Squeeze Play: Texas Valley Lemons

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I always buy a sack of Valley lemons along with my red grapefruit on the way home from the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the citrus season. The not very tart lemons are wonderful to cook with. But I was never quite clear on the botanical details. "Valley lemons are a cross between a lemon and an orange," the fruit stand owner told me. Then he went into a long tale about a lemon grove next to an orange grove down near Pharr. Turns out he was nearly right, but not quite.

The Valley lemon is actually a Meyer lemon, experts report. The Meyer lemon is a native of China and it's a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It was brought to the U.S. by Frank Meyer, a USDA employee who collected a sample during a trip to China. Most of the trees were destroyed when it was discovered they carried a disease. But they remain popular in the Lower Rio Grande Valley--hence the Valley lemon name.

The unusual citrus fruit became a favorite of upscale chefs. Marco Wiles uses it a lot in salads, and with artichokes; his pastry chef makes marmalades and cakes with at DaMarco. I like to squeeze mine over oysters on the half shell. Lots of Houstonians have Meyer lemon trees in their backyards--it's a very popular landscaping tree.

I bought a big bag for $3 at a fruit stand called First Fruits in Odem--it's the last fruit stand you see on Highway 77 going north--or the first one you hit going south. The owner told me that his cousin is planning on usurping his "last chance" status by putting up another citrus stand ever further north in Refugio.

-- Robb Walsh

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