Luscious Lemons

While it is not quite lemon season in Tucson, it is Meyer lemon season. And that works just fine for me.

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.

Now living in a place where citrus grows easily, I am fascinated by the variety of fruit available, other than the usual lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit. Sure, we know now about tangelos and clementines. But what do you hear of limequats? Calamondin oranges? Cocktail trees?

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.

So far this year, Connie and Steve across the street have given us some of the best limes we have ever tasted, making some of the best margaritas we have ever sipped! (All from a little Bearss lime tree they bought on a whim at Costco...) And then, right at the New Year, Judy and Jeff had an overabundance of Meyer lemons. We got a bagful ... and then another bagful. So we roasted chickens, made cakes, custards and sauces with them. And the pile never seemed to diminish! So, one day, I figured that they would make terrific marmalade and made my first batch. Delicious.

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?

- David

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.


  1. Last weekend during a visit with Susan Manfull in San Diego, she put a sublime book in my hands and asked me to take a look. This is so much more than a cookbook. The contents include old recipe cards, hand written and typed, gorgeous photos of the steps and finished creations along with your memories of the recipes took me back to my childhood. So often, I was awed by my mother's sisters and their daughters being in my aunt's big South Dakota farmhouse kitchen creating delicious meals prepared from the garden, sky or turf bounty. They moved about as though a talented choreographer directed the dance of chopping, whipping, beating, frosting, boiling, baking, rolling, frying with conversation and laughter floating overhead to present the masterpiece that a meal can be.
    Thank you for sharing recipes and pictures from your beautiful cookbook here and for capturing a time when a mother's love for her family was centered in the nourishment of body, mind and soul. hmmmmm

  2. I love citrus fruit David. Being from Greece and having lemon and orange trees in my back yard, I miss them so much here in Holland. Nothing tastes like Greek lemons. I haven't tried Meyer lemons, I always thought they were an American variety so thanks for the introduction. I have to search for them here. I hope I can find them!
    Your marmalade jars look so pretty. If only I could open one and taste the marmalade inside...!

  3. Magda - I can really see why you miss the citrus from your homeland. I have only had citrus trees in my life for 5 years and I can never imagine being without them again. The thIng that is so striking is that the flavor of what is generally available in the supermarkets bears no resemblance to a piece of fruit ripened on the tree and picked with your two hands. I wish I could send you some!

    Patty - thank you for such sweet and wonderful comments about my mother's cookbook. I love the images of your family in the South Dakota farmhouse and I can almost smell the results! Really, there is nothing like Mom's - or Moms' - cooking!


Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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