In Season: Lemons

January is the peak month for most citrus. During the gray days of winter, bright and colorful bowls of oranges, lemons and limes seem to radiate sunshine.

For the most part, winter’s bounty of oranges and grapefruit is not local here in the Atlanta area. It’s not unheard of to grow citrus in these parts, but it takes a greenhouse or some other bright winter home where the trees can overwinter.

In my book, the most versatile of the citrus fruits is the lemon. Because they can be used in beverages, salads, soups, sautés and desserts, I don’t think I could cook without them.

American-grown lemons are available all year, since lemon trees bloom all year and can have flowers, ripe and unripe fruit all at the same time.

The Meyer lemon, a relative newcomer to our kitchens, is the one lemon that’s at its peak in the winter, with a season that runs from November until about April.

The juice of a Meyer lemon is sweeter and more fragrant than that of other lemons. Meyer lemons also have a thin, soft skin that has less pith than sour lemons. The entire lemon is edible, so thin slices roasted with vegetables or cooked in a compote are as tasty as any of the other components of the dish.

Their thin skins make them difficult to ship, but they can be found occasionally at local specialty stores and at the Buford Highway Farmers Market.

In the spring, you’re likely to find container-grown Meyer lemon trees in the garden centers of local big box hardware stores. Laden with blooms, they’re mighty tempting; but remember that you’ll need a place to overwinter the trees if you want them to survive for another year.

A slice of Meyer lemon floating in a glass of water is beautiful, and adds fragrance and flavor as well. Be sure to wash the lemon with running water and a food-safe soap before slicing it into your drink. Food safety rules apply as much to lemons as to any other item of produce, including working with clean hands, a clean knife and a clean cutting board.

Freshly squeezed lemon juice freezes well and is so much more delicious than anything that comes in a bottle from the store. I buy my lemons a case at a time and, over the course of a week, will juice them all. I package the juice in one-pint plastic containers and store them in the freezer. A thawed pint will keep about two weeks in the refrigerator, ready when I need a tablespoon for this or a quarter-cup for that.

If the lemons are organic, I zest them before juicing, and spread the zest out on a cookie sheet to freeze. After an hour, I gather the zest into a zippered food storage bag. The zest will last several months in the freezer, and it’s easy to spoon out as much as you need for your recipe.

One medium lemon will yield about 3 tablespoons of juice and 3 teaspoons of grated zest. It takes 5 or 6 lemons to make 1 cup of juice.

At local farmers markets

Local markets with winter hours

Dacula Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays.

Decatur Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays, 3 -6 p.m. Wednesdays.

Dunwoody Green Market, some vendors take pre-orders and deliver on Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.-noon.

Emory Farmers Market, noon-5.p.m., Tuesdays during school year.

Morningside Farmers’ Market, 8-11:30 a.m. Saturdays.

For sale

Vegetables: arugula, Asian greens, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, endive, fennel, lettuce, mache, microgreens, radishes, rutabagas, scallions, sunchokes, sweet potatoes, turnips

From local reports

Meyer Lemon Chess Pie

Hands on: 10 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Serves: 12

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Zest and juice from 2 Meyer lemons

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

Whipped cream, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, beat together sugar, eggs, butter, cornstarch, lemon zest and juice. Pour into pie shell and bake 45 minutes or until filling is set. Allow to cool before serving. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Adapted from a recipe in “’Pon Top Edisto” by Trinity Episcopal Churchwomen and Friends (Favorite Recipes Press, $24).

Per serving: 296 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 3 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 13 grams fat (6 grams saturated), 91 milligrams cholesterol, 199 milligrams sodium.