Have you ever wondered about the difference between Meyer lemons and regular lemons?

What we might call “regular” lemons are commonly known as Eureka or Lisbons. These lemons are larger in size then the Meyer, with skins thicker in texture, bright in color with a medium-yellow hue flesh. These lemons are available throughout the year.

Meyers, on the other hand, are rounder, smaller and with thinner skins. Their flesh is a deeper yellow or a very subtle orange color. These lemons are seasonal, typically arriving in the produce section in December and disappearing by late spring.

Lemon trees came to us from Asia, have been farmed in Italy since the fourth century and are now grown throughout the Mediterranean, Australia, Central and South America, California, Arizona and Florida.

Meyer lemons were brought to the U.S. from China early in the 20th century by namesake Frank Meyer, and are believed to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange.

Originally, U.S. lemon production centered in Florida, but California is now considered the lemon state, ranked at No. 1 in production. Arizona comes in second.

A few lemony fun facts:

— In the court of Louis XIV, ladies used lemons to add a crimson color to their lips. Lemon juice mixed with sugar was sold in ancient Cairo as early as 1104.

— To fight scurvy, caused by the lack of vitamin C, the British Royal Navy filled their ships store with lemons, while during the California Gold Rush of 1849 miners paid high dollar for a single lemon, also to prevent scurvy.

— In Japan, essential lemon oils are diffused through ventilation systems of some offices and factories. Research has shown that lemon aroma relaxes brain waves, improving concentration. Those at work in a lemon-scented environment made less than half the mistakes of workers in unscented rooms. The scent seems to stimulate the mind while calming emotions.

Speaking from personal experience, I am drawn to the scent of lemons. I actually do experience a calming and rejuvenating sensory experience, all at the same time, so this resonates with me.

This would explain why we find so many lemon-scented products like candles, bath products and lotions.

Higher in acid, regular lemons are somewhat sweet, but have that tartness that can make your mouth pucker. The Meyer won’t have the same tang, is much sweeter and offers a different aroma and taste, with hints of savory bergamot.

Peter, Paul and Mary were not talking about Meyer Lemons in the 1960s when they sang:

“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”

Eating fresh Meyers is very popular.

Now, here’s the kitchen question. Can we substitute one varietal of lemon for the other in our recipes? Answer: most of the time.

In some recipes, this makes all the difference. Regular lemons add more intense acidity, Meyers more sweetness. Some recipes count on the herbal spice of the Meyer lemon rind or zest.

If you substitute regular lemons, or their juice, for Meyer lemons, I suggest you begin with half the amount of zest or juice your recipe calls for, taste and adjust as you go.

I have certain recipes where I have experimented with switching up the lemons I use and now have some lemon rules of my own.

As much as I love Meyers, I don’t use them to make my bootleg limoncello. The acid balance is off and the thinner peels don’t deliver as much color. Plus, I don’t want the herbaceous hints of the Meyer zest in the liqueur. On the other hand, the holiday ham glaze recipe offers much better results if I stick with Meyer lemons. The ham is happier.

One of the best kitchen tricks I’ve learned while cooking in Italy works for all types of lemons. If you want bits of lemon peel in a dish, baked good or as garnish, follow these simple steps:

— Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of zest from the lemon. Put strips in a pot of hot water, bring to boil and allow to boil 5 minutes. Pour off water, add more fresh hot water to pot with the zest. Bring to a second boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes or until tender. Pour off the water, allow strips to cool and julienne. You can eat these bits like candy. This process removes all the bitterness from lemon skins which enhances many recipes.

I simply love lemons and hope you will enjoy and mangia bene.

Tuscan Lemon Chicken

Serves 4

5-6 skinless boneless chicken breast fillets

2 large thick-skinned lemons

1/4 cup unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Flour

White wine (equal to lemon juice)

1 cup heavy cream

Your first step is to peel the lemons and prepare according to kitchen trick shown in the text above. Set aside.

Pound breast fillets into scallopini thin fillets. Cut into 4 fillets per person.

Place butter and olive oil in a cold fry pan. Bring to moderate heat.

Dip fillets into flour and coat lightly. Saute 2 -3 minutes each side until golden. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle all pieces with a pinch of flour when cooked.

Remove from pan, set aside, cover to keep warm. Reserve pan drippings.

Squeeze juice from one lemon. Measure and add equal part wine to juice. Add this mixture to pan drippings and reduce by half over medium heat.

Add a small pinch of julienne lemon pieces for each person. Add cream to pan liquid and reduce again by half.

Add chicken back to pan and simmer 5 minutes to reheat. Place on warm platter and garnish with a few twisted julienned slices of lemon.

Limoncello Pound Cake

Serves 12

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, plus butter to treat baking pan

2 1/2 cups flour

A pinch of flour to treat baking pan

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

3 cups sugar

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon zest (1 medium thick skin lemon)

6 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sour cream

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10 Tbsp. Limoncello (divided)

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Treat large bundt pan with butter and flour.

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda into a medium sized bowl.

In separate larger bowl, beat softened butter, sugar and lemon zest with electric mixer on medium speed, until ingredients are fully blended and fluffy.

Beat in 7 Tbsp. of Limoncello. Beat in one egg at a time. Scrape bowl often.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Slowly add 1/2 flour mixture into creamed mixture until blended.

Add sour cream to mixture. Add remaining flour mixture into creamed mixture. Mix just until fully blended. Don’t over-mix. Pour batter into treated bundt pan.

Bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean, approximately 60 to 70 minutes.

Cake should be golden on top.

Cool cake in the pan for a full 30 minutes. Next, turn the cake out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

In a small bowl, whisk powdered sugar and 3 Tbsp. Limoncello until smooth. Add a little more Limoncello if need to create right consistency, a thick but pourable drizzle glaze.

Spoon glaze onto top of cake and allow to drizzle down the sides.

Cake must be stored covered and at room temperature to keep moist. Best enjoyed within 24 hours.

Enjoy with Limoncello Liqueur, ice cold milk or your favorite coffee.

If you’d like a copy of my bootleg Limoncello recipe, drop me an email. diane@letsgocookitalian.com

Meyer Lemon Holiday Ham Glaze

Sufficient glaze for 6-7 lb. bone-in ham

3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

5 medium Meyer lemons

1 1/4 tsp. ground cloves (or equal parts ground cloves and ground cinnamon)

Prepare your 6-7 lb. bone-in ham per your favorite recipe.

While ham is baking, prepare glaze. Finely zest all lemons and set aside.

Squeeze juice from all lemons. Remove any seeds.

In medium bowl whisk together sugar, zest, juice and ground cloves.

During last half hour of baking, pour glaze evenly over the ham. Continue baking uncovered, basting ham and stirring glaze and juices every 10 minutes until glaze is thickened into a nice shimmery syrup.

Allow ham to rest 5 minutes when baking is completed. Brush with glaze before transferring to cutting board. Scrape remaining plan glaze into small bowl and spoon this over carved ham prior to serving.

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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