In the middle of winter and into early spring, something yellow and sparkly slowly arrives on the produce shelves in West Virginia and beyond. They may look somewhat like regular lemons, but if you look closely, they are a bit smaller and rounder than regular lemons, and they have a lovely, deep yellow-to-orange smooth skin.
When you slice them, they are very distinct. They have a dark yellow pulp, which is edible, and a sweeter, less acidic flavor.
Meyer lemons have arrived!
The season for Meyer lemons is shorter than for regular lemons. While regular lemons are readily available all year long, Meyer lemons are more seasonal. Your best time to find them is from December through May. They have greater tolerance to cold weather than regular lemons.
I saw them in their neat little bag of four in Kroger a couple weeks ago, brought in from a non-GMO company in California. The ones I found were not organic. Meyer lemons are also grown in Florida and Texas.
I envisioned slicing them and eating them like oranges, making some lemonade, or trying the Ketogenic lemon meringue pie recipe that had been calling my name for the last several weeks.
While they are moderately acidic, Meyer lemons don’t have the same tang as regular lemons. They are much sweeter. Their rinds also have a sweeter, more complex scent than regular lemons — a spicy, citrus fragrance that tastes and smells more like an herb or a spice.
Both Meyer lemons and regular lemons can be used in the same ways. However, since Meyer lemons will add more sweetness to a recipe, you may be fine reducing the amount of sugar in your recipe by up to half.
Meyer lemons were first introduced to the United States from Beijing in the early 20th century by Frank Meyer, a United States Department of Agriculture employee. They are a natural cross between a standard lemon (eureka or Lisbon variety) and a mandarin orange.
In a pH test done by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, it was found that standard lemon juice is 1.3 times more acidic than Meyer lemon juice. The regular lemons were shown to produce a better vinaigrette. The acidic punch and boldness stood up to the rich olive oil better than the Meyer lemon juice.
The study found that “for applications that don’t depend on the bracing acidity of a standard lemon, a Meyer lemon can be a fine substitute. But where a recipe demands bold, bright flavor for balance, reach for a regular lemon.”
When choosing a lemon, hold the fruit and determine if it is heavy. The heavier the fruit and the thinner the skin, the more juice it has. A ripe lemon should be firm, with a deep color. The deeper the color, the less acidic the lemon.
Store lemons at room temperature, away from sunlight. They keep without refrigeration for about two weeks. If kept in the refrigerator crisper, it is best to use a plastic bag, where they can remain up to six weeks.
Lemons can be juiced and stored for later use. The juice can also be frozen in ice cube trays, transferred to a freezer container and kept for up to 3 months.
To produce more juice for a recipe, it is always better for the lemon to be warm (or at least room temperature). Rolling the lemon with the palm of your hand on a flat surface will also ensure the extraction of more juice.
Before cutting a lemon, it is important to wash the skin so dirt or bacteria on the skin is not transferred to the fruit’s interior. Use caution if you have a citrus allergy.
Most conventionally harvested fruits have pesticide residue concentrated on their skin. Since lemons are among the foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, organic lemons are recommended.
Run to the grocery store and grab your Meyer lemons before the season ends. If you miss them this year, you have something to look forward to in 2020!