Wine Country Journal~ “When Life Hands You Lemons”


Oh, but California-
California, I'm coming home
I'm going to see the folks I dig
I'll even kiss a sunset pig.
California, I'm coming home!*

The church bells are ringing from a block away. We're not sure why on a Friday night. Maybe it's a Methodist tradition. Maybe in this town, it is the official start of Happy Hour. It is quite lovely, in its way.They chime on Sunday morn as well. Our town is so small that it evokes silent memory spurs from long ago. If I was staying with Aunt Nina (my grandmother's sister-who was our favorite Auntie), and heard the chimes, I would have had to hurry to climb into the clothes that were laid out for me the night before, tie my shoes right and tuck in my shirt tails, and get downstairs in a hurry to the old kitchen sink to the shelf above that held many tooth brushes, of those who were not lucky enough to be alone, as I was, to be with Saint Aunt Nina today.  

I came to love those church bells. They weren't the threatening type, who's tone implored "come to Church—-you sinners!". It was more an exaggeration of the melodies played at the half and quarter hour by the town clock on Main Street. Here we are on Main Street–many eons later(or as close as we'll ever get again), the iambic pentameter of church bells, both lures and seduces our intrigue.

There seems to be a difference in the tones from that of ancient New England. There is no piety involved. If it were an autumn night, one might conjure images of a headless horseman rather than that of an angel of doom. It drew me out into the street. As the tones continued to sound, towards the end there seemed to be a rhythm or recurring strain: seven separate rings-three separate times. I wandered towards the church and was met in the street by towns-folk, whom we have not yet gotten to know. Before questioning,I hear: "A glorious memorial! Didn't you think?"  Nothing more-nothing less.

Our neighbors have been very friendly. It too, is a different feel than from that of New England. So far, we've escaped the confrontation of small town talk. It is there, of course, as witnessed by 'M' on one of his morning walks: "Oh you are the professor from Vermont!".The funny part about that being, 'M' is the most private and subdued of persons. I, on the other hand am not, but have tried to restrain myself this time from being too much of an extrovert as to give away all of our secrets before their time.

I averted my path towards the church, and instead continued down the street a couple of blocks beyond the Main Street of this tiny town in which we live. There beyond lies one of the most magnificent gardens that welcome you to Food-for-Thought, an incredibly conscious organization that provides food and resources for people dealing with HIV disease in Sonoma County. I know this as a place of refuge. How wonderful to walk there in the morning to sit in the garden, smell and see beauty to start the day.

While walking through the gardens, I see on the ground many lemons that have fallen from the tree. Not just any lemons: I knew by the smaller size and orange skin that they were 'Meyer' lemons.  

They were there. They were on the ground. It was instant recognition that if they were not gathered within hours, the fruition of their existence would have passed in vain. Being a cook, I go out on a limb (pun intended) to say that lemons have to be my favorite additive in the craft which has been my life. I find that I crave the pungency of this fruit more than that of all others. I am not sure, and I hesitate to say, that one of my excitements of coming home to California was the thought of an endless lemon season. I sometimes dreamed of all of the haunts I used to know of where to go pick lemons to my heart's content. Here I am: in summer, when basil grows like weeds; berries and melons yearn to be married with citron; ice screams to swim in lemonade… And I come upon a tree of Meyer's.

A 'Meyer lemon' is very different than the Lisbon or Eureka brands one is used to buying in the supermarket. One reason that they are so rare is that they don't ship well: they reach perfection and fade before the amount of time it takes to pick, process and ship them. Fortunately, the world is quickly discovering my addiction and Meyer lemons are showing up more and more at a local, expensive produce shop near you (just kidding)…They are so good, I vant to possess them!

Meyer lemons are said to be a cross of a standard lemon and an orange or a mandarin.I think that they taste like the ultimate essence of lemon (minus the offensive pucker acidity) combined with honey. The skin is soft and edible. The color is an orangy-eggy yellow that begs you to bite into them like a peach. Okay–maybe that idea is only for those of us who might be deemed hard core.

The Meyer Lemon Tree is named for Frank Meyer. He brought it to the United States from China in 1908 while working for the US Department of Agriculture.Frank Meyer was a "plant explorer" for the
U.S. Department of Agriculture when he arrived in China in 1905. After battling heat, cold, and at least one assassin, he was traveling near Beijing when he encountered a dwarf lemon tree he shipped back to America.
Meyer’s life was short: He drowned, mysteriously, on a return expedition to China. But his namesake tree won immortality. 

Perhaps you have guessed that we are in a state of bliss here, in terms of not being bitter. What do we do with them?

 'MandT's All-time Favorite Summer Salad'

With a vegetable peeler, skin the zest off of two or three lemons. Chop fine and add to the squeezed juice and three tablespoons of fine virgin olive oil. Pick, wash, and chop at least three or four tablespoons of basil from your garden and add it to the mix with many grinds of fresh cracked pepper and about 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix well and taste. For us- 'the more lemon…the better'. At this point, the world is your oyster: add chopped cucumber, red onions or scallions, black olives, sauteed mushrooms, or just be seduced by plain solitary delicious summer tomatoes. 

Meyer Lemon Curd

3 Meyer lemons
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten

Finely grate enough zest from lemons to measure 2 teaspoons and squeeze enough juice to measure 1/2 cup. Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, and eggs in a metal bowl and add butter. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking, until thickened and smooth and an instant-read thermometer registers 160°F, about 5 minutes. If you are using a microwave, stir with a wooden spoon often until it is thick.Force curd through a fine sieve set into another bowl.
Serve warm or cover surface of curd with wax paper and cool completely.Wonderful on scones, toast, or by the spoonful.

Creative Inspiration

Just try squeezing Meyer lemons onto melons; make lemonade; bake and make lemon poppyseed bread or muffins, make a Meyer lemon ice cream, loading the custard with peel as well as juice, add a hint of cardamom—which helps to bring out the richness of Meyer's flavor. For a 'to-die-for' interpretation of the Greek Avgolemono, use Meyer lemon with your chicken broth; want to talk beverages from lemondrops to lemonade? We even heard that a Meyer wedge smooths out your finest tequilla—–

'With sweeter juice, a thinner peel, less acid and a more floral scent (and taste) than other lemon varieties, Meyers are as much fun to cook with as they would be to paint.'

"For decades the Meyer was a Western gardening secret, but now Meyer sorbets and souffles star on menus in Manhattan and Miami, and a few growers in California’s Central Valley are planting orchards (albeit only acres at a time) to meet rising demand. Still, if you live anywhere the winters aren’t frosty,the best Meyer lemons will be the ones you grow in your backyard."

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                                                   Anyone want to sign up for Camp MandT?

                                                                            ………………………….until next time!


Oh it gets so lonely

When you're walking

And the streets are full of strangers

Oh, will you take me as I am?
Will you take me as I am?*
(*thank you Joni Mitchell) 

 Addendum: With many thanks to the input from the Sage Fallenmonk , we offer this resource for fun ideas of what to create with Meyer lemons: "100 things to do with a Meyer lemon' .


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