Sunday, 7 February 2016

Frank Meyer and the Meyer Lemon

A seasonal treat, but not local for us in Toronto, is the Meyer Lemon. They hailed from China originally and are thought to be a cross between Mandarin oranges and lemons. Meyer lemons are smaller and more round than regular lemons. Their flesh often has a "peachy" tint and is less acidic than the common Lisbon or Eureka lemon with a skin that is thinner.
Meyer Lemons
Discovered in 1908 by Frank Meyer, an agricultural explorer, they bear his name. Like John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, he preferred work in the field to life at a desk. But unlike John Muir his name is virtually unknown today. Yet examples of his legacy are found in virtually every garden in North America today.

Frank Meyer was the first agricultural explorer charged with searching for economically useful, rather than ornamental, plants. He was employed by the Foreign Plant Introduction program of the USDA and sent to China initially. Later travels took him to Korea and Siberia. Over four expeditions to Asia he discovered and sent back cuttings, seeds and clippings of hundred of plants that have changed the botanical landscape of North America. His discoveries include grasses that are now used for lawns, scions and rootstock for fruit tree breeding, soybean and alfalfa and innumerable other ornamental and agricultural plants.

He was an indefatigable explorer walking through mountain ranges, across deserts and wading through icy streams in climatic extremes ranging from snowstorms to tropical heat and humidity. He was assaulted by robbers and thieves, bedbugs and scorpions, and often walked 25 to 40 miles a day. On his third expedition on one single day, November 9, 1914, he and his party crossed four mountain passes at elevations above 11.000 feet. On another expedition from Korea to Siberia he and his group lived on nothing but boiled oats for the last two weeks. He camped in tents when it was so cold the tea froze in the cup before it could be drunk. His return to the US from England was on the Mauretania in March 1912, following one day behind the ill-fated Titanic. His death is a mystery. On June 1, 1918 he boarded a steamer bound for Shanghai. Later that evening he could not be found. His body was eventually recovered from the Yangtze River. It was never determined whether his death was a suicide or the result of foul play.
Frank Meyer and his collecting party at 4.000 feet near Yin Tau Ko, China

A biography of Frank Meyer was written by Isabel Shipley Cunningham, Plant Hunter in Asia. There is an excellent article by her with photographs at

One of the best uses for Meyer lemons is Meyer Lemon Marmalade. There are many ways to make marmalade; preparation can take two days or just a couple of hours, texture can be thick cut or fine. I prefer the method which involves pre-soaking cut rind overnight and results in a somewhat robust texture.

The first step is to halve the lemons and remove and save the seeds which are a big source of pectin, necessarily for gelling but allowing the marmalade to be made without the use of commercial gelatine.

Halved lemon reveals seeds  to be removed
The seeds, high in pectin, are set aside

After the seeds are removed each half is cut into quarters and then those quarters are sliced thinly.
Meyer lemons waiting to be cut, the lemons sliced and put into a non-reactive pot
The sliced lemons, any juice accumulated, water and the seeds, gathered into a cheesecloth bag, are put into a non-reactive bowl, covered and left to stand overnight.
The seeds are gathered into a cheesecloth bag

Sliced, lemons, seeds and water rest overnight on the counter

The next day the mixture is brought to a boil over medium heat. I add the sugar at that point and then it is kept on a medium boil/simmer until the gelling point is reached. Once the gelling point is reached the bubbles become small and cover the entire surface. I also test by putting half a spoonful on a plate in the freezer for a couple minutes. When it is removed from the freezer the marmalade has gelled if the cold sample wrinkles when pushed with a finger. When sure the gelling point has been reached the bag of seeds is removed and the marmalade can be ladled into sterilized mason jars.

I like to process the marmalade in a hot water bath. This is not necessary because of the high sugar content but I like to take this step because I can find out in five minutes, rather than five hours, whether the jars have sealed.
Canned and processed Meyer Lemon Marmalade 
Once cooled the marmalade can be stored for a year for a little taste of sunshine all year long.

I have a somewhat pathetic Meyer Lemon plant which is fun but only bears one or two little fruits a year.
The finished product in front of the raw material!

1 comment:

  1. Love this entry! So informative and the photos are beautiful as always!