A dinner guest shoves a bag of "something" in your face, announcing proudly that the Meyer lemons in the bag were home-grown, and they're the best of his crop. So as not to be revealed as a "lemon-doofus," you accept gracefully and vow to yourself to research the citrus in the morning. You learn that there are many lemon varieties, but only a few are available commercially. Some have rough peels, while others are smooth. Some are shaped like a football, and others are round. But the main difference in all lemons is taste – is it a sweet lemon or a tart one? Or a Meyer lemon?
The two major types of lemons you'll find in grocery stores and even farm stands in the United States are Eureka and Lisbon. Both are acidic. Eurekas have a pronounced nipple at their bottom and a rough, thick skin, which makes them good for lemon zest. They have few seeds and taste tart.
Lisbons, originally thought to have originated in Portugal, have a pucker at the bottom, an "innie" at the stem end and a smooth skin, which makes them difficult to zest. They are seedless. The juice of the Lisbon lemon is plentiful; both types of lemons are rich in vitamin C, potassium and folic acid.
If the lemon is grown in Florida, it's probably a Lisbon-type of lemon known as a bearss. But if you read the sticker on the lemon peel, you probably won't see either the word Eureka or Lisbon, but instead, you may see some other name particular to the grower. But they're all similar to Eurekas and Lisbons.
The Revered Meyer Lemon
A certain pastiche has attached itself to the Meyer lemon, which probably would please Frank Meyer, who first imported this type of lemon to the United States in the early 1900s. Television chefs have glombed onto the distinctive Meyer and sent the appeal around the country. The Meyer is a hybrid, a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or an orange, giving it an orange-yellow skin and pulp.
The Meyer lemon has a smooth, thin skin and a moderately sweet taste with plenty of juice. It also has ample seeds, and it needs to be strained when juicing. Meyers are primarily grown in California, but a disruption occurred in their production during the 1960s due to a virus. It's now back in the good graces of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, popular with home-growers and found in specialty supermarkets.
Meyers, with their thin skin, are often used in sauces, skin and all. If you find bits of lemon peel in your bakery goods, more than likely the item was made with Meyer lemons. When buying Meyers, look for specimens that are heavy, with a smooth, dull skin.
Put your Eurekas and Lisbons in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Displaying them as a decorative touch in a bowl on the counter provides about a week of adequate life. Slicing them into wedges for your gin and tonic and storing them in the refrigerator will get you through cocktail time for at least a week. Meyer lemons, with their thin skin and juicy flesh, last for about one week. Juice them all and freeze for future use.
They're ugly, pockmarked, rippled like a brain and very difficult to get in the United States. BUT – you can taste their essence immediately; the best-quality Limoncello liqueur is made from this delectable citrus. A grower in California has produced them with some success, but the rocky slopes of Italy's Amalfi Coast are the true home of this year-round lemon.
A Fun Lemon Fact
It's believed that Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds with him when he set foot in the New World in 1493. Cultivated in Genoa, Italy, in the 1400s, Hispaniola was the first territory in the Western Hemisphere to meet the lemon.