Meyer Lemons can provide change of pace

Whether it’s the unveiling of the 2008 Audi S5, the latest line of Manolo Blahnik shoes, a new season of American Idol, or the upcoming NBA playoffs, something rocks each of our worlds. My world was recently rocked when a friend of mine, Carolynn Wolff, grabbed me by the arm at the Center of Clayton back in October and exclaimed, “I just saw the first Meyer Lemons of the season at Whole Foods!” And I shouted, “I can’t wait to make a Shaker Lemon Pie!” After which five fellow exercisers pleaded with me to share the recipe. I promised I would include the recipe in my next column.

So what are Meyer Lemons and what’s so special about them? The fruit that came to be known as the Meyer Lemon originated on a tree in China grown as an ornamental plant. In 1907, a gentleman named Frank Meyer brought the tree to the United States, where it was cultivated for its unique citrus fruit. Today, 95 percent of all Meyer Lemon trees are grown in California, where the season begins in early October and extends through May.

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Meyer Lemons are a splendid golden yellow to orange color which is made even more brilliant by the contrast of its deep green stems. If we truly eat first with our eyes the Meyer Lemon already tastes great. But its beauty is more than skin deep. Unlike the more common Eureka and Lisbon lemons we toss into our carts at the local grocery store, Meyer Lemons have a very thin skin and no bitter pith. Therefore, once seeded, a Meyer Lemon can be eaten in its entirety.

Meyer Lemons taste like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. They are less acidic and are much sweeter and juicier than their more common relatives. When substituting Meyer Lemons in pies, curds, ice creams, and lemonade, less sugar is needed to overcome the bitter, sour taste usually associated with lemons.

I spoke with Robert Schueller, the Director of Public Relations for Melissa’s, and better known to many as “the produce guy,” about Meyer Lemons. Melissa’s, located in Los Angeles, is the largest distributor of produce in the United States. Locally, they supply Dierberg’s and a few of the smaller grocers. The company takes pride in introducing Americans to new and unique fruits and vegetables from around the world.

Schueller told me that Meyer Lemons are more perishable because of their thin skin. “The fruit should be stored in a cool, dry place (never on a sunny windowsill) for a maximum of five to six days,” he told me. “If you don’t plan to use the lemons within this period of time they can be refrigerated for up to ten days. Refrigeration throws them into cold shock and they will stop ripening. This does not, however, apply to all fruits, especially botanicals such as papayas, eggplants and many types of squash. These fruits tend to go bad from the inside out. By the time you see signs of spoilage on their skins, the inside of the fruits have already gone bad.”

Meyer Lemons offer creative cooks a myriad of uses. These include, just to name a few, using the juice as the base for a salad dressing, placing slices under the skin of a chicken before roasting, squeezing the juice over just-grilled fish, and in both of the recipes I describe below. You can visit www.melissas.com for other fun recipes and suggestions. You can order a 5-pound bag of Meyer Lemons from that Web site or you can pick some up at your local grocery store. As of last week, Meyer Lemons were available at Dierberg’s, Straub’s, and Global Foods Market. Other stores such as Whole Foods generally carry Meyer Lemons but were awaiting their next shipment. Just to be safe call ahead before making a special trip.

Don’t forget to place your Meyer Lemons in a decorative bowl to serve as an elegant centerpiece before cooking with them. They’re simply gorgeous! I hope you’ll enjoy my friend Carolynn’s recipe for Meyer Lemon Pasta and, for dessert, one of my favorites, Shaker Lemon Pie.

Meyer Lemon Pasta

Sea salt

1 pound dry linguine

3-5 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese, as desired

2 Meyer Lemons plus 1 additional, as desired

3 handfuls arugula

1 cup Cr ème Fraiche

Freshly ground pepper

Mix a teaspoon of salt into a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

While the pasta cooks, place a generous handful of grated cheese into a large serving bowl. Zest the skins of the 3 lemons directly into the bowl. Add the arugula and toss all ingredients to combine.

Juice two of the Meyer Lemons, remove seeds, and add to mixture in bowl. Set bowl aside on counter.

Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain pasta.

Add drained pasta to bowl with cheese, arugula, and zest and mix gently.

Working quickly, sprinkle pasta with reserved lemon juice and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. Fold Cr ème Fraiche into the pasta mixture.

Add salt, black pepper, and additional lemon juice and cheese, as desired. If sauce is too sticky, add more pasta water. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Shaker Lemon Pie

Though the flavor will be somewhat different, the same number of regular lemons can be substituted for the Meyer Lemons in this recipe. Remember to slice the lemons paper thin. You will need to increase the amount of sugar to two cups. The thinly sliced seeded lemons will need to tenderize overnight in the sugar in a covered bowl at room temperature. Before adding eggs remove wrap and stir sugar and lemons together, picking out any stray seeds.

Pastry Crust:

2/3 cup ice water

1 tsp. table salt

3 cups plus 2 tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup plus 5 tbsp. unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 5 tbsp.) cut into 1-inch pieces, placed on a plate and refrigerated until needed

Filling:

2 medium Meyer Lemons

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1/4 tsp. salt

Egg Wash and Topping:

1 large egg yolk

1 tbsp. heavy cream, additional for garnish

Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Fresh mint leaves for garnishing

Mix together water and salt in a small bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Place flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle butter pieces evenly over flour, cutting butter into flour with a fork or a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form.

Sprinkle butter-flour mixture with refrigerated water, tossing with a fork until mixture is evenly moistened. Gather mixture together with your hands to form a ball. Place ball on a lightly floured counter and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a flat disk, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. (At this point, dough disks may be placed in a freezer bag and kept frozen for up to one month. Allow bag of dough to sit overnight in the refrigerator before continuing.)

One hour before rolling out dough, seed and thinly slice Meyer Lemons. Place lemons in a medium plastic or glass bowl and toss with all of the granulated sugar. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature.

Place one dough disk onto a lightly floured counter. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and gently fit it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Do not trim overhang!

Whisk the eggs into the reserved lemon-sugar mixture. Pour this mixture into the pastry lined pan, evenly distributing the lemons.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the egg yolk and cream in a small bowl. Gently brush the edges of the dough with this mixture. Roll out remaining dough disk on a lightly floured counter into a 12-inch circle. Gently lift rolled dough and place over filling in pan, letting overhang rest on top of the bottom crust. Press edges of pastry together to seal. Trim edge overhang to 1/4-inch, roll slightly inward over rim of pan, and crimp decoratively.

Brush pie dough with egg wash and sprinkle liberally with coarse sugar. Make 3-4 decorative slits on top of crust with a sharp knife to create air vents. Put filled pie pan onto a foil-lined baking sheet and place pie in oven to bake for 35-40 minutes, or until filling is bubbling. If pastry is browning too quickly, lay a sheet of foil paper gently over top of pie.

Transfer pie, in pan, to a cooling rack to cool completely. Carefully push pie up on removable bottom to disengage rim. Transfer pie to a decorative platter to serve. Slice pie, garnishing each slice with a dollop of whipped cream and a fresh mint leaf. Store leftovers, covered with foil or plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Makes 10-12 servings

Recipe adapted from Tartine , by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson. (Chronicle Books LLC, 2006)

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