Monday, April 24, 2006

Meyer Lemon P.S.

Quite by accident, last night I discovered a concoction both deserving of the Meyer lemon and greatly enhanced by the fruit -- a classic gin and tonic. Not wanting to waste the last bits of the Meyer, I sliced a healthy wedge into my drink and was struck immediately at how perfect the fruit complemented it. Sweeter than my usual lime twist, but still acidic and bracing, the Meyer lemon is my new favorite garnish. Now, to convince the owners of NY bars that stocking Meyer lemons would be worth their while...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Adventures in Ingredients -- Meyer Lemons

Since I started obsessively paging through cooking magazines like Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and Cooking Light a few years ago, I have seen many references to Meyer lemons. Often they are suggested in lieu of the more widely available Eureka lemons; occasionally they are mandated. I have never taken the magazines up on the suggestion, nor the mandate, simply because I couldn’t find the fruit at my usual marketing haunts. But so often were the Meyers recommended that they began to take on a mythical status in my mind – an ingredient revered by recipe writers and food editors, an ingredient that would make an ordinary dish sublime.

Last week over dinner at Crispo my friend Jessica let it slip that a pal of hers in California had sent her a box of ten Meyer lemons. In fact she used a few of them in the pie she made me recently. Sadly, the lemons had all been used… or so Jessica said. As we left Crispo I spotted Balducci’s across the street and, we went in on a hunch that the renowned food emporium would carry the coveted citrus. Lo and behold, there were the Meyer lemons – my first sighting in the flesh! I was surprised by the sunny orange rind and the softness of the fruit. Jessica graciously bought two for me and I took my bounty home to contemplate what to cook.

According to Splendid Table, the Meyer lemon is a hybrid fruit – a cross between a lemon and an orange or a mandarin orange. The fruit originated in China and was brought to North America in 1908 by Frank Meyer, a plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today the fruit grows primarily in California with a peak season of November through January, but often extending until April.

So I got my hands on the Meyers just in the nick of time. Now, how to take advantage of the treasures? After a search on Epicurious, I chose the Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake, which had positive reader reviews and called for 1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice. I sliced one of the lemons horizontally, my knife easily sliding through the soft rind. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn I was about to juice an orange, for the flesh was even more orange than the rind. I smelled the fruit, and was rewarded with the frangrance of orange sherbet. A quick slurp of the juice confirmed my initial impressions. The Meyer tasted sweeter than a typical lemon – more like a sour orange or even a grapefruit. The Meyer lacked the straightforward, tangy kick of its yellow cousin, but released instead a subtler flavor that shifted in my mouth.

The Meyer Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake was tasty – but did it do justice to the elusive Meyer lemon? Or, put another way, did the Meyer lemon do justice to the cake? I’m not sure. I almost thought the cake would taste better with the zing of a regular lemon. But, I’m not ready to abandon Mr. Meyer’s lemon yet. Now that I know where and when to find it, I will continue to experiment with the food editors’ favorite fruit.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Conversations to Come...

People care about food for reasons as diverse as there are boxes of cereal on supermarket shelves. Some people care because it literally puts food in their mouths: they are farmers or they own restaurants, food shops, or cookware stores. Others are culinary historians, anti-hunger activists, accomplished amateur chefs, food stylists, advocates for organic produce, food writers, or professional cooks. Some people who care deeply about food are simply hungry and craving something remarkable to satisfy that hunger.

In La Noisette I will report back on my conversations with a diverse group of people who truly care about food. We will discover how their relationship with food affects their lives and how they put that passion into action – be it on a global, community, or household level.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Food as Opportunity

“In societies torn by war, food is often the one chance people have to make anything in their day remarkable.” The journalist Scott Simon wrote that line in “Conflict Cuisine”, from the April 2006 issue of Gourmet. In the article he recounts some of the memorable meals he experienced while covering wars in Eritrea, Bosnia, and Kosovo. His observation struck me hard. While the difference between the hell of war and the “hell” of jobs, commuting, and day-to-day life are worlds apart, I believe that food gives people from all walks of life the opportunity to have something special in their day. Instead of microwaving a frozen dinner, a stay-at-home mother gently rests a poached egg over steamed asparagus for her lunch. Forgoing the usual supper of popcorn the retired couple spends 20 minutes in the kitchen making tangy tacos. Preparing delicious, memorable food doesn’t have to difficult, time-consuming, or out of reach. It is a simple pleasure, one that can make anyone’s day remarkable.