sliced Meyer lemons

“Who gives recipes for lemonade?” asked my coworker, somewhat sheepishly.

I, for one, was glad to learn her perfected ratio of water, juice, and sugar. A veteran lemonade maker, she made two gallons of this elixir for her son’s 1-year birthday from the lemon tree on their property.

While a display of supermarket lemons wins the beauty contest, for flavor, give me the odd-sized, misshapen, dented and dirt-dusted fruits of my coworker’s backyard. The perfume of the citrus is enough to make me swoon. She had written a note on the whiteboard in the office kitchen that said—Freakishly Good Lemonade—with an arrow pointing to a basket of fragrant Meyer lemons and a short recipe, promising good things to come.

squeezing lemonade

I suppose it’s worth saying I love directions. They are the instigators, the agitators, the courage I need to start a project. When life hands me lemons, often I need instruction on exactly how to turn them into lemonade. Without a recipe, I would stare at those lemons with puckered lips and scowling eyebrows. A recipe frees me. Then once I gain momentum on an established course, I’ll happily jump the tracks and go careening elsewhere.

Of course, if life hands you Meyer lemons, say thank you. Have you heard of them before? For years I thought my Grandma Dixie grew the most delicious lemons in the world—lemons sweet enough you can eat them like an orange. Well, she does grow delicious lemons, but it turns out she’s not the only one.

two Meyer lemons

According to NPR: “For more than a century, the Meyer lemon was known mostly for its looks. In its native China, it was primarily a decorative houseplant. A cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, the Meyer lemon has smooth golden skin the color of a fresh egg yolk. It also has a thin edible rind, a high volume of juice and none of the tartness of a regular lemon—yet its potential in the kitchen went unnoticed.”

No longer. Meyer lemons are so naturally sweet you can use less sugar in their lemonade. I also tried a variation on my colleague’s original recipe that uses agave nectar.

The positives: agave nectar is (counter-intuitively) 25 percent sweeter than table sugar, so you can use even less, and it’s lower on the glycemic index, which means your blood sugar won’t spike and crash as drastically. As an added convenience, it’s ready to stir into liquids. The negatives: agave nectar turns the lemonade the color of an Arnold Palmer, that famous mixture of lemonade and iced tea. It’s no pink lemonade, but it sure tastes darn good.


Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade

Courtesy of Maggie Diamond

1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons; 4 to 6 lemons, depending on how juicy they are)

8 cups water

1-1½ cups sugar or ¾ cup agave nectar

Sugar version: Boil the sugar and water together to make a simple syrup. Allow to cool. Mix with the fresh-squeezed lemon juice.

Agave version: Mix the agave nectar, lemon juice, and water directly.

Serve chilled.

A few variations worth trying:

  • Fruity: Muddle it with raspberries or strawberries.
  • Herbaceous: Infuse it with lemon basil.
  • Grown up: Spike it with gin. We already tried this variation—delicious. The juniper liquor stands up nicely to the tang of the lemon.
  • Fizzy: Use seltzer water to create a spritzer.
half a Meyer lemon