If anyone has been reading my blog for more than a year, you will know that I go positively loony when Meyer lemons become available in the stores again. These little jewel-like drops of citrus sunshine remind me every year that, as crappy a winter as we may be having in this part of the world, spring is just around the corner. And that can’t be a bad thing, right?
A fair number of people ask me what the big deal is about Meyer Lemons; isn’t it just a fruit? Well, after I kick them in the ass and drop them in the snow (not really), I usually inform these unbelievers that Meyer Lemons are the perfect lemon for showcasing a citrus-oriented baking recipe. Common lemons have become blasé and, well…common; Meyer lemons are anything but!
Below is a little info on how to tell the two lemons apart, and some recipes to get the newly-converted started on your Meyer Lemon Lovefest! Expect a few more awesome Meyer-Lemon-oriented recipes in the next few posts as I have time to make them up and photograph them for you, my lovely readers!
Readily available year-round, the common lemon is grown in many areas of the world. The top five lemon-producing countries are India, Argentina, Spain, Iran, and the United States — primarily in California and Arizona, with a small number of acres in Florida.
Common lemons are usually the size of an average fist, and have a bright, sunny yellow exterior with a thick, pebbly skin and a slightly deeper yellow flesh. They are also highly acidic with a sharp tang that will make all but the hardiest taste buds seize and mouths pucker. Their aroma is also quite astringent and tangy.
The Meyer Lemon is a citrus fruit that’s considered a cross between a true lemon and a Mandarin orange. This sweet winter fruit is commonly grown in China in garden pots as an ornamental tree, and while it can produce lemons year-round, the bulk of its crop can be harvested in the winter months, with the best time to find them in North American grocery stores from December through May.
Meyer Lemons are significantly smaller than common lemons, usually about half the size, and they are rounder with less-pronounced ends (more “soccer ball” than “football” shaped common lemons). They also have a much smoother, thinner, deeper yellow skin than common lemons, and the flesh is a darker yellow as well.
Meyer lemons are moderately acidic, and on the sweeter side as opposed to tangy; they are much milder in flavour than the common lemon and as such are a joy to eat the segments raw. Meyer lemons also have a sweeter, more fragrant aroma, with a scent that is described as “complex” compared to the simpler clarifying scent of the common lemon.
Fun Fact: the Meyer Lemon is named after U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Frank Nicholas Meyer, who collected a sample of the plant while on an agricultural trip to China in 1908. In the last few decades, Meyer lemons have exploded onto the culinary scene, after being re-discovered by culinary celebrities in the 1990’s such as heavyweight chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart.
Can You Substitute a Meyer Lemon for a Common Lemon in Recipes (and Vice Versa)?
In most cases, Meyer lemons and common lemons are interchangeable. Both types of lemons work very well in both sweet and savoury recipes. However, keep in mind that common lemons do not have the sweetness of a Meyer Lemon, so small changes to a recipe may need to be made to balance this sweetness (or lack thereof) if substituting one for the other.
But on the other hand, there’s something to be said for the amazing, complex aroma of the Meyer Lemon that really makes me a recipe purist for them, as relatively expensive and challenging to find as they are. Most recipes featuring Meyer lemons are showcasing that spicy-sweet, almost herbal quality that common lemons just can’t emulate. And vice-versa; a standard recipe showcasing the common lemon is likely relying heavily on its brash astringency and powerful flavour, which the Meyer Lemon does not provide, and as such might be wasted if it is paired with other more pungent ingredients.
The best advice I can give you if you wish to substitute one type of lemon for the other is simply to do a test-run with the recipe if you can, but if that’s not feasible, start off by substituting only half the amount, then do several taste tests before adding the rest. Let your own taste buds be your guide.
But It’s Out of Season, and I want Meyer Lemons NAOW!!!
Well, if you live in Canada or another zone that isn’t temperate all year-round (think California), then that’s too bad, toots.
I haven’t seen a reliable purveyor of out-of-season Meyer Lemons in Canada in the five years since I realized that they were a Thing. I expect that will someday change, but unless you are growing a Meyer Lemon tree in your backyard or have some Mafioso connection of which I am currently unaware, your best bet is to purchase as many as you can afford when they are available in the Winter, and then zest and juice them for all you can get out of them and freeze those luscious shreds and that golden liquid for when you have a hankering to make something a little extraordinary.
And by no means throw away the rind when you’re done squeezing the Bejebus out of them; oh, no…you can freeze those mangled carcasses until you’re ready to do something with them.
And what, praytell, might those things be? Well, at the lifestyle website/blog One Good Thing by Jillee, she mentions 25 uses for Lemon Peels, such as All Purpose Lemon Vinegar Cleaner, Garbage Disposal or Trash Can Deodorizer, Household Air Freshener and Humidifier, Coffee Cup Stain Remover, Ant Removal for your kitchen, Tea Kettle or Coffee Pot Cleaner, Microwave Cleaner, Chrome, Copper, Brass, and Stainless Steel Polish, Cutting Board Refresher, and Brown Sugar Keeper, and many more.
Of course, there are tons of culinary jobs for Meyer Lemons, where they aren’t the showcase of the recipe, but a fancy sideshow, an interesting, aromatic tease for the tastebuds. Meyer Lemon rind and juice are of course the first things that come to mind, but what about Meyer Lemon Pepper, or Candied Meyer Lemon Peel? Meyer Lemon olive oil or Meyer Lemon Extract would be fantastic, as well as Meyer Lemon Sugar or Meyer Lemon Zest butter…ooh I’m positively drooling…but when it comes to culinary lemon/Meyer Lemon products, Stella of Serious Eats has them all beat, with her simple, delicious-sounding, and incredibly economical No Cook Lemon Syrup that can be used in so many ways!
Below I’ve listed a few of my favourite recipes showcasing the Meyer Lemon, but please feel free to come up with your own twist on a favourite citrus recipe of your own or someone else’s. As always, please let me know in the comments if you’ve given any of these recipes a shot, and your review.
- The Kitchn: Sticky Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Glaze
- The Kitchn: Heavenly Lemon Bars With Almond Shortbread Crust
- Martha Stewart: Rustic Lemon Tart
- Martha Stewart: Meyer Lemon Pound Cake
- Martha Stewart: Meyer Lemon Coffee Cake
- Epicurious: Meyer Lemon Cranberry Scones
- Epicurious: Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake with Fresh Berries
With thanks to the following: