All about Meyer lemons and how to make lemon ice cream

Photo: Kate MacPherson

The Meyer is not a true lemon but it is as good as it gets for most of us. 

Words: Ben Gaia

Citrus like heat. They originated in the tropics and flourish in Florida. However years of selective breeding has developed varieties suited to New Zealand’s more wintry climate.

We are now blessed to be able to produce screeds of yummy lemon-type fruit from the lemon-mandarin hybrid known as the Meyer lemon.

You’ll find good big juicy Meyers from Nelson northwards. South of Nelson, or inland, forget it: grow a grapefruit unless you have a sheltered, warm micro-climate (like on the north side of a water-tank). But surprisingly, many windswept coastal areas will have back streets where you will spot a beautiful lemon tree in someone’s backyard, and it’s probably a Meyer.

It’s not the hardiest citrus, but the Meyer is very persistent through adverse winds and rains. They will survive a touch of frost, but they need shelter if the temperature drops below -5°C. This is still exceptionally cold-tolerant for any citrus. The one thing the Meyer hates is drought so keep them moist and well mulched. As with all citrus, don’t let them just sit there and mope.

Citrus need pampering. They need constant feeding with worm tea, Epsom salts, urine, and loving words murmured to them at all times. They mustn’t dry out – give them extra water during dry weather. They also mustn’t drown – don’t plant one in standing water.

They love a leaf massage as you rub the caterpillars and eggs from every individual leaf. Spray organically-acceptable conqueror oil for those pesky scale insects, the source of black mould, to slide off, or try to find a native slug to prowl around eating the scale insects. If you get too many prolific flowers, thin the small baby fruit when they set, to get fewer, larger fruit.

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Trees are usually ‘dwarf’, growing about two metres high. The many crossed branches should be thinned, and the tree should be pruned into an open vase shape to catch the all important sun rays on the ripening fruit. Lemons love the sun and warmth. Think Italy. Think Portugal. Think Florida!

Meyer lemons are truly the nurseryman’s favourite citrus as they are easy to propagate from cuttings, whereas nearly all other citrus are very, very hard to propagate.

You can grow any citrus in a large tub to nurture inside during winter and evict outside in spring for the bees to find. The Victorians built large sunny rooms with terraces to wheel out the citrus tubs in summer. The lovely scent of the flowers fills the garden air when they are in bloom, lifting the spirits.


Golden Special grapefruit (a selection of Morrison’s Seedless)
Mexican lime – a lovely, juicy, wee lime
Lemonade – a sweet, round lemon

The only hardy true lemon I have surviving so far is Genoa, a big, juicy, sour lemon which needs pampering even in a sheltered, clearlite-covered deck corner.

Recipe: Lemon Ice Cream

This ice cream gets extra flavour from aromatic cardamom pods. If you can’t find pods at your supermarket, try a specialist spice store online like the Mediterranean Food Company or on TradeMe.


5 Meyer lemons, peeled and juiced
1 tbsp cardamom pods, crushed
125ml milk
125ml cream
1 cup sugar
½ vanilla bean
6 large egg yolks
zest of 2 lemons, grated
3 cups cream


Carefully peel the lemons – you want thin slices with no pith as it’s very bitter. Use a non-stick or stainless steel saucepan (or the citrus can stain the bottom of your pan). Add peel, crushed cardamom pods, milk, cream and sugar to the saucepan, the scraped seeds from the vanilla and the vanilla pod and heat until just before it boils.

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Remove from the heat and leave for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to develop. Whisk the egg yolks until pale, then pour in a little of the lemon/sugar mix at a time, stirring constantly until mixed. Pour back into the saucepan and cook on a medium-heat, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes when it should coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat, strain, then add the lemon zest and leave to sit for 10 minutes. Add the cream and lemon juice (3/4 cup), mix, then chill. Use an ice cream machine to mix- you’ll have 950ml of ice cream to mix.

If you don’t have an ice-cream machine, at the last step, once chilled, pour the mix into a stainless steel bowl, then place in the freezer. After around 45 minutes – or when it is starting to freeze around the edges – stir it vigorously with a whisk, spatula, stick blender or hand-held mixer to break up any frozen sections. Repeat this every 30 minutes until frozen (2-3 hours or more).

About the author

Ben Gaia grows trees in the extreme climate of the West Coast of the South Island and runs a mail order nursery for organic fruit and forestry trees,

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.

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