does a bang-up job as jarred preserves (ask the Mains about the recipe). Indeed, the Meyer lemon walks an uncertain line through a family of fruits otherwise very polarized toward either the sweet or the sour.
Meyer lemon trees are known for their huge yields, and though just three of them grow in the Mains’ mixed citrus orchard, “the trees are loaded,” says Main. She guesses the lemons will be hanging well into March—perhaps time enough to decide how to use them.