In January, just about the only excitement to be found in the produce section is in citrus. All the other fruit has that anemic, flown-in-from-the-southern-hemisphere look. Summer vegetables like peppers, zucchini and tomatoes are expensive or tasteless or both. And while I love cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, root vegetables, and winter squash, by the dead of winter, they’re all starting to get old.
Exotic varieties of citrus are one of the few culinary highlights in the otherwise bleak Chicago winter. Like an antidote to the winter doldrums, a new kind of citrus fruit arrives in the stores every week during the winter months. Pomelos, tangelos, blood oranges, Key limes and Meyer lemons are just some of the varieties that you find in the grocery store at this time of year.
Citrus fruits work well in both sweet and savory dishes and add not only the brightness of their acidity but also a jolt of welcome color. If a recipe calls for citrus juice, be sure to zest the fruit first so as not to waste all the flavor and oils that are found in the outer layer of peel. You can use the zest to flavor sugar and even salt. I’m collecting ideas for ways to use all this citrus bounty on Pinterest, so if you are interested, be sure to follow my board Things to Do with Citrus.
One of the most versatile special varieties of citrus that you can find at this time of year is the Meyer lemon. Larger and sweeter than a typical lemon, Meyer lemons have smooth skin and a delicious, slightly floral fragrance. Anything you can do with a lemon, you can do better with a Meyer lemon: cook with them, bake with them, clean your house with them, or better yet, get drunk with them. For ideas, check out this 2008 article from the Los Angeles Times, 100 Things to Do with a Meyer Lemon.
You can find Meyer lemons pretty readily in most grocery stores that have a large produce section. And while they are more expensive than ordinary lemons, they are not outrageous. I hit the Meyer lemon jackpot, however, on my recent trip to southwest Florida. My friend Dora, who I met through the Chicago Food Swap, invited me to visit her in-laws’ farm, which was about an hour from where I was staying. Dora’s inlaws, the Roses, have an amazing farm where they grow all kinds of tropical fruits, including papaya, starfruit, mango, guava, numerous varieties of avocado, and citrus. I came home from my visit loaded down with Meyer lemons, Rangpur limes, guava, starfruit and at least two different kinds of avocado, all of which had just been picked. I could hardly believe my luck.
The Roses bestowed so many Meyer lemons on me, that I am still playing around with them. I want to try my hand at limoncello, and maybe Meyer lemon-infused olive oil. I also just bought an ice cream maker (whoops!) and think a Meyer lemon sorbet would be pretty fabulous. But one of the first things I did with my Meyer lemons from the Roses’ farm was to make this sour cream pound cake for a dinner party. This is a easy, versatile recipe that you can dress up a million ways. My friend Kelly, who gave me this recipe, recently made a lemon basil version of this pound cake, which sounds terrific. I like how the simplicity of the pound cake really lets the lemon flavor shine through.
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- Two Meyer lemons (can substitute regular lemons)
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease and flour a 8×4 inch loaf pan.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and the zest from the two lemons. Set aside.
- In a standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla extract.
- Add half the dry ingredients and mix well followed by the sour cream. Finish by adding the rest of the dry ingredients.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake at 350 for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the juice from one of the lemons with the confectioner's sugar to make a glaze for the cake.
- Pour the glaze over the cake while it is still warm.