When I moved into my current home about 6 years ago, one of the first things I planted in my yard was a Meyer lemon tree. Meyer lemons are variety that are derived from a cross between a true lemon and a sweeter citrus such as an orange, and were brought from China to the U.S. about 100 years ago, where they were often grown in containers. They are somewhat less acidic and definitely not as bitter as common lemons.
I started my Meyer in a container, but within a year or two, asked my son to transplant it directly into the ground, as it wasn’t really doing anything: no fruit, and not much growth. After being put into a nice sunny location, it really started to sprout. Alas, the Garden Gods conspire against me. A few years ago, Houston had a hard freeze, resulting in temperatures around 10-15 F for a week. (Here, my Canadian friends are laughing, but that’s cold for Houston. I’m looking at YOU, Chris.) The few lemons on my tree were fully ripe but I had not thought to pick or wrap them before the temperatures plummeted. See, the way you store lemons and other citrus is to leave them on the tree. Once they are ripe, they will hang on the tree for months without spoiling – one reason you have oranges year round. I ended up with a dozen yellow balls of rot.
In 2011, Texas experienced a severe drought, with some areas of the state not receiving rain for over a year. Although I kept my yard watered, the freeze damage followed by the dry spell meant that not only did our town lose hundreds of 70-plus foot pines and live oak trees, my lemon and lime trees chuckled weakly and passed out. No lemons that year, or the next.
Early this spring, I had a bumper crop of blossoms. I carefully watched the weather throughout the spring, hoping that a late freeze wouldn’t kill everything. I was in luck: tiny green lemons started appearing. And then more. As the green orbs green, the branches of my young tree started bowing down with the weight, so that I had to tie a stake to the tree to keep the seven-foot crown upright but all the branches hung lower and lower as the season progressed. I had dozens of huge yellow fruit, with some of the branches nearly touching the ground under the load. I’ve spent so longer nurturing this plant that I couldn’t bear to prune anything.
Then, the Polar Vortex happened.
Although Houston didn’t get the full effect of the translocation of the Antarctica onto the central States, it did get colder than normal. I wrapped the tree, but couldn’t get all of the fruit covered, so I have bunches of frozen lemons. I spent a couple of hours this week, slicing up lemons to make preserved lemons* and juicing the mushy ones to use up.
I have great faith that next year, I will once again have a great crop. If the tree wasn’t too damaged in the cold. And if we don’t have a late spring. And if I say the proper rituals and sacrifice a few lobsters to the Lemon-and-Butter gods. Wish me luck.
*Preserved lemons are made by storing cut lemons in a jar, covered with lemon juice and one tablespoon of kosher salt per lemon. You store them in a tightly closed jar for about 6 weeks, during which time the rinds become almost translucent. The rind, finely chopped, is a perfect lemony-salty seasoning for lamb dishes, roasted pork stews, and veggies, anything that can use a bright bit of sour or tart. It’s a Middle Eastern thing. Yum. I found the instructions from one of my favorite blogs, Back Road Journal.