Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Citrons Atomique

I have a Meyer lemon tree at the back of my yard in California. It was a birthday gift over twelve years ago from my friend G, who knew how much I loved Meyer lemons.

I got my first taste of this extra-ordinary lemon when I moved into my California bungalow, 25! years ago it was now. (Long before the CA foodies jumped on the bandwagon.) My neighbor Gladys, who lived alone in her house after her husband died until she was 95, but has sadly passed on, had a Meyer lemon tree growing on the side of her house. My son would mow her lawn in trade for our use of her lawnmower to mow our own lawn. She always felt she needed to even out the trade by giving me some lemons from her tree.

I've had a long term fondness for lemons anyway. I think it started when I was 10. I read about Amy March in "Little Women" getting in trouble for sneaking bites of "lemon pickle" during class. My mouth started to water and I'd never even seen a pickled lemon. I tried to recreate what I though the taste would be by eating a slice of lemon with salt on it. I know your face might be crumpled up in a sour sort of way right now, but I Loved It!

Those lemons from Gladys were just the beginning of a deeper lemon addiction. The really good Meyer lemons (for me, that means the old, not "improved", variety), have a thin, glossy skin and the fruit has an orange tinge. Thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, they remind me of a kumquat in that the skin is almost sweeter than the fruit, though they are certainly not as sour inside kumquats. I like to eat them chopped into salad, peel and all. Hell, I like to eat them sliced and dipped in a little French sea salt. **My mouth is watering here. I kid you not. I have to go to the kitchen and dip a slice of lemon.**

I got my own Meyer lemon tree those twelve years ago and it lived awhile in a large pot while I tried it out in different locations to find where it would be happiest in the yard. When I finally put it in the ground there in the back corner, it took awhile to really start producing. My brother stayed with me a couple of years ago and clued me in to giving it special citrus fertilizer. This year I had about 100 lemons on my own tree. Finally a decent crop! In the intervening years I have had to beg, borrow and stea..., well, indulge in a little midnight harvesting to find sufficient Meyer lemons to quench my thirst.

When I was working and living in Madrid for a year, a CA friend shipped me a dozen Meyer lemons, put in an egg carton and then double bubble-wrapped. A work pal who was sharing my apartment over a few months dubbed them "atomic lemons" because they never went bad. He didn't realize that they had been airmailed fresh off the tree or that I was nurturing them along, washing and airing them out from time to time in order to make them last until my next trip back to CA.

When I came to France in February, I brought twelve of my own Meyer lemons with me. Last week I made a batch of lemon bars in a round pan and served it sliced as a tart au citron when I had a few people over for dinner. I also gave slices to my favorite neighbors here on Rue Ferlus. This evening, Elodie from next door stopped me and told me "La tarte au citron - un petit morceau avec une tasse de café? Impeccable! (Pronounced IM-peck-ahb-leh and said with a gourmet's twinkle in the eye and a little kiss to the fingers.) So the Meyer lemons are a hit here, too, at least when they are tarted up.

The lemon bar recipe I used was one I found on the smittenkitchen blog. It seems very reliable from my two attempts at making it and gives you the option of a thick gooey topping or a thinner one. I made it in CA in a gas oven and here in an electric, both times with stellar, if a bit different, results. I used superfine sugar and that made for a thin, meringue-type of top to the bars which meant they didn't need any powdered sugar sprinkled over them. It's a recipe that is on the tangy side. Right up my lemon lovin' alley.

Lemon puckered kisses,


Ms. Moon said...

Okay. I am off to buy a Meyer's Lemon tree which will grow here. Oh my. And poor Amy March- I remember that scene well.

Ellen said...

I love Meyer lemons! Our neighbor has one and how I covet that tree. We have a lemon and a lemon lime in our yard but to me they do nothing for my taste buds. Such disappointment. How I wish to buy a Meyer...I should, why not?

And a lemon tart, lemon bars, lemon cake,lemon in my water...sweet nectar of a meyer lemon!

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