Recipe, Styling + Photos Jenni Gough
A citrus of Chinese roots, the Meyer lemon is a hybrid of sweeter taste and rounder shape than your average lemon. Its skin is thinner and it's colour deeper. It’s origins are ancient but its delivery to the Western palate has its roots in 1907, when Frank N. Meyer happened upon it.
Frank N. Meyer was a migrant to the US from Holland at the beginning of last century and a devotee to the life of plants rather than profit for their cultivation. He was a determined wanderer who felt the world intensely at a time when politics was shifting across the globe.
Shortly after his arrival in the US, as part of the Office of Seed and Plant Introduction and ironically their search for profitable plants, Meyer was employed to travel through China to find hardy crops and learn from a country whose citrus farming spanned more that 4,000 years. An adventurous man rather than a greedy one, he set off far and wide, through chill and heat, for around a decade, returning to the US from time-to-time with a bounty of seeds, including the now dominant soybean.
When Meyer happened upon the citrus outside of Beijing, its sweet flesh made an instant hit. Meyer took the fruit to the US, who then grew it first in Chico, California, then onwards through Florida. While the fruit was not great for transport on account of its fragile skin, its unique taste made it worth the labour.
Before his acclaim reached its peak, Meyer met an untimely end, shrouded in speculation of foul play or a reflection of the despair his utopian spirit felt at the emergence of war and political tensions. His mark has shaped the modern American diet in ways he perhaps never anticipated or imagined and while much of this is heralded, I ponder what the world would be without the impact of such cross-continent wanderings.
In my own life, when I catch the unmistakeable scent of Meyer lemons, another place and time is reflected. In 2012 a Willing Workers on Organic Farms opportunity took me to the slopes of the Big Sur coastline and into a handmade house nestled amongst mature Meyer lemon trees. There was vinaigrettes, lemonade, savouries and sweets. Cakes of various forms ensued and over time, this recipe for a rustic cake emerged. We baked mini varieties for dear friends and packed them into boxes amongst other homegrown produce, including kooky bouquets of echium, Peruvian lilies and canna. The recipe is a portal to that time and I find it perfect for morning and afternoon teas and no doubt suitable for dessert.
*Information sourced from: Stone, Daniel, “The Mysterious Life and Death of Frank Meyer, the Man Behind Meyer Lemons”, Munchies website, Apr 26 2018, <https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/59je4d/the-mysterious-life-and-death-of-frank-meyer-the-man-behind-meyer-lemons>
Preheat oven to 170℃.
Line or liberally butter and flour an 8 inch pan. While you’re at it, do the same to an extra little cake pan (I use a small falcon pudding bowl) so you can gift a mini cake to someone who might need their spirits lifted. I like to line mine with a little more so I can make the cake mobile later by folding the paper over the cake and tying it with string.
Cream together butter and sugar until light in colour and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly between each addition.
Add the zest and juice. Relish that unmistakable scent.
In another bowl, sift flour, baking soda and baking powder. Combine with almond meal and salt.
Using a spatula, fold the flour mixture and yoghurt alternatively into the butter and sugar mixture. Once just mixed, pour into prepared pans and bake for approximately 30 minutes. The smaller cake will bake quicker, so check on it at the 15 - 20 minute mark. The air will smell of cooked cake (the best!), the surface will spring back when touched and a skewer or knife should come out clean.
Serve with cream, yoghurt, labneh or ice-cream. Send on that extra little cake to someone special - you never know how it could make their day.
200g unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
Zest + juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1 cup plain flour
1 cup almond meal
1tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup yogurt