Meyer Lemon Season? Time to Make Preserved Lemons!

There's something about the color yellow tinged with a hint of orange that I find intoxicating. It's that golden-hour hue that comes just before sunset as the sun is sinking toward the horizon, slanting at just the right angle—some sources say between four and five degrees—to brush everything it touches with a yellow-orange glow. If you've seen the work of Van Gogh, you've certainly seen it. Or the movie Days of Heaven, shot by the legendary cinematographers Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler during the hours just after dawn and before sunset, suffusing the film with a dreamy, fairy tale-like atmosphere.

That Van Gogh yellow…

Meyer lemons, a hybrid of lemons and tangerines, are the fruit of the golden hour, carrying a warmer hue and a milder flavor than regular lemons. When they're in season—hint: now—I can't get enough of them. So as I've done in previous years, I decided to stretch out the pleasure of these golden jewels by preserving them in salt and lemon juice, perhaps one of the simplest methods ever devised and one that is virtually impossible to get wrong.

And the possibilities for using Meyer lemons, preserved or fresh, is endless. I've written about incorporating them into risotto, lemoncello, a crab risotto, pasta, a salad, even a cocktail…the list goes on and on. So run, don't walk, to your favorite produce department, get some of these gorgeous orbs and start squeezing them—need I say—now.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

12-14 Meyer lemons
Kosher salt
Wide-mouth quart jar with screw-on lid (either a metal ring and lid or a plastic lid)

Lightly rinse the lemons to remove any surface dust or dirt and dry them with a towel. Cover the bottom of the jar with a 1/8" layer of salt. Take six of the lemons and slice them vertically in quarters to within 1/2" of the base. Holding one upright in your palm over a small bowl, fill it with salt and place it in the jar. Do the same with the other five lemons and pack them tightly into the jar. Use more lemons if required to fill the jar within 3/4" of the top (you can slice the lemons into quarters to fit in the nooks and crannies). Pour the salt from the bowl into the jar. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons to fill the jar within 1/2" of the top (you can also use regular lemons if you need to). Screw on the lid and place in the refrigerator. Every day or so, shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice, and after three or four weeks you're good to go.

This recipe will work with regular lemons as well. You can also add herbs like bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cardamom.

Memories Found in a Puckery Lemon Tart

This past Mother's Day brought forth a flood of memories of the women in my family, many of whom have passed on but who left indelible impressions. Some are as sharp as the high heels my mother loved to wear, others as soft as the pastel-colored housedresses my father's mother wore. Many, for me—as I'm sure will come as a surprise to no one—involved food: my maternal grandmother's rhubarb sauce that my grandfather heaped sugar on; the batches of cabbage rolls that my dad's family called "hoblich," an invariable feature at any gathering; my own mother's love of fruit desserts and pies.

Mom in party mode.

The one dessert that she adored but never felt that she mastered, at least according to her exacting standards—my Kentucky-raised friend Kathryn would interject "bless her heart" here—was lemon meringue pie. I recall many of these cloud-topped confections parading through my young life, but for my mom there was always a meringue that pulled away from the crust, even if only a little, or it bore too many overly browned curlicues on its tips, or the curd was too sweet or too tart.

No matter how many compliments were showered on her efforts, she'd turn them away by pointing out its shortcomings or by saying, "Oh, you should try my friend Eleanor's, she makes the best lemon meringue." In other words, it was a fraught topic for her.

A simple lemon tart is easy to love.

I, on the other hand, was more than happy to gobble up any and all "mistakes," major or minor. If the smooth lemony curd made the back of my tongue tingle, all the better. If its sweetness cut the lemon's tang, I can't remember minding. Ditto with any meringue issues.

These recollections came rushing back recently when Dave was experimenting with a lemon tart recipe from Cook's Illustrated, following on the heels of his apple galette epiphany. The curd is smooth and has just the right tang of lemon, the crust is short and not-too-sweet, and a dollop of whipped cream obviates any potential meringue traumas.

I think my mother would approve.

Lemon Olive Oil Tart

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz.) flour
5 Tbsp. (2 1/4 oz.) sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. water

For the filling:
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3 eggs plus 3 yolks
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest plus 1/2 cup juice (approx. 3 lemons)
1/4 c. olive oil

Make sure that all your metal equipment—saucepan, strainer and whisk—is nonreactive, or the filling may have a metallic flavor.

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°. Whisk flour, sugar and salt together in bowl. Add oil and water and stir until uniform dough forms. Using your hands, crumble three-quarters of dough over bottom of 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough to even thickness in bottom of pan. Crumble remaining dough and scatter evenly around edge of pan, then press crumbled dough into fluted sides of pan. Press dough to even thickness. Place pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is deep golden brown and firm to touch, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

For the filling: About 5 minutes before crust is finished baking, whisk sugar, flour and salt in medium saucepan until combined. Whisk in eggs and yolks until no streaks of egg remain. Whisk in lemon zest and juice. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly and scraping corners of saucepan, until mixture thickens slightly and registers 160°, 5 to 8 minutes.

Off the heat, whisk in oil until incorporated. Strain curd through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl. Pour curd into warm tart shell.

Bake until filling is set and barely jiggles when pan is shaken, 8 to 12 minutes. Let tart cool completely on wire rack, at least 2 hours. Remove outer metal ring of tart pan. Slide thin metal spatula between tart and pan bottom, then carefully slide tart onto serving platter. Cut tart into wedges, wiping knife clean between cuts if necessary, and serve. (Leftovers can be wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)