“Meyer lemons!” an acquaintance shouted when I opened the door, feverish and miserable with the flu, one dark January morning several years ago.
A 90-year-old man had given her access to his fantastic Meyer tree for the last time, she explained.
“How many do you want?” she asked, rather frantically.
“A box,” I sighed and returned to bed.
I hadn’t specified what size of box and later that day an enormous one full of beautiful lemons arrived on my porch.
The next day, I sliced and salted lemons, packed them into very large sterilized jars and covered them with fresh juice. Alas, I had miscalculated when deciding how many lemons to set aside for juicing and had to crawl, so to speak, to the store for more lemons. Twice.
Finally, with all jars packed with salty lemon wedges, topped off with fresh juice and sealed, I collapsed back into bed and let the flu have its way with me.
Weeks later, my friend called.
“My medication has been adjusted,” she said, as if we were in the middle of a conversation
“What medication?” I asked.
“I’m bi-polar,” she explained.
“The lemons weren’t a giveaway?” she added, laughing.
I groaned, remembering my day of slicing, salting, and squeezing.
That year, every local friend and several from out of the area got a jar of my preserved lemons. Even so, it was two years before I used the last of them.
Now there are about a hundred or so Meyer lemons sitting on my kitchen counter again and this time the responsibility is all mine. Most I picked from a tree near downtown Santa Rosa. Others were a gift. And down the street from where I live, there is a big outside with baskets full of Meyer lemons, for sale on the honor system (take lemons, put cash in the lock box).
It’s a good year for local Meyer lemons. Crops are abundant, quality is outstanding and a lot of people have way more than they can use. One way to find trees that need picking is to simply look up. On the edge of nearly every downtown in the county, there are citrus trees – mostly lemons but a few oranges and grapefruit – that typically go unharvested. It never hurts to ask if they are available and you’ll often be thanked, as no one wants their fruit to go to waste, even when they can’t pick it themselves.
When you have a lot of lemons on hand, the easy way to keep them for later use is to juice them and freeze them in ice cube trays. Once completely frozen, transfer the cubes to 1-quart freezer bags. They retain their full lemon flavor and are so easy to use. You can also freeze whole lemons (again, in freezer bags). To use lemons that have been frozen, grate them before they thaw and add to cole slaw, rice salads, pasta salads and soups and stews that will benefit from their flavor.
For my recipe for preserved lemons – it is my most requested recipe ever — visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
In 2015, A. Cort Sinnes, who is both a writer and a painter living in Napa, released a sweet little book called “Mad About Meyer Lemons” (Hearth & Garden Productions). Sinnes’s paintings, which illustrate the book, are exquisite and reveals his passion for this puckery fruit. This recipe is adapted from one in the book. I like to serve steamed rice alongside as it is a delightful vehicle for the tangy pan juices.
Meyer Lemon Roasted Chicken
Serves 3 to 4
1 bunch (8 to 10 sprigs) Italian parsley, long stems trimmed
2-3 fresh rosemary sprigs, optional
1 large garlic bulb, cloves separated, crushed, and peeled
1 whole chicken, preferably local and pastured, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
— Juice from 5 large Meyer lemons
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
1 bunch thin carrots, washed and trimmed
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Set a medium-sized roasting pan or similar vessel near a clean work surface. Spread the Italian parsley and the rosemary, if using, over the surface of the pan. Set aside 1 garlic clove and scatter the rest over the herbs. Set aside.
Set the chicken on a clean work surface with the neck end facing you. Wash your hands and then insert your pointer finger between the skin and the breast, gently loosening the skin as you push you gently move your finger from side to side. Press half the butter under the skin over one of the breasts and then gently massage the skin above the butter, pressing it out over the entire breast, if possible. Repeat on the other side.
Set the chicken upright on the herbs and pour about a quarter cup of lemon juice into the cavity. Swirl it around and then season the cavity generously with salt and pepper.
Set the chicken, breast side up, on top of the herbs and slowly pour the remaining lemon juice over it, turning it as you do so that every inch has been anointed with the juice. Season all over with salt and pepper.
Add carrots to the pan, setting them on top of the herbs wherever they will fit.
Set on the middle rack of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and cook for 20 minutes more. Use a carving fork or a bamboo skewer to pierce the thickest part of a thigh; if the juices are not perfectly clear, cook for another 15 minutes and test again.
When the juices run clear, remove the chicken from the oven, loosely tent it with a sheet of aluminum foil and let rest 10 to 15 minutes.
Set a large platter next to your work surface.
Use a sharp carving knife to cut the leg-thigh pieces from the chicken while the chicken is still in the roasting pan. Set the leg-thigh pieces on your work surface. Tip the neck end of the cavity so that juices pour out into the pan. Set this part of the chicken next to the other pieces.
Use tongs to lift the herbs and garlic and hold them over the pan for several seconds, shaking gently to release cooking juices. Set the herbs on the platter and arrange the carrots at the outer edge.
Cut the chicken into separate pieces and legs, thighs and wings and set them in the center of the platter.
Cut each breast away from the bone, set it on the work surface and cut it into diagonal slices. Arrange the slices on the platter.
Taste the pan juices and adjust for salt and pepper as needed. Pour the juices over the chicken and carrots and enjoy right away.
This tangy relish is adopted from a recipe in A. Cort Sinnes’ book “Mad About Meyer Lemons.” Both this recipe and the one above for chicken are from the same person, a friend the author identifies only as “Amy.” This relish can be used in nearly endless ways; several of my favorite uses follow the main recipe.
Meyer Lemon & Herb Relish
Makes about 1 cup
1 large Meyer lemon, very thinly sliced
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon Vinaigre de Banyuls or sherry vinegar
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
¼ cup snipped fresh chives
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
Remove the seeds from the lemon slices; cut the slices into small dice.
Put the lemons into a medium bowl, add the shallots, vinegar, parsley and chives and toss together gently. Season with salt and pepper, taste, and correct as needed.
Cover and let rest for 30 minutes so that the flavors will blossom and mingle.
Use as suggested below. Leftover relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, for several days.
alongside roasted vegetables
alongside grilled or roasted meats and poultry
spooned over halved avocados
drizzled over avocado toast
drizzled over cream cheese before adding the second half of a bagel
tossed with hot pasta and a generous splash of olive oil
drizzled over hot steamed rice, quinoa, farro, or barley
drizzled over summer tomatoes
drizzled over grilled zucchini (when in season)
Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings.” Email her at email@example.com.