Few new fruits storm American kitchens like Meyer lemons. Unusual but not exotic, these lemons are close enough to familiar flavors to please most palates. They boast a nice fragrance and a sweet-sour flavor that leans so far toward sweetness that they can be eaten out of hand. Their flavor enhances a recipe without overwhelming other ingredients. Because of low acidity and sweetness, Meyer lemons are even more versatile than the ordinary lemon.
From China to United States
Meyer lemons didn’t always grow in the United States. They are native to China as ornamental plants and were introduced into the United States in 1908 by a Department of Agriculture employee named Frank Nickolas. Meyer. To most people it was just another lemon, but slowly their popularity grew.
Their first burst of popularity came in the mid 1940s when they became common in California backyards. When agriculturalists discovered the plant carried a citrus virus, most were destroyed, with new plant sales illegal. When a virus-free improved Meyer lemon reached nurseries in 1975, they started the slow climb to present popularity.
Meyer Lemons and Chez Panisse
Alice Waters is best known for her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and her insistence on the freshest local seasonal and organic ingredients. Naturally, when she specified Meyer lemons in several recipes in her 1999 book Chez Panisse Café Cookbook
both restaurant chefs and home cooks followed her lead. Everyone began substituting them for regular lemons in old standbys and creating new recipes just to showcase them. Chez Panisse still serves dishes created from Meyer lemons.
Seasonal Availability Makes it Special
Cooks fortunate enough to reside in citrus growing areas rushed to plant trees or seek out local farmers who did. Now commercialized, these special lemons sell during their brief season in increasingly numerous markets around the country. More and more recipes specify Meyer lemons, and more commercial products flavored with this fruit appear in the supermarkets across the country, allowing more Americans to appreciate the subtle sweetness of the Meyer lemon.
The commercialization has made the Meyer Lemon more available, which has increased its popularity.