Quick Quiz: Who’s Frank Meyer?
Quick answer: Hardly anyone cares, and even he didn’t know he would be famous in the world of gastronomy.
In the early 20thCentury, the USDA employed “plant explorers” whose mission was to travel the world in search of exotics which would then be introduced to the United States. Of course, this is the opposite of what we do now in assiduously avoiding the introduction of potentially dangerous new species (or new diseases along for the ride) here.
Frank Meyer was one of these men, assigned to China. One of the items he brought back was an unusual lemon tree, easy to grow and beautiful, but whose fruit was too thin skinned to be commercially viable, so it was considered an “ornamental”. It was not well known outside the world of botanists, horticulturalists and landscape designers for over half a century, although it did bear his name.
Enter Martha Stewart.
Always on the lookout for something unique, she started using Meyer lemons in her recipes, and the species became wildly popular. A cross between a mandarin orange and ‘regular’ lemon, Meyer lemons have a sweeter and less acidic flavor, and can even be used thinly sliced with the rind on as one might an orange. They can be used in lieu of either of these, or of limes, in many recipes.
The season mirrors that of other citrus, the winter months. Fresh Meyer lemons are rarely seen commercially other than in farmers markets in the warm climes where they are grown or specialty stores like Whole Foods. Like other citrus, they are, however, available in additional months to the trade, which is why dishes made with them can appear on menus out of season.
It is also possible to purchase Meyer Lemon Concentrate, a frozen product which is certainly finding its way into (and probably the dominant source of Meyer lemon) in restaurants, especially when the fresh product is not available. MyMEGusta has not done a side-by-side tasting of dishes prepared from fresh and from concentrate, and welcomes comments from readers who have. Perhaps this will be a project for next winter!