Hunting and Gathering: Meyer lemons

Hunting and Gathering: Meyer lemons

 by Lisa Barlow

Lemon squares best The Meyer lemons sitting on my kitchen table are like a bowl of sunshine. Rounder and deeper in color than regular lemons, they are also harder to come by, unless you live in Southern California and are blessed with a prolific tree in your back yard.  From November through January, when the lemons migrate to fruit aisles in specialty markets outside of California, you want to grab them. Don’t look at the price tag, just inhale their sweet scent and be grateful for a lucky score.

As a native New Yorker, the unique pleasures of the Meyer lemon are not imprinted on me. But for many a transplanted West Coaster, they serve as powerful triggers for sense memories, able to transport one back to childhood or into an old love affair.

For Kim Severson, the former New York Times food writer and now the Bureau Chief of their Atlanta desk, the Meyer lemon tree she sat beneath in her old California backyard was the place where she once buried a photograph of herself and a former lover. Along with it, she laid to rest a host of issues that had threatened her health and happiness. “Meyer lemons are my touchstone,” she writes in her excellent new memoir Spoon Fed. “All I have to do is run my thumbnail over the thin skin of a Meyer lemon and I am instantly back in the Bay area…mindful of where I come from and what I like.” The lemon, even just the scent of it, is one of the things that keeps Severson grounded and alert to her own heart. “Until you know what you really like, you’re lost.”

First imported to America from China in 1908 by Frank Meyer, an adventuring botanist working for the USDA, the fruit that now bears his name is most likely a hybrid of lemons and mandarin oranges. The resulting flavor is sweeter than a regular lemon. The peel is thinner and the flesh is a juicy yellow-orange color. Its complex floral aroma hints at honey and flowering thyme.

Meyer lemons are perfect for lemonade and for dishes where the acidic tartness of a standard lemon are not required. They have been famously used by Alice Waters in many of the dishes she helped create at Chez Panisse, and further touted by Martha Stewart on most of her Omnimedia platforms. If I have any on hand, I tend to use them liberally in any dish that calls for lemons. They are great in roast chicken, with thin slices nudged with butter and thyme under the skin. I also love them fried and served as an appetizer. My favorite recipe is a simple one for Meyer lemon bars.

If your local market doesn’t carry Meyer lemons, you can order them from White Flower Farms: The 5-lb box will keep you busy in the kitchen. But be sure to keep a few to give as presents to your grateful friends.


½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ cups flour
½ cup almond meal
1 ½ cups butter (cold)

2 cups sugar
½ cup flour
1 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
Lemon zest from one lemon
6 Large eggs
Pinch salt

    •    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    •    Butter a 9×13 inch pan.
    •    To make the crust, sift the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Add flour and almond meal. Add cubed pieces of butter slowly and pulse machine until the dough becomes the consistency of cornmeal.
    •    Press dough into prepared pan.
    •    Bake 25 minutes or until crust is brown.
    •    While the crust is baking, start the filling.
    •    Sift four into a bowl.
    •    Add sugar, lemon juice and zest. Stir until dissolved.
    •    In a separate bowl, whisk eggs and salt.
    •    Add eggs to lemon mixture and whisk well.
    •    When the crust is done, pour filling into pan.
    •    Bake mixture until the custard is firm, around 30 minutes.
    •    Cool completely and sift the top with confectioners’ sugar.
    •    Use a sharp knife to cut into squares or rectangles.


This is an adaptation of Alice Waters’ recipe, which is in turn an adaptation of Judy Rogers’ recipe from her Zuni Café in San Francisco.

2 Meyer Lemons, very thinly sliced
2 zucchinis, sliced into 2 inch-long sticks
Kosher salt
Vegetable oil for frying

    •    Heat oil in a heavy pan
    •    Dip zucchini slices in buttermilk and then flour. Shake off excess.
    •    Fry until golden brown, being sure not to crowd the pan.
    •    Dip Meyer lemon slices into buttermilk and flour. Fry similarly.
    •    Sprinkle with salt and serve.

LB2 Lisa Barlow is a writer and photographer who divides her time between New York, Telluride and  San Pancho, Mexico. An enthusiastic omnivore, she specializes in stories about food.

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