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Local And Seasonal: Meyer Lemon Scones

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The darling of farmers' markets has arrived! She is canary yellow, smooth, and shiny, with delicate skin and a floral, fresh herb aroma. You should have no trouble identifying Meyer lemons at the market because a crowd of shoppers usually surrounds them. They are a perennial favorite.

Meyer lemons are native to China and were first introduced to the United States in 1908 by Frank Nicholas Meyer, an agricultural explorer (yes, that truly was his job title). Meyer collected the citrus fruit near Beijing, where the tree was commonly grown as an ornamental houseplant. It has dark green leaves and produces impressive quantities of fruit. Though the Meyer lemon's exact origins are unknown, botanists believe it is a cross between lemon and mandarin or perhaps lemon and sweet orange. There is evidence for such lineage in the flavor of the Meyer lemon; it is sweeter and less acidic than the more common Eureka and Lisbon lemons found at the store.

The very qualities that make Meyer lemons appealing to chefs and home cooks -- a tender peel, a thin pith with almost no trace of bitterness, and a high percentage of juice -- also make the Meyer too fragile for wide commercial distribution. Look for them in farmers' markets from January through April, or try your hand at growing a Meyer lemon tree. Dwarf varieties do well in containers, bear fragrant flowers, and require little pruning.

In the kitchen, Meyer lemons can stand in for regular lemons in just about any dish. Try making a quick relish by chopping the whole lemon (peel and all) into small cubes and tossing them with minced shallot, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I like to spoon this relish over grilled fish. Meyer lemons are equally tasty in sweet dishes. They are perfect for mild yet fragrant lemon curd, ideal for lemonade, and excellent for candied citrus peel.

Meyer Lemon Scones
The key to delicate, flaky scones is a light hand. Be sure not to over-mix the dough; stir just until it clumps together. There should be pea-sized pieces of butter in the dough. They will melt in the oven, giving your scones distinct, fluffy layers.

Makes 8 scones

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup whole-wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¾ cup cold buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine 1 tablespoon lemon zest and the sugar in a small bowl. Using your fingers, rub the zest into the sugar for a minute, or until it smells very fragrant.

In a large bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the sugar-zest mixture. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour mixture until there are no butter pieces larger than a pea. Pour in the buttermilk and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon just until a crumbly dough forms. Turn it out onto an un-floured surface and knead quickly to bring the dough completely together. Fold it in half onto itself, as if you were closing a book, then pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick square. Using a large knife, cut the dough into 8 triangles and transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake the scones for about 18 - 20 minutes, or until their tops are lightly browned.

While the scones are baking, make the glaze by stirring together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.

Let the scones cool for a few minutes, then drizzle the glaze over them.

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