I’m a Meyer lemon fanatic. Everything about them makes me happy — the yellow weight of them in my pockets and palms, the flower-sweet but citrus-sharp fragrance they lend to my hands, my car, my kitchen. I smile whenever I see them.
As soon as I learned that Meyer lemons are the only citrus that can be grown true from seed, I started my own tree. It’s now four inches tall, and I expect my first harvest when I’m about fifty. Meanwhile, I’ll take my Meyers where I find them. I sussed out a couple of abandoned trees in the yards of foreclosed houses and they’ve kept me reasonably well supplied, but I’ve always felt a little guilty sneaking around bank-owned side yards with a pair of clippers in my pocket. So I was thrilled when my cousin Jen offered me unlimited access to an overwhelmingly productive tree right in her own backyard. I picked 28 lbs. on my first visit . . .
Clearly, it was time to stop picking and start preserving. I chose three lovely, lemony projects:
One: Moroccan Preserved Lemons
First, I made some Moroccan preserved lemons, using an easy-to-follow recipe from Epicurious. I was told by a chef friend-of-a-friend that the best way to use these in cooking is to rinse them well and scrape all the pulp away from the rind — otherwise the salt will really knock you out. Finely slice the rind and use it to prepare your dish: chicken, lamb, fish, veggies, salad dressing, or what have you.
Next, I steeped some limoncello, using an equally simple recipe from the Food Network. It goes down easy and looks nice in the bottle. It’s not the stunner that its neighbor is — last summer’s blackberry liqueur — but it has a good personality and a true Meyer essence. This weekend I may use the tailings — the vodka infused rind — in an experimental adults-only marmalade.
Here’s the rind, soaking in vodka, before I added the sugar syrup:
Three: Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Finally, I returned to my true passion — Meyer lemon marmalade. I love to say it and eat it as much as I love to make it but, like so many things we love, its quirks can sometimes try my patience to the breaking point. Crafting a pure and perfect Meyer lemon marmalade recipe has become one of my life’s purposes. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting closer. After a year of trial and error, I do know how I want my marmalade to be: The jelly should be bright, light, and sweet to offset the tartness of the rind. The rind should be distinct and firm, suspended in the jelly in a restful and enticing way; it should not be ground up or dissolved into a sludge.
I’ve tried recipes that say it’s okay if the marmalade turns amber. I don’t agree. Lemons are yellow! (Even the orange-ish rind of a Meyer should yield a sweetly yellow marmalade.) And amber usually means bitter. I tried a recipe that said simmer the lemons for 45 minutes before you add the sugar. But delicate Meyers don’t stand up to that kind of sustained heat; it wrecks the integrity of the rind.
Because it’s Meyer season, I wake up in the morning thinking about things like this.
When Meyer lemon marmalade turns out really well (for me, that’s about one time in three), it seems to involve lots of water, lots of sugar, and getting the recipe off the heat early — not one second past the jelling point, if possible. If you cook it even a little too long, it starts to take on a dark look, smell, and taste. So far, this recipe at One Green Generation is my favorite, but I use a little less water and I mind it carefully for overcooking. I’m still trying to improve the process so it turns out right every time and boy will I crow when I figure it out.
Here’s a photo of the three kinds of marmalade I made this citrus season: Clementine (a perfect recipe, thanks to What Julia Ate), Rio Red Grapefruit Vanilla Bean (one wild adventure for the tastebuds, thanks to The Cosmic Cowgirl), and a mountain of Meyer Lemon.
Oh . . . Four: Juice and Freeze the Leftovers
I always hold some lemons back for squeezing and freezing. We fill ice cube trays with the juice so we always have the goodness at hand when we need it.