What is a Meyer Lemon?
Though they’re now found throughout Florida, Meyer Lemons are actually not native to the sunshine state. So where’d they come from? Meyer Lemons were first brought to the United States in 1908 by Frank N. Meyer. An explorer of sorts, Meyer worked for the USDA, traveling the globe in search of economically viable plants to introduce to the States. Among his discoveries were apricots, soybeans, the maidenhair tree, and of course, the Meyer Lemon, which was named in his honor.
In the decades since its introduction, the Meyer lemons have enjoyed lucrative obscurity. The fruits themselves are relatively fragile given their thin, easily pierceable skin and thus proved difficult to ship piecemeal. They remained for a time somewhat sequestered to California, Florida, and the other citrus-growing states where they were cultivated both for large scale consumption as well as locally in backyards for personal use.
The trees are currently experiencing a resurgence in demand, due in part to their popularity with celebrity chefs, and are once again gracing windowsills across the country as they once did in their native China. Seasonally, the fruit is available in stores between December and May. With Via Citrus, Meyer lemons can be enjoyed all year round.
Meyer lemon trees are excellent additions whether you plan to utilize their fruit or merely need one for the 'gram'. The plants have a long history as ornamental house plants. They were originally bred by mixing lemon and mandarin plants, a combination that gives the fruit its eye-catchingly golden color. Like most citruses, the plants also have glossy green leaves and a bounty of white blossoms. Meyers in particular bloom all year round, perfuming the air with sweetness.
The lemons themselves are smaller, rounder, and generally less bulbous than regular lemons. Meyer lemons have a deeper yellow rind, almost like an egg yolk, and a similar dark pulp. Their skin is smooth and thin with less of the spidery white pith underneath, making it much more enjoyable and thus edible than regular lemon rind. Taste-wise, Meyer’s are less acidic and don’t carry the tang of regular lemons. This resulting sweetness makes them ideal for raw preparations. Their fragrance is also truly unique, coming closer to an herbal earl grey smell than other typical citruses. This floral scent is one of the reasons the Meyer is a great addition to food.
It’s hard not to instinctively compare the Meyer lemon to its close cousin the regular lemon when considering cooking it. Sure, they look similar enough and they share some genealogy, but what about in the kitchen? Can one be swapped for the other? Broadly speaking, yes. Meyer lemons and regular lemons are somewhat interchangeable. It's in more poignant applications that make the Meyers individual characteristics sing. Meyers natural sweetness and almost spice-like quality make it the perfect addition for roasts, compotes, cakes, teas, and even pasta dishes. They've proven worthwhile additions to what might be preparations traditionally assigned to and dominated by the lemon— bars, tarts, juices, and rubs— however, each can be enhanced with Meyer lemons if only you’re brave enough to try it.