Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cult of the Meyer Lemon

Today I made Meyer lemon ice cream to bring out to the beach house to serve to my mother-in-law, who loves lemon. The recipe is from "Chez Panisse Desserts" by Lindsey Shere, who is largely responsible for bringing the Meyer lemon into California cuisine. Once Meyer lemons only grew in backyards, like my granny's up the street from us in Berkeley. I remember that my mom didn't really like them when we got a bag from my granny because they weren't tart enough. If I scratch them with my fingernail, they have a perfumey smell that reminds me of lemon blossoms. Their juice is sweeter than regular (Eureka) lemons; they may be a hybrid of lemons and mandarins although the origin is unknown. Now Meyer lemons are prized for their special flavor and perfume and rarity, since they are still barely grown commercially. They thrive in the Bay Area, even in San Francisco, even in our very own yard!

The history of this particular dwarf Meyer lemon tree is a testament to my husband's green thumb and the hardiness of plants. At the time we left our house to live abroad seven years ago, it was in a pot, not exactly thriving but surviving. We had lost two earlier trees to ants, despite smearing gobs of Tanglefoot around the trunk. The ants farm the aphids for the sweet juice they excrete and the sweet juice in turn develops a sooty mold, which kills the tree. When we returned to our home five years ago, the tree was a dead stick. I said, "Throw it out." My husband said, "Wait and see." The following winter it sprouted a healthy-looking branch and leaves. We planted it in two different places in the backyard, where it continued to revive itself and gather strength. Year before last it actually produced two lemons that ripened. We still were not satisfied with its location, however. We conferred and agreed that it really should go in the warm south-facing corner in the front of our house, where we recently removed a gnarly old lavender bush. We moved it again, and suddenly it burst forth with blossoms, then set tiny green fruit, all of which ripened and grew fat. Our tree was dripping with lemons. This year it also has a large crop, although not quite as big as last year. I picked the three largest lemons for this recipe.

Meyer Lemon Ice Cream (from "Chez Panisse Desserts" by Lindsey Remolif Shere)
Makes 1-2/3 quarts.
3 Meyer lemons, about 3/4 pound
1 cup sugar
1 cup half and half
6 egg yolks
3 cups whipping cream
Vanilla extract to taste
Peel one lemon very thin with a vegetable peeler, taking care not to cut into the pith. Put the peel in a non-corroding saucepan with the sugar and the half and half. Heat the mixture to just under boiling, remove from heat, and let steep for ten minutes.

Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until just mixed, and pour in some of the hot half and half mixture, stirring constantly. Pour it back into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Pour through a strainer into the bowl.

Add the finely grated peel of two lemons.

Let stand in the mixture for ten minutes and then add the cream. Juice the lemons, strain the juice, and add 9 tablespoons to the cream mixture. Taste and add more juice if you want more tartness, and a few drops of vanilla. Chill thoroughly. Freeze according to instructions with your ice cream maker.


Caroline said...

what a gorgeous picture!

Marmee said...

Yum! It's late and now I want a midnight snack!

Also, I'm enthralled with the idea that you are growing lemons and making ice cream while I, bundled in winter garb, slushed through the snow today!

Can I come live with you? :)