There’s not too much for me to get excited about during the winter… its cold, the days are way too short, and the holidays are all but a distant memory. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas and New Years were great fun and I do so love all the comfort foods that went along with them (in fact, Christmas cookies are right up there with ‘brown paper packages tied up with string’). However, what I really miss the most during these winter month are all my favorite summer fruits. Pomegranates and persimmons are OK, but thank goodness for winter citrus! Blood oranges are downright exciting! Kumquats and limequats…thrilling! Navels, Satsuma Mandarins and tangerines are right up there with ‘warm woolen mittens’. But my best ‘favorite thing’ of all the citrus is Meyer Lemons.
Meyer Lemons are originally from China. They are thought to be a cross between a conventional lemon and a mandarin. That is what gives them their wonderfully fragrant smell, unique sweetness and luscious beautiful color. They were brought to the United States by Frank Nicolas Meyer (hence the name). They became very popular in the US but were most widely grown in California. Sadly, sometime in 1940’s it was discovered that they were carriers of a virus that was lethal to other citrus tree so most of the trees were destroyed. A virus-free variety was found and cultivated in the 1950’s by ‘Four Winds Growers’, and was later certified by the University of California and sold as the ‘Improved Meyer Lemon’. Being a native I guess I have taken Meyer lemons for granted. It turns out that these beauties were not as well known outside of California until somewhat recently. Thanks in part to Alice Waters, Martha Stewart and others who have popularized them, we now have to share our Meyer lemons with the rest of the world .Their amazing fragrance and sweetness make them an exceptional choice for baking or really using for anything that calls for a lemon. A new crop of Meyers should be hitting the store shelves now. If you can’t find them and you are not lucky enough to have a tree in your yard (or if you are afraid of getting caught reaching over you neighbor’s fence) there is one other option…call up the “Lemon Ladies Orchard”.
When I first heard of the Lemon Ladies Orchard, I imagined fields of lemon trees being attended to by scores of ladies (or at least a few girls in ‘white dresses with blue satin sashes’). Instead, I found Karen Morse, ‘orchardess supreme’ and sole caretaker tending to some of the most beautiful Meyer lemon trees I have ever seen. How Karen came upon this role has been somewhat of a journey. She started out in Philadelphia before ending up in California running her own software company. After moving on from that endeavor, she bought a flight school. It was there that she got her first taste of a Meyer lemon. She was already known as the lemonade lady at this point but tasting her first Meyer lemon was somewhat of a revelation. After her years of success Karen eventually sold the flight school and set out trying to find something new to keep her out of trouble. She had a patch of land behind her beautiful Emerald Hills home without anything on it…this is where the dream began. Karen already had great luck with the one Meyer lemon tree she had planted and she knew how well they grew in this area. She started reading everything she could about growing citrus trees, and with some help from ‘Four Winds Growers’ in the East Bay, Karen planted her trees and set out on yet another successful venture. Wandering around the orchard I still had my eyes peeled for some more ladies. I knew they had to be some here somewhere! That is when Karen told me about how she named every tree after a woman who has inspired her over the years. Each tree bears a handmade tile that was painted by each one of these inspirational women. Now it became clear: Karen is the “orchardess”, but the trees are the “ladies” of Lemon Ladies Orchard. This is the inspirational spirit (plus a lot of hard work and love) that make Karen’s lemons the best around!
Karen started out selling her lemons at local markets, restaurants and the internet. Her lemons became so popular over the internet that she now only sells them online. In fact, people all over the globe are clamoring for them. Fortunately for us all, the ladies came through the recent cold snap and will probably be shipping into March. You can find her online at lemonladies.com and on Facebook as well. I wouldn’t wait too long either as word has gotten out as well as demand. I can easily see a day in the not too distant future when demand outweighs supply.
Meyer lemons are great in any recipe that calls for lemons. If you manage to come by some Meyer lemons and you need a good recipe, there are some great ones on Karen’s web page. The Panna Cotta is amazing! Right now I am off to make some lemon bars. I will be posting that recipe in a couple days.
Thank you Karen for your inspirational story and for making your lemons one of my “most favorite things”.