Karen Morss is called the Lemon Lady. She started her suburban Emerald Hills, CA (San Mateo County), organic citrus farm, Lemon Ladies Orchard, in 2004. She has done her part breaking glass ceilings in boardrooms and the wild blue yonder with careers as a software entrepreneur and the owner of a flight school geared toward women. She even tried her hand at screenwriting, when she developed a script about the Wright Brothers’ sister, Katharine Wright. Now she’s an orchardist, or orchardess, as she calls herself.
With 40 Meyer lemon trees located south of San Francisco (near the valley once known for its fruit trees and now famous for its silicon), the great organic citrus isn’t the only special thing about Karen’s lemon orchard. Every tree bears a tile with a name: Celia, Debbie, Hildegard, Lynette, Madeline, Zohreh, and more. “Each tree is named for a woman who inspired me or helped me achieve my goals in life,” Karen says. “Some are from my family, some are from the flight school, some are just people who inspired me in general. There is an Amelia Earhart lemon tree out there.”
Karen says she planted her orchard because she had an empty backyard and “adored Meyer lemons—and back then, they were very hard to come by.” She jackhammered 40 holes and filled them with young trees and organic compost. She pruned heavily the first few years and has been treated to beaucoup harvests ever since. Meyer lemons grow on a thorny, bush-like tree, ripening in a constant succession of fragrant blossoms to fruit from around August until May.
The Meyer lemon is a lemon-mandarin cross. Chefs and bakers prize it for its thin, edible skin and heavenly scent. Karen loves to add a slice to water: “Everybody knows you’re supposed to drink more water, but it’s not always easy. [Add] Meyer lemon, and you’ll just gulp it down—it’s such a treat!” Karen makes Meyer lemon marmalades and recommends using them in an Italian pudding called Budino for a treat. You’ll hardly be at a loss for how to infuse your days with this sweet and fragrant lemon, but if you are, the Los Angeles Times has 100 suggestions.
Q&A with Karen Morss, the Lemon Lady
Q: What did you have to study in school to become a farmer?
Q: How old were you when you started farming?
A: I was 45 years old.
Q: What's your favorite part about being a farmer?
A: The smell of lemon blossoms.
Q: What's your favorite way to use a Meyer lemon?
A: Slice one thinly, removing seeds as you go. Lay out slices in a single layer on a plate and freeze for 15–20 minutes. Remove from the freezer, drizzle with honey, and enjoy!