Looking at those fragrant, sweet, deep golden hued Meyer lemons displayed so neatly on the produce aisle, one would
hardly imagine the one hundred year old mystery to which they are related. Once unknown in the United States, the Meyer lemon plant was introduced to our country by the man after which it is named: plant explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer. Meyer is an interesting man. Born with a love for plants and a lust to wander, he spent years studying botany under the well-known Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries before traveling to explore gardens and plants throughout Europe. In 1901, Meyer traveled to the United States where he eventually found the perfect vocation as a botanist for the USDA Office of Seed and Plant Introduction. His job with the USDA entailed exploring East Asia, specifically to send back to the United States new varieties of plants and send samples he found in the region. Among the 2500 plants Meyer introduced to the United States through his Asian travels, in addition to the Meyer lemon, are the soy bean, apricot, and water chestnut. After three successful missions to the East, his fourth mission in went mysteriously, horribly wrong. Increasing civil unrest in China forced Meyer to spend the winter 1917-1918 in Ichang, he was finally able to continue his work. On the warm, muggy evening of June 1st, 1918, Meyer boarded the Japanese riverboat Fang Yang Maru bound for Shanghai on the Yangtze River. For some reason, he exited his cabin about 11:20 pm that night, and then disappeared without explanation. He was never again seen alive. On June 5th, 1918, a Chinese sailor found Meyer’s body about thirty miles from the city of Wuhu. No one may ever solve the mystery of this plant explorer’s death (personally, I think someone could make a very interesting movie about the life and adventures of Frank Meyer), but his legacy lives on in the countless plants he introduced to the United States, especially in the the tangy, citrusy fruit that bears his name.
Ok, so maybe the mystery of Meyer’s death has little to do with the Meyer lemon itself, but the fascinating life of the man responsible for the fruit’s availability in the USA gives the lemon some sort of meaning beyond its use as an ingredient – to me anyway – in many delicious dishes and beverages: it’s part of a story. At any rate, this seasonal fruit, which is actually a hybrid of an orange and a lemon, has a beautiful aroma and sweet taste that distinguishes it from the more common, more tart Eureka and Lisbon varieties of lemon available in the grocery stores all year long. We’re currently in the midst of Meyer lemon season, which occurs from December through May, so now is the time to take advantage of this fruit’s bright, sweet flavor in your cooking and baking! You don’t have to have a recipe in mind, even! Just buy a bag of Meyer lemon and then improvise! Or you can pair Meyer lemons and olive oil (a marriage made in Heaven, actually) to make a gluten-free, almond Meyer lemon olive oil cake . . . . always a favorite in my home!
Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake
Made with blanched almond flour, this Meyer lemon olive oil cake has a pleasing, rich, dense texture that, combined with the light, sweet Meyer lemon flavor, makes it melt-in-your-mouth dreamy.
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Meyer lemon
- 125 grams blanched almond flour (NOT almond meal)
- 5 eggs separated
- 3/4 cup sugar
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper. Oil the sides of the pan.Zest the Meyer lemon. After zesting the lemon, halve it and squeeze the juice of both halves into a small bowl. Whisk together with almond flour and the lemon zest. Set aside.
Beat the five egg yolks and the 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce the mixer's speed to medium and add the olive oil and lemon juice, beating until just combined.
Beat the five egg whites with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then gradually add the sugar a little at a time while beating, and continue to beat until egg whites form peaks. Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and gently tap the pan on the counter once or twice to release air bubbles. Bake until puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Remove bottom of pan and peel off the parchment paper, then transfer cake to a wire rack to cool completely. The cake will deflate as it cools. When the cake is completely cooled, liberally sprinkle the cake's surface with powdered sugar. Garnish with candied Meyer lemon slices, if desired.
Many brands of olive oil are adulterated in some way, or substandard in quality. Be sure to choose a good quality olive oil to use in your cake (and for all your cooking / baking). This article is a good place to begin identifying brands of quality olive oil: https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2016/09/30/its-extra-virgin-olive-oil-day-is-your-evoo-real-or-fake/#3ffb76df2a64