Saturday, January 3, 2015
Native to China a sample of the tree was first brought to the US in 1908 by -- you guessed it, Frank Meyer, a USDA employee. Largely thought of as ornamental as in their native land, Meyers flourished in the states until the trees (mostly reproduced by cloning) were found to carry a virus dangerous to other citrus. In the 1940's most of the Meyer lemon trees in the US were destroyed. It took until 1975 for a new disease free "improved" Meyer lemon tree to be released. Still seen mostly for their beauty Meyers didn't become a popular culinary ingredient here until the 1990's when chef's like Alice Waters promoted the fragrant delicacy.
Thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange (or a mandarin), their thin skins make shipping difficult so Meyers are rarely commercially grown (though I am seeing them more and more in stores like Whole Foods). If you're lucky enough to have a tree or a farmers market nearby try substituting this winter fruit for regular lemons in sauces, vinaigrettes, and cakes. Make a jar of preserved lemons. You won't be disappointed.
Or better yet -- plant your own. I harvested this healthy crop from a potted tree that lives year round on our sunny south facing porch. A winter treat with more to come.