a sensuous sigh, dessert, gluten free, lemons, sauce
comments 33

the use of today

IMG_1252 Been a bit quiet around here!  My apologies.  It isn’t exactly as though I haven’t been making useful food.  I am back in a period of jam-packed days and short trips away from my family, so I have been cranking out useful food galore, like pots of beans (this time with some sofrito which I found waiting like buried treasure in the deep recesses of the freezer) and big stews and little bowls of hardboiled eggs which are keeping us fed, to a degree, but are not particularly photogenic or terribly inspiring items to write about. Sometimes, if it’s terrible inspiration one seeks, one has to look a little ways beyond useful nutrition.  I was nudged out of my kitchen doldrums today by the gift of some tired lemons; maybe it was our compatible states of not-dewy-freshness that moved me.  What happened is that my friend René caught me fondling some of the Meyer lemons on her counter while she was making me some tea.  I thought her back was turned, it’s true, but I was just sniffing them and meant no harm, felt no larcenous urges to speak of.  Regardless of my indisputable innocence, she immediately grabbed a bag and began loading the lemons into it.  “My sister sent them from California,” she said.  “I’m going out to see her on Wednesday and won’t have any time to do anything with them before I leave, and Lord knows she’ll be sending me home with more.” IMG_1238Maybe people in California throw away tired lemons. I read recently that a mature lemon tree can produce a thousand or more in a single season, and my friend Laura, who lives in a grove of the fecund little monsters, says this is a severe underestimation.  Here on the scurvious East Coast, where a person can be asked to pay upwards of two dollars for a lemon, we are not composting lemons, shriveled or otherwise.  We look no gift-lemon in the mouth. Lemon what, though?  Lemon curd, maybe.  These were too far gone for preserved lemons. The musical phrase ‘lemon caramel’ came to me, and I checked to confirm that what I thought might be my own idea had in fact occurred to numerous people before me (the primary function of the internet).

Indeed it had.  It had occurred, for example, to Martha.  But three tablespoons of lemon juice was not going to get me very far through this bag.  Plus, as you may have surmised, I very rarely find myself saying, ‘that was a little too lemony for my tastes.”  Half a cup did the trick, cutting the sweetness nicely.

What are the uses of this not very useful food?  Well, it’s definitely not what’s for dinner.  But persons of my acquaintance have been seen drizzling it on bread, on ice cream and off of spoons into their mouths directly.  On a simple little cake or some sticky buns it would be heaven.  Or you could cook it longer than I did, and make little caramel drops.  Caramel is magic–simple and mysterious and quick–and magic is always good, and bound to be useful.


Meyer lemon caramel adapted from Martha

  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/4 c water
  • 1/2 c fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 3T unsalted butter, diced, or 3 T excellent olive oil
  • 1-2 T finely grated fresh zest from those lemons

In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar with the water and heat over medium heat, not stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil.  Turn the heat down a bit and continue to cook, swirling the pan from time to time, until the mixture is a medium amber in color, about 7 minutes.  It can be hard to tell the color when the sugar is boiling merrily, especially if you are using natural sugar, so periodically remove it from the heat to let the bubbles subside a bit.

Remove from the heat and dump in the lemon juice and the butter or olive oil.  Spitting and hissing may occur, so don’t peer into the pot.  Stir like mad.  Return to the heat, stirring and stirring this time, until it is quite smooth and has returned to a low boil.  Simmer at this low boil a minute or two (if you want sauce; cook it until it reaches 250/soft ball on a thermometer if you want to make candies); now off the heat again; stir in the lemon zest, and pour into a glass jar or bowl.  The mixture will thicken as it cools.  Mine was honey-like in consistency once it reached room temperature, and therefore quite compatible with people dipping into it all day long. If you have any left once it’s cool, store it in the fridge and use a pan of hot water to warm it back up when you need it.



  1. Amanda Huddleston says

    No joke, I am knee deep in Meyer lemons myself! My friend in Florida recently sent me home with as many as I could fit in my car. I’m juicing, freezing in ice cube trays, zesting, saucing, etc. I have even given many to family. Such a precious gift, though, not to be wasted! Hope you’re taking care of yourself in all your busyness 🙂

    • janet says

      Of course you are making some preserved lemons, right? And some lemon curd, which freezes really well, right? And zesting all the lemons you are juicing so you can freeze or air-dry the zest, right? Oh, damn. I think I better just come over.

  2. I have fresh Meyer lemons, tired Meyer lemons, widowed, divorced, & recently married Meyer lemons, fresh Eureka lemons, Eureka lemons that are seducing the oranges in a way shameful to behold, Eureka lemons that are running for public office, and one Meyer lemon that appears to be 106 years old so I’m incredibly grateful for this recipe.

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  5. Lemon caramel, what a great idea! But my syrup only got the tiniest bit tan — never amber. Then it dried up to a white crust of sugar on the bottom of the pan. I’ve made traditional caramel before, so I rehydrated it, and made it Julia Child’s way — COVERING the pan. The condensation keeps the syrup from drying out. Delish! Going to have it on pancakes tomorrow.
    See my site for how to use lemon zest to make your own lemon extract!

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  7. Shock. You are me. Or I am you? Either way – I totally adore you, this post, and your writing. Just for the record.

    I thought I was a culinary genius, that I was the original ‘creative’, till I googled and saw others had gone before me.

    My chunky meyer lemon sauce is cooling now. Rather than zest and juice, I blitzed up a whole lemon, sans seeds….and added that in. I considered gilding the lily with some creme fraiche, but i relented and left it as is. Thank you!!!!!!!!!

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  11. I will be making this for a friend that cannot have have cream and the meyer lemon tree that I have came from her family! This is exactly what I was looking for!

  12. Janine says

    I have one meyer lemon tree. I can’t GIVE any away bc everyone in Phoenix, has a lemon tree. They don’t know the diff and I can’t educate. One year I covered cut up lemons in some dark sugar I had. I still have the syrup. I’ll do that again with the 50lbs of palm sugar I have. It’s molasses like. I don’t have time to make all this stuff.
    curd sounds good, if I have time. I thought trees were supposed to have an abundance every OTHER year. What happened to this year?
    The juice does not freeze well. I have zest from LAST year. I don’t LIKE lemons. ex wanted this tree. but it does make nice lemonade. SURPRISE to me.

    I can send a prepaid medium [holds 8lbs], $13 or flat rate usps box anywhere of these lemons. you can click on my name and it should bring up my website and u can order whatever you want and put ‘lemons’ in the comments box. This way you can enter your cc so I can charge it for the shipping ONLY. I won’t send what you order, will send the lemons.

    I hate throwing them away which is what’s going to end up happening.

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  15. Dear all you wonderful Meyer Lemon Wackos: I love you all!

    Now. How do I store this deliciousnessness?

    • janet says

      The caramel stores well in the fridge, and we love you too! Are you a fellow wacko?

    • janet says

      One good turn…I made your very brilliant dried lemons the minute I saw your post.

  16. Victoria says

    What a fantastic recipe! Is this shelf stable? If not are there canning/hot water bath instructions? Basically I want to make this and give it away as presents throughout the year without having to keep it all in my frig all the time.

    • janet says

      The only way I’ve ever kept it is in the fridge (where it does keep a while). I don’t know if it could be preserved but I will look into the matter as it’s a great question!

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