A heavy box arrived just before Christmas, delivered by my trusty UPS man who always has a warm hello for my pesky little dog as he searches the big brown truck for cookies. It was from chef Charlene Badman of FnB, (as in Food and Beverage). Charlene is one of my favorite chefs. Anywhere. In addition to serving up some very good dishes, FnB also has a bodega where some of those good and unusual ingredients used in the restaurant can be bought, and a wine shop to boot. It makes such good sense. FnB happens to be in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Scottsdale is also a place where Meyer lemon trees grow along with other citrus fruits.
I suspected that this large, well-taped box might be filled with Gillfeather rutabagas, a vegetable Charlene and I share something of a passion for. But once I cut though all the tape that held the cardboard together, it was lemons that came tumbling out, lemons of a deep yellow hue, lemons that were exceptionally large and that spewed fragrant oil into the air when nicked with a fingernail or sliced in half. These were the lemons I grew up with in California. Charlene couldn’t have known – or maybe she did – how very happy her citrusy gift made me, especially in winter when I tend to be more homesick than usual for California produce.
Don’t get me wrong – we are grateful to have snow on the ground and we’re happy to have it be cold outside because fruit trees need their chill hours to bear fruit next summer. Nine degree mornings aren’t the easiest for dog walks, but the sunny cheer of these winter fruits seemed to warm up the air with their glow.
First I put them in a bowl –one of my favorites— (see the picture) and it’s made by Robert Brady in Berkeley (www.traxgallery.com) to admire. Nestled there, they lit up the darkness of winter. Even in sunny New Mexico we do have grey, overcast days. I also left some in the refrigerator so that they wouldn’t get slack and soft, and now that the official holidays are nearly over, my lemony lights will join them in the chill. I do treasure them so I know there’s a danger of keeping them far too long instead of using them, but I intend to overcome that, starting now. I know there are many things I can do with Meyer lemons, besides look at them.
There are lemon sorbets and ice creams to make, lemon curd and lemon tarts, which David Lebowitz (www.davidlebowitz.com) has recently written about, or, turning to one of my favorite dessert books, Lindsey Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts, I’m reminded of how to make a Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie and her Meyer lemon Ice Cream. And of course these fragrant fruits can be used wherever lemons are called for. For the moment, though, I will use at least some my lemons in sauces and vinaigrettes as the holidays have brought a surfeit of sweets and the beginning of the New Year does inspire a break.
So here’s a simple Meyer lemon sauce from Local Flavors, Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers Markets, that I’m inclined to spoon over avocado and pomelo salads, toss with shaved fennel, or spoon over poached or roasted fish or use to dress a frikeh and beet salad—on the menu for tomorrow, I think. In short, you can use this sauce wherever you want a complex tasting but simply made dressing. Now is one time I splurge on buying fresh tarragon, as mine has crisped up and fallen away with winter and its freezing temperatures.
Meyer Lemon Sauce with Tarragon
Makes 1/3 to 1/2-cup.
1 large Meyer lemon
1 shallot, finely diced
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
Remove the zest, juice the lemon and put both in a small bowl with the shallot, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand for several minutes, then whisk in the oil and add the tarragon. Season with a little freshly ground pepper. Taste and add more oil if needed. Meyer lemons are generally sweeter and less acidic than Eurekas so 2 tablespoons might be enough.