Monday, October 27, 2008

Meyer Lemons in Season, in October, in New York! (Part 1)


Two birthdays ago, a huge cardboard box arrived on my doorstep. Inside, buried within an absolute avalanche of packing peanuts, was a tiny Meyer lemon tree in a small terra cotta pot. This birthday gift was meaningful on a few different levels. First off, my husband had gotten me the perfect gift not because I'd asked for it, but because he'd been listening and reading between the lines. I'd recently written an article on Meyer lemons, and I was intrigued by the small, elegant citrus that was pretty much unavailable from markets on the East Coast. I was talking a lot about the little lemons, wondering wistfully, looking up recipes on the Internet and in books, imagining.


Until I opened the box in my kitchen that July day, I had no idea you could successfully grow a Meyer lemon tree in a small indoor space in New York. But my husband had gone to considerable lengths to research and provide me with just this wonderful thing. So I carefully took the little tree ~ it was about 2 feet tall ~ from its nest of packaging and installed it in the sunniest window in our house. And it flourished. A few leaves dropped, an expected consequence of the stress of undergoing a transcontinental jaunt in a cardboard box. But new leaves grew, and lusciously fragrant white blossoms emerged from among the dark green leaves.

Eventually the blossoms fell off, revealing tiny fruit no bigger than dried navy beans. And the little fruit smelled terrific too. And then winter came, and the window space got chilly. And my little Meyer lemon started to drop its leaves. And then I was horrified to see the little lemons begin to fall off too, one by one. Finally, all but three leaves had vacated the spindly tree, and a cluster of three tiny lemons were all that remained of the initially promising crop. They were deep green and sticky, covered with cat hair. The Meyer lemon tree of my dreams looked like something out of a citrus grower's nightmare.

I began to add a liquid houseplant fertilizer to its water, and it started to perk up a little. Spring came, leaves grew back, and the little lemons got bigger. They were now the size of prune plums.




And that's when Sofia, our cat, had an unfortunate clash with the little lemon tree. I knew at once it was an accident ~ a graceless startle or a badly landed jump had sent her directly into the path of the little tree (and its thorns), and the weight of the lemons swinging wildly snapped the branch from which they hung. I could have cried to see it dangling parallel to the slender trunk, those tiny lemons nearly resting in the sphagnum moss around the base of the tree. I had a brief moment of "Oh, forget it already ~ lemons in New York? Come on, you should have known it wouldn't work out!" And then I pulled myself together and went to fetch splint-making materials.

The Broken Branch Valiantly Bears Up

(Arrow shows electrical tape at repair site)



Sofia watched as I bound up the broken branch with electrical tape, using a heavy-dute paint stirrer to support the branch beneath the fruit. I then taped the stirrer to the pot to hold it in place. Sofi jumped up to the windowsill, meandered over to inspect my work, and promptly started scratching her chin against my painstakingly positioned splint, an activity that would thenceforth continue to occupy much of her free time.

Scratching the Chin

That was a long, long time ago. It's now October, a year later, and those lemons have finally, miraculously ripened. The branch is bowed over the paint stirrer from the weight of the lemons, and evidence of Sofi's inability to leave the poor plant alone is present in the tufts of cat fur clinging to the electrical tape binding the stirrer to the pot. I don't know exactly how long these three lemons have been on the tree, but I do know it's been well over a year; I'll estimate 15 months. For a while there, we were starting to wonder if it might be a lime tree.



I knew that when I picked my little lemons, I had to have something really, really special for them to do. Something that would showcase the unique attributes of the Meyer lemon, and honor the hard-won fruit of my little tree's labors. I decided on Dorie Greenspan's Tartest Lemon Tart, because it's unusual in that it calls for the entire lemon ~ peel, pith, and all ~ to be used. Since the Meyer lemon has a wonderfully thin, mild rind and is extremely juicy for its size, this was the perfect recipe. I adapted it to make individual tartlets instead of one large tart. As such, it took only about half of the filling to make the tarts. The remainder I cooked off to make a silky, luxurious lemon curd. Recipes for both of these delights will follow soon.

Meyer Lemon Tartlet


Meyer Lemon Curd

After I picked the lemons, I removed the splint, pruned some of the overgrown foliage back, and gave my little Meyer lemon tree a good stiff drink of Miracle-Gro spiked water. Hopefully, it's already surreptitiously working on its next crop of lemons. If you want to try a Meyer lemon or other citrus tree, indoor or outdoor, for yourself, try these guys ~ that's where mine came from.


Sofia is finding it hard to get comfortable on the windowsill without her chin scratcher.


Sofi and the Meyer Lemon Tree

17 comments:

  1. What a sweet story. I'm so glad it worked out for you and your lemons survived. Both the tart and the curd are lovely. Very worthy of the "fruits of your labor".

    I've been pining for Meyer lemons for years too. I just found myself a little tree a few weeks ago and planted it in the backyard. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

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  2. I'm inspired to find a meyer lemon tree to grow indoors now. I would have given up on the tree after it lost all its leaves, but good on you to stick with it! That meyer lemon tart must be the best loved tart yet!

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  3. Hi, Just letting you know I left an "award" for you on my blog today in my TWD post! I was given one and so wanted to pass it along to a blog I enjoy! :) Lisa

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  4. ~SGCC: I'm rooting for your little tree too! It'll probably do great for you outside!

    ~Shari: I added a link to the nursery where mine came from. They also have limes, grapefruit, and various orange trees! And yes, those little tarts were like gold! My husband doesn't even like lemon desserts and he ate 2!

    ~Lady Baker: Thanks so much, Lisa!! You are so sweet! Can't wait to pass it along. :)

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  5. Hurray for your perseverance! You were rewarded and now i am tempted to get a tree. Great idea for a present.

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  6. What a great story! I'm envious that you have that little tree. I've been hoping that one day I'll find meyer lemons at the store... I live in NJ and so far no such luck!

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  7. ~Lori: Thanks! I would definitely encourage you to get one. It's so exciting (at least, for those of us who are easily excited by such things!) to watch the progress, and then to actually have the fruit that you'd never be able to produce otherwise. Very cool!

    ~Patsyk: From what I've learned in my research, they're not marketed commercially because the rinds are so thin and the fruit is proportionately so juicy that they would be too easily damaged. It wouldn't be cost effective to ship them on a commercial scale. You can order boxes of Meyer lemons, I think, but it's more fun to have your own tree! :)

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  8. I had no idea you can grow a Meyer Lemon tree indoors, or that it took so long for the little lemons to grow! What a great story...stumbled because it was funny and informative :)
    I adore your cat, by the way and cheers to your hubby for being so in tune with you!

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  9. Sweetest gift idea I have EVER HEARD! So thoughtful of your husband.

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  10. ~Kristen: Thanks for Stumbling me! I'm not sure, but I think it's just my lemons that took so long! Maybe a sunnier window/warmer climate would shorten the process. But anticipation made them sweeter!

    ~Maris: I admit, it was pretty thoughtful ~ especially since he's not a lemon fan! But he's liking the tarts . . . Meyer lemons are just so different!

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  11. I love Meyer lemons! My husband recently purchased a grapefruit tree (of all things) and put it in the front window of his office. Since there's no cat at work to blame any tree trauma on, we're hoping it will actually produce grapefruit someday.

    Until then, I'll be rooting for your Meyer lemon tree---here's to many more citrus inspired recipes to come!

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  12. I'm amazed at the length of time those lemons were on the tree and the vicissitudes of growing and ripening them. The recipes you chose look absolutely perfect for your crop. I adore lemon curd with gingerbread, and those tarts look like rock stars. So to speak.
    Nancy

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  13. You are so lucky! I've been itching to try a Meyer lemon tree. I've tried growing key lime and calamondin orange trees indoors, but lost both to some kind of citrus-obsessed insect. I think it's amazing that these trees will produce indoors.

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  14. Love the story, love the tree, love the recipes you chose. Now I'm even more excited for my tree to get here! :)

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  15. This is very encouraging. I live in the City thought it would be impossible to grow a Meyer lemon tree pass winter in NY!!

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  16. What a wonderful story! Looking at your last picture with Sofi in it, you might want to prune off the growth from low on the trunk that has three-leaflet leaves. That's the rootstock plant, a species named Poncirus trifoliata (your Meyer lemon, which has plain/undivided leaves, is obviously grafted onto it), and it would be best for your lemon's health to keep any growth from below the graft union trimmed off. The rootstock could eventually overtake your plant otherwise.

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  17. Anonymous: Thank you so much for the excellent tip! That's the first I've heard of that situation, and it makes perfect sense. Again, thanks!!

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