Lions in a Tight Squeeze
If Cezanne had lived not in France but on Sanibel Island, his still life paintings would have overflowed with Meyers lemons. Plump, smooth-skinned, colored an unmistakable dark yellow the color of the sun at noon they’re sweeter than other lemons, with an intoxicating aroma that has hints of honey and thyme.
Now is the perfect time to revel in them, as the harvest peaks and farmers market stalls, produce isles and, if you’re lucky, backyard trees are loaded with fruit. This is also the time when the Sanibel Captiva Lions Club begins hand-squeezing Meyer lemons for its lemonade stand at the Arts and Crafts Fair in March.
A cross between a lemon and a sweet orange, imported to the U.S. From China more than 100 years ago by the man whose name they bear, the Meyer lemon is a furiously addictive fruit. With a sweet juice, a thinner peel, less acid and more floral scent (and taste) than other lemon varieties, Meyers are as much fun to cook with as they would be to paint.
While there are probably more things in heaven, on Earth and in citrus groves that you can do with these yellow beauties the Lions Club has used the Meyer lemon in its most popular way for years. Serving it by the cup at the lemonade stand, which sold more than 700 cups last year.
“It is our biggest fundraiser,” said John Mannix, assistant lemon squeezer and former club secretary. “One-hundred percent of the money goes to Lions charities.”
The Sanibel Captiva Lions Club has been dedicated to helping the less fortunate since its inception in December 1967. Academic scholarships for handicapped students and programs for the visually impaired are just two of the causes supported by the club, which also provide free vision, hearing and diabetes screenings for the community several times each year.
At this year’s festival, the famous George’s Homemade Lemonade stand will have a new name, “The George McKinnell Memorial Lemonade Stand,” in memory of the man who started it and insisted on using hand-squeezed Meyer lemons. McKinnell, who passed away a few years ago, also formed the infamous island “Hammerheads.”
With six gallons of lemon juice already squeezed, the Lions are finding themselves in a bit of a squeeze to make their 12 gallons of juice required for the approximately 70 gallons of lemonade needed for the fair. If you have excess Meyer lemons from a backyard tree, donate them to the cause by calling Mannix on his lemon hotline at 239-395-7644. If you don’t have a Meyer lemon tree but would still like to help the club out of a squeeze, the fruit can be purchased and donated.
The annual Arts and Crafts Fair will once again showcase many local artists in a variety of mediums from wood workings and clothing to photography and jewelry. Admission will be $5 per adult for both days, children 12 years and younger can enjoy the fair at no charge.