Zest appeal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Whenever I'm in California and see overladen citrus trees in people's gardens, I'm tempted to pick the fruit from any branches hanging over the pavement (it's considered fair game if limbs cross into public space).

I'm especially covetous of Meyer lemons, which look, smell and taste distinctly different from more standard varieties. Believed to be a naturally occurring cross between a lemon and some type of orange, the Meyer is rounder, with thinner skin and juicier flesh, and its flavour is less acidic and sour. It is odd that Meyer lemons are so difficult to find in Hong Kong, as the fruit originates in China, from where it was taken to the United States more than a century ago.

I occasionally search for the tree in the Prince Edward flower market, but have never seen it. A friend found hers in Yuen Long- a farmer was about to throw it away. I eventually imported a tree from the US, but it wasn't easy: official papers were needed and it had to be quarantined in case it carried pests that might harm Hong Kong's agricultural industry.

Meyer lemons are more fragile than other types, so they're usually not shipped over long distances. If you do get some, check the skin for mould. The fruit should feel heavy for its size.

Do not add much sugar when using Meyer lemons in desserts. They make a wonderful lemon tart, in which the juice and grated zest are whisked with eggs, granulated sugar and cream before being poured into a pre-baked tart shell. They're also great in lemon pound cake- mix the zest into the batter, and combine the juice with sugar to make a syrup that's brushed over the cake when it's hot from the oven.

Meyers are also good as preserved lemons. Wash the skin well then slice through the length of the lemon until just above the base, then turn 90 degrees and slice again, so the fruit is in four segments that are joined at the bottom. Pour medium-grained salt over the cut sides and re-shape them. Pour some salt into the bottom of a mason jar and stuff the lemons tightly inside so they start to release juice. Sprinkle more salt over the fruit, then add more fresh Meyer juice to the jar.

If you like, add a sprig or two of a fresh herb such as thyme or rosemary, or add a couple of bay leaves. Cover the jar and leave at room temperature for about a week, shaking it every day to dissolve the salt. Leave for about a month before using in tagines and stews.