“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.