The Meyer lemon (Citrus × meyeri) is a citrus fruit native to China, thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. It was introduced to the United States in 1908 by the agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture, who collected a sample of the plant on a trip to China. Sadly, this original Meyer lemon carried a disease that killed other citrus trees; it was banned from sale and all known trees were destroyed. Happily, in the 1950s, the University of California department of agriculture released the "Improved Meyer Lemon" which does not carry the blight and is widely available for purchase.
When we first bought our home in the foothills of Tucson's Santa Catalina Mountains, we were thrilled to know that we had an orange tree out front but were sad that it bore no fruit. Inside the garden walls, there were the remnants of an above-mentioned "cocktail tree" - a tree that would, in theory, bear oranges, lemons and limes on its branches. It had been cut back so severely that it barely had the energy to eke out one sprig of green leaves. We soon took it out of its misery and started watering the orange tree out front.
As with many things in the desert, water made all the difference and by the next winter we were enjoying some of the best oranges either of us has ever eaten. When it came time to reconfigure the front courtyard, we wanted to add another citrus tree. But what variety? We thought about a blood orange, a clementine, a Meyer lemon or a ruby grapefruit. But, in the end, we decided that the good old Lisbon lemon would be the fruit we would use the most. It's funny that, in making this decision, we never considered what fruits our neighbors grew. Nor did we know that, when their fruit trees bore heavily, bags of citrus would appear at our door.
If you haven't tried canning, you should not be afraid. It took me forever to get over the fears of botulism or whatever it was that kept my mother from making preserves and pickles. The key is making sure all your implements - jars, lids, ladles and so on - are sterile. The rest is easy. Ball - the company that manufactures the jars that I use - has a website with easy to follow instructions.
My next project? The Honors College, where I work, has a plethora of sour orange trees loaded with fruit. Orange marmalade anyone?
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
2 pounds Meyer lemons
4 cups water
4½ cups sugar
Halve lemons crosswise and remove seeds. Quarter each lemon half, then thinly slice with skin side of the lemon on the cutting board. (It is less messy this way – if you slice through with the skin side up, juice runs everywhere.) You should have between 4½ and 5 cups of sliced lemons. Place lemons in a large, non-reactive pot and add the 4 cups water. Cover pot and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.
Bring lemon mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 5 cups, about an hour. Stir in sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until a teaspoon of mixture dropped on a cold plate gels, about 15-18 minutes.
Ladle hot marmalade into sterilized jars, and seal per Standard Canning Procedure (see page 2). Makes 6 cups.