"Do you want to take some? They are Meyer lemons, not everyone likes those."
Or words similar to those left Carrie's mouth on Friday afternoon. We had just returned from a multi-hour car ride and shopping extravaganza on our way back from a work conference. We (Carrie, Stephanie, and myself) were standing in front of Carrie's house - a beautiful victorian (complete with turret!) with a yard packed with blooming flowers and fruit trees. The tree in question was the Meyer lemon tree. And she was offering us fruit.
Perhaps it's still because I'm relatively new to California (what? fruit grows on trees?), but when someone offers me fruit from their tree/yard/garden, I'm going to accept it. Produce simply doesn't get any fresher! So I left with a bag of lemons in tow, thinking about what they could turn into...
Which led me to question - why doesn't everybody like Meyer lemons? I honestly didn't realize that they were that different from other types of lemons. So I set out to learn about them. A quick Wikipedia scan later, and I now know that Meyer lemons are a citrus fruit native to China that is thought to be a cross between a "true" lemon and a mandarin orange. Who knew? While primarily ornamental in China, the fruit became a popular food item during the California cuisine revolution when made mainstream by chefs like Alice Waters.
I actually have a Meyer lemon tree growing in my yard. Or rather, in a pot in my yard. You may recall its purchase last summer. Since then, I've had what might be the slowest growing lemon ever, due (I believe) to the limited sunlight in its former location and the smallish pot in which it currently resides. The largest lemon is golf-ball sized and about the color of a putting green. I've fixed the sunshine issue (full sun from 9am to 3pm in the new yard!), but still need to remedy the latter issue by giving its roots a permanent home in the ground.
Eventually I'll have my own Meyer lemons to experiment with. For now, here's a recount of how I used some of the ones from Carrie's yard. This was inspired by a version I found on 101 cookbooks, which I played with a bit. It was a good reminder of how tasty risotto can be. It's a little time/labor intensive with all of the stirring, but not difficult (I actually did a decent job of multitasking and made a batch of cookies in between the stirring!). I found the flavor and texture profiles to be both interesting and delicious. We enjoyed our risotto along with roasted salmon. Here's what I did:
Meyer Lemon Risotto
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. aborio rice
1/2 c. dry white whine
4 c. mushroom stock
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
grated zest of 2 Meyer lemons (about 4 Tbsp.)
1/2 c. parmesan plus additional to serve
1 small bunch red chard, center rims removed and leaves thinly sliced
handful of toasted pine nuts, to garnish
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add onions, shallots, and garlic. Cook until they begin to soften. Add rice. Stir until covered with a nice sheen. Add wine. Simmer 3-4 minutes, until wine is mostly absorbed. Adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
Add stock 1/2 c. at a time, letting rice absorb the majority of the liquid between each addition and stirring regularly.
Once rice is tender (if you run out of stock before this happens, begin adding water 1/2 c. at a time until rice is tender), remove pot from heat. Stir in lemon zest, thyme, parmesan, and chard. Garnish with toasted pine nuts and additional parmesan.