Meyer lemons are to lemons as blood oranges are to oranges; seemingly similar, but ultimately very different. Just looking at them you can see it; Meyer lemons are smaller than their standard cousin, their piths are thinner, and their color has a bit of a orange tone—a hint at the flavor they hold.
They’re a seasonal citrus, usually making their debut in markets from late winter/early spring to late spring/early summer. Lately, I’ve written a few posts on very seasonal ingredients: rhubarb, ramps, California cherries, blood oranges (the latter going back some months). I’m all for seasonal eating, and not just because it’s a new-vogue trend of an age-old way of life; not only do foods taste better in their growing season (duh), but their costs aren’t quite as steep either, because they can typically be sourced more locally. I think the real pleasure in some of these ultra-seasonal offerings is that their availability is definitive; that’s to say, they’re truly available in their respective season exclusively, and totally unavailable outside of that. I touched on it a little regarding ramps in my SPRING CHICKEN recipe; some of what makes ramps so special is not necessarily in their taste, but rather that they’re the first edible produce available in early spring, and their availability is so fleeting. I like to think that I’d be as enthusiastic about rhubarb if I could find it year round, but I think the real fuel to my affinity towards it is that you have to greedily enjoy it before it’s gone again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, if you will.
Now, I don’t think there’s much of a Meyer lemon industry in Connecticut, thanks to our winters, but nevertheless, they’re here. I almost let the season fly by me, but I did that with sunchokes and now I regret it. So, before they disappeared I grab some from the store. This ice cream was the perfect way to use them, but in retrospect I think they would have been a great substitute for the lemons in my Spring Chicken, too. I bet they’d be great in a Shaker’s Lemon Pie or roughly chopped and blended, skins and all, with sugar and water, and strained for lemonade, because their thinner piths mean less bitterness.
Their flavor is a combination of lemon and orange—they’re a hybrid of lemon and mandarin oranges. Notably less acidic than a true lemon by far, they have a slightly floral and herbal notes to them, especially in the zest. They’re sweeter, too; ultimately, they’re a combination of the floral flavor of orange zest, the sweetness of orange flesh, and the taste of a lemon, without the intense lip-puckering sourness. I accentuate that sweet herbal flavor a bit by adding thyme to the custard as well—just enough to add interest without becoming to savory and conjuring thoughts of roasted chicken.
The only other noteworthy mention is to make sure your ice cream maker’s base is TOTALLY frozen before you use it. I keep mine in the freezer at all times, but I would suggest putting it in 3 days before you plan on churning (of course, consult the instructions for your machine though).
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