This morning I carted two canvas bags in to work: A red Time Life Books/African Americans/Voices of Triumph bag and a blue Midwest Library Service 30th Anniversary ALA Dallas 1989 bag.

Sidebar: Anyone at Safeway or Andronico’s who pays attention can pretty well spot the two of us as library people. We use canvas bags for our groceries–and all of the canvas bags come from various state library conferences and the like. Who else would have that collection of bags?

Both bags were about three-quarters full of lemons. Meyer lemons. Huge Meyer lemons, mostly orange-size.

Another sidebar: If you don’t know about Meyer lemons, too bad–and, unless you’re in Santa Clara or San Mateo County in California or dine at certain hotshot restaurants, you may not know about them. They’re not really a commercial crop–they don’t ship worth a damn–and, in fact, the benighted California Department of Agriculture apparently tried to eradicate them because of some disease that Meyers carried, that didn’t hurt them but did hurt commercial lemons. Fortunately, the effort failed, at least some areas, although Meyers are still really not a commercial crop. What Meyers are are big, sweet, lower in acid, flavorful. Apparently they’re a centuries-old cross between lemons and either oranges or some other citrus fruit. Used in desserts by quite a few top chefs…

As usual, I set the red bag down on a counter in RLG’s “kitchen,” and sent out a general-staff junk mail noting that Meyer lemons are here. I’ll replenish the red bag from the blue bag (so people who don’t get here by 7:30 a.m. have a chance at them). This place is pretty deserted this week, but I’m guessing the hundred or so lemons will still be gone by the end of the day–and that “hundred or so” is at least 30 pounds worth of lemons.

That scene’s been repeated once a week for the past three weeks, and will be repeated weekly for most weeks over the next three months, give or take, although there may be only one bag some weeks. It’s an odd perk of working at RLG: Free, bright, shiny, clean, sweet, organic Meyer lemons (well, semi-organic: my wife fertilizes the Meyer shrub/tree but we’ve never used pesticides or other sprays on it).

What we have here is a supply:demand situation made possible by the odd soil and weather conditions in the Mountain View/Los Altos area (and some points north and south on the Peninsula): To wit, one Meyer shrub (I guess it’s a tree, but it looks more like a shrub) will produce better than a thousand lemons over a four-month period. Fortunately, the lemons really are good and people find lots of uses for them. (We keep three or four a week, but we really don’t use a lot of lemons.)

My wife does the picking (she knows which ones are ripe). We cooperate on the cleaning (she rinses, I dry): Presentation is part of assuring demand, and we’re not about to bring in a bunch of dirty lemons. I do the hauling, and since I get in to work a lot earlier I also send out the announcement.

This year’s unusual for two reasons, which probably interact. The summer was a little hotter than usual, and a few hundred immature lemons shriveled–having the effect of thinning the crop. Then the first sustained “cold” spell (that is, weather in the 50s dropping to 40s at night) didn’t hit until much later than usual–and lemons (at least Meyers) don’t fully ripen until it gets cold, but they keep growing. The result: Some lemons are almost the size of small grapefruit, and the smallest ones are two or three times the size of usual supermarket lemons.

No moral. We’re not touting our beneficence; it would be a shame to have all those lemons rot or thrown out, and we know the folks at work like them. (Other people bring in oranges at the right season; we’re not doing anything special.) Just a little story about big sweet lemons.

14 Responses to “Lemons!”

  1. Ruth Ellen says:

    Meyers make the BEST marmalade. Unfortunately my tree is still fairly new – at the 3-lemons-a-year stage.

  2. A coworker of mine gave me huge bags of tomatoes over the summer. As I live in an eensy-weensy condo, it was GREATLY appreciated. You may not think much of your own generosity, but I assure you, your coworkers do.

  3. walt says:

    Actually, co-workers have been explicitly grateful. Gratitude isn’t a problem…but this is a classic win:win situation: we want to see the lemons put to use, and most people who love the lemons don’t have Meyer shrubs in their back yard.

    So it falls into the “aw shucks, it’s nothing” category–and the rinse-and-dry process is sort of fun.

  4. jessamyn says:

    lucky lucky co-workers. I’ve been enjoying reading about the buddha’s hand citrons this winter season.


  5. rochelle says:

    For the first time, I found Meyer lemons in a grocery store (midwest). I bought four of them, Walt. What’s the best use for them?

  6. Ruth Ellen says:

    I think the best use is marmalade. Let me know if you want the recipe I use.

  7. rochelle says:

    Please, Ruth Ellen! That’d be great. Will I need more than 4? I found the lemons at the fancy (read: expensive) grocery store that I usually only visit during the holidays to get tastier-than-usual morsels. It’s a dangerous place for me to shop regularly.

  8. Ruth Ellen says:

    Not sure if Walt really wants his blog used for recipe exchanges, so I sent the it to Rochelle via e-mail.

  9. walt says:

    Rochelle, Ruth Ellen:

    I’m not setting rules for what should or should not be in comments, other than things that cause me to delete posts (illegal suggestions, obscenities, hateful statements); I enjoy seeing what comes up! If recipes seem to suit this post, fine with me.

    But I’m also not the expert here. I believe restaurants serve Meyer lemon tarts and other things where a sweeter version of a lemon works well. I do know that the skin is supposed to be edible as well, and suspect that Meyer zest gets used in various recipes. We use the few that we keep just to freshen up the kitchen or to drizzle over cut pears and the like to delay browning…and we only keep three or four out of the 100 or so we handle each week.

  10. Ruth Ellen says:

    Next year save eight lemons.

    Lemon Marmalade
    Slice 8 lemons (2 mm slices). Boil in 6 cups of water, uncovered, 20 min. Cool 1/2 hour. Drain, saving the liquid. Pick out the seeds. Add water to the liquid to make six cups. Add four and a half cups of sugar and the peel and 1/2 tsp. of margarine to the liquid. Boil to gel stage. The recipe says for 1/2 to 1 hour. I have found that it takes more like 1 to 1 and a half hours. The boil will change when it’s ready. It will clump as it drops off of the wooden spoon. The way I recognize the change in the boil is when the bubbles get to be little instead of big. I couldn’t figure this out when I read about it, but when it happened, I recognized it. Ladle into sterile jars. This recipe makes about 8 to 10 cups. Process the jars for 10 minutes. (This means to put the sealed jars into boiling water for 10 minutes. A good basic cookbook, like the Joy of Cooking, will tell about processing). I like this recipe because it’s not too sweet – it’s got a nice tart lemony flavor. Also, I like it better than orange marmalade because it doesn’t have that same bitter taste as orange marmalade has.

  11. walt says:

    Ruth Ellen,

    The problem here is that neither my wife nor I uses marmalade.

    In each of the past two years, a coworker has given us a jar of Meyer marmalade. The first year, most of it went unused. The second year, we explained the problem and declined the gift, with thanks.

    But I’m sure Rochelle will appreciate the recipe!

  12. Ruth Ellen says:

    I don’t use a lot, either, but my mother eats it straight from the jar.

  13. Mark says:

    We have a Meyer lemon tree in Burlingame which is a MACHINE. The little dude puts them out faster than we can use them so this is what we do. We juice them in an electric juicer and freeze them in ice cube trays. We freeze the pristine rinds and dump the frozen cubes into a ziplock to use any way fresh lemon juice would be used.
    After the rinds are frozen you can put a couple of the cubes, about a tablespoon of sugar, and some Torani syrup (raspberry is good) into a blender and then scoop the frozen result into the rinds and refreeze. The kids love them.

  14. Stanley says:

    A month later, a frozen lemon question for Mark… Having my own prolific Meyer tree, I’ve been searching for options to store the fruit for later use, and keep seeing the suggestion to juice them and freeze the juice, as well as to freeze the juiced rinds…. For me, this begs the question: why not just freeze the whole thing? Does something strange happen to the lemons when frozen whole that doesn’t happen to them when their constituent parts are frozen separately?