I’m not sure it’s merely love – I’m starting to suspect it may be an obsession. My local grocer has been bringing bags of Meyer lemons in since the end of November and I’ve taken to buying at least two bags a week, sometimes more. I’d never seen Meyer lemons at the grocery store before this and I can’t seem to get enough of them: they’ve been featured in nearly every baked good and dish I’ve made for the past two months. Marinades, sauces, cookies, chutney, you name it. The day before yesterday I cooked up a small batch of insanely delicious Meyer lemon and cranberry jelly, using this recipe from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, but mostly I’ve been making lemonade. And, oh, what lemonade! It tastes exactly like summer.
Meyer lemons (Citrus x meyeri ‘Improved Meyer’) are visibly different from regular lemons (Citrus limon): they are small and rounded, with smooth yellow skin. Cut one open and you’re absolutely BLASTED with lemony fragrance – but Meyers are way sweeter and less tart in flavour than regular lemons. Native to China, where they have been traditionally planted as an ornamental container plant, Meyer lemons are a cross between a regular lemon and a sweet orange, and were introduced to the United States in 1908 by an agricultural scientist named Frank Meyer. Jennifer R. Bartley has an entry about Meyer lemons in her beautiful and informative book The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, and after a brief description of the plant and its origins, she throws in a bit about the ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon being a virus-free clone. Unfamiliar with the virus she mentions, I did some digging: turns out that by the 1940s, Meyer lemons were incredibly popular in California and grown widely…until someone discovered that the plants were carrying the Citrus tristeza virus, which didn’t show symptoms in the Meyer lemons but was affecting and destroying other citrus crops at an alarmingly high rate. It became necessary to eradicate all Meyer lemon trees in order to save the rest of citruskind. Fortunately for me (and others who love Meyer lemons), a virus-free selection was discovered in the 1950s and released in 1975 as ‘Improved Meyer.’
Small (2 -3 m tall) Meyer trees can be grown in climates much warmer than mine in Calgary, and apparently they are quite productive, blooming and fruiting twice a year, with the heaviest yield happening around this time of year (to my great delight). Apparently they’re pretty tough as far as citrus plants go, and the fruit can ripen in cooler temperatures. And, they’re fast growing, as well, capable of producing fruit just four years after germination. Impressive! You can keep the size to a minimum through pruning, and container Meyers are usually grafted onto a dwarf rootstock to preserve their height at 150 cm or less. If I had a sunroom, I would dearly love to grow Meyer lemons in pots. (Then I wouldn’t singlehandedly be driving up demand for Meyer lemons at my grocery store!).
Is anyone out there successfully growing Meyer lemons indoors in containers? Are you treating them as ornamental plants, or are you getting some kind of yield off of them? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
My Recipe for Lemonade that Tastes Like Summer
3 Meyer lemons (organic if possible; if not, make sure you wash them really well), cut in half
1.5 litres cold water
raw cane sugar or other preferred sweetener, to taste
Throw the whole lemon halves in a blender with half a litre of water. Pulse repeatedly until the lemons are pulverized and mixed thoroughly with the water. Strain the lemon/water mixture through a fine mesh sieve (and if you can think of a creative way to use the pulpy bits left behind, please let me know. Otherwise, compost it with your regular kitchen wastes). Mix the remaining bit of water with the lemon juice, and add sugar to taste. Add crushed ice if desired. Enjoy! (Serves: 2).