What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Meyer Lemons and Cabbage
It used to be that unless you knew someone with a Meyer lemon tree, your lemon options were limited to the standard and thicker skinned Eureka and Lisbon lemons. The Meyer's soft and pliant skin was too fragile for the packing and shipping standards of the day. But the flavor and aroma were second to none - a secret once only known by exacting home cooks and thoughtful chefs alike, and usually only those within a 100-mile radius of a citrus growing region.
The history of the Meyer lemon is shrouded in a bit of mystery. It's thought to be a cross between a mandarin orange and a standard lemon, but no one has fully authenticated it. Brought to the U.S. from China in the early 1900's by Frank N. Meyer, the tree was nearly eradicated by a virus in the 1960's, leaving only one particular stock of the Meyer untouched. That surviving stock was propagated as the Improved Meyer Lemon, and it is what we know and love today.
And there is much to love. The flavor of the Meyer is unmatched in the fruit world, with an aroma to match. The acidic punch of the lemon is toned down to a barely-there bright tang with a pleasant sweet taste. And that thin rind that made it difficult to ship ended up being one of the things that gave the Meyer its cult status - lacking the thicker bitter lemon pith of the standard lemons, the peel is entirely edible. And by all means, you should, in both savory and sweet dishes alike; they'll be around well into winter.
Crisp and tightly-balled cabbages are among the growing collections of winter greens that we're seeing at the stalls. They have a wonderful sweet and earthy flavor during the winter months. We actually prefer the smaller cabbage heads (more intense cabbage flavor and less waste), and thanks to a quirk of the growing season, they're in abundance this year. Look for densely layered leaves and that tightly hug the core of the cabbage. They'll feel almost solid, with slight exceptions made for the air pockets in the more ruffled Savoy cabbages, which are outstanding in soups.