January’s freezing weather caused all kinds of worries, from the potential for burst pipes to what to do with a house full of kids on an unexpected holiday from school. On a somewhat less catastrophic level, fruit lovers had their own worry: what would the icy blast do to the backyard citrus trees, then at the peak of their luscious yield?
Fortunately, Galveston County’s citrus trees fared well. Since most of the local varieties, including Meyer lemon, grapefruit and Satsuma orange, can handle a brief dip into mid-20 degree weather, the citrus party will go on.
That’s a big relief to anyone with a steady supply of homegrown citrus, whether it’s their own or the much-appreciated overflow from friends and family. There are still lemons, oranges and grapefruits to be enjoyed for weeks to come.
Meyer lemons are a particularly prized backyard crop, because they are hard to find in stores. They have a thinner skin than the varieties grown commercially, making them harder to ship without bruising, so only a few specialty fruit companies even try.
Meyer lemons are actually a hybrid of lemon and orange, and are sometimes mistaken for oranges due to their rounder shape and an orange tint to their yellow rind. They are also sweeter than a typical lemon, so it takes less sugar to make lemonade, lemon bars or lemon curd.
On the other hand, Meyer lemons can deliver plenty of tartness by using the whole lemon, peel, pith and everything but the seeds, in recipes. Their one-two punch of sweet and tart makes them a welcoming addition to salads, sauces, chicken and fish as well as in desserts and baked goods.
An easy salsa balances Meyer lemon with salty capers and a pinch of red pepper flakes to make a relish with many uses. The sauce is the perfect foil for avocado, making it a welcome addition to avocado toast. It also shines on grilled fish, or even mixed with tuna for a surprising tuna salad.
Meyer lemon chicken uses the lightly acidic juice and peel for visual and flavor contrast with chicken thighs. Boneless chicken breasts can also be used for a dish that is more like a classic chicken piccata.
Even those of us spoiled by Ruby Red and Rio Star grapefruits to expect massive, bright pink grapefruit sections can still appreciate the smaller, less vivid grapefruits that grow on trees in this area. The local grapefruits are still sizable, still juicy and maybe even better flavored.
Unlike the Meyer lemons, homegrown grapefruits tend to be slightly more acidic than their store bought counterparts. One way to harness that acidity is to use the juice instead of vinegar in a vinaigrette salad dressing. Grapefruit juice can substitute for all of the vinegar a recipe calls for, or swapped out half-and-half.
Many of the trees in our area are still loaded with fruit, though it’s best not to wait too long, since the texture and flavor can start to fade. (An overripe Meyer lemon tastes like sugar, with no lemon flavor at all.) Meanwhile, it’s the perfect time to enjoy what the recent freeze spared.