Last winter, I returned home from a trip to California with my suitcase stuffed full of Meyer lemons. I had been visiting my cousin and discovered his back-yard tree was loaded with the beautiful canary-yellow fruits.

Indeed, the fruit is so beautiful that when I unpacked my lemon-scented suitcase, I couldn't bear to do anything with the gorgeous fruits except admire them for a couple days.

The first afternoon I spent arranging them in still lifes. I took pictures of them. I piled them into my old aluminum colander. I set them on the coffee table in the living room so the sunlight fell on them, then I put them in a big milk glass bowl on the kitchen table. If I had any artistic ability, I would have painted them.

Finally, late on the second day, I realized I had to make something to eat with them or I would lose the whole reason I'd brought them home with me in the first place.

Popular with cooks and professional chefs alike, the Meyer is slightly sweeter than the classic lemon varieties normally sold in the supermarket.

With its smooth and tender skin, the fruit inside also has a hint of tangerine -- which makes sense as the Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a sweet orange, imported from China more than 100 years ago.

The fruit can be used in countless ways. Grate the zest into your next risotto or scatter a heap over a pile of whipped cream atop warm lemon cake. Top a piece of smoked salmon with a thin slice of it (you can eat the whole slice, peel and all), or simply make a glass of homemade lemonade. Obviously, you can use a Meyer lemon in any recipe that asks for regular lemons, but a recipe made with a Meyer is just a step above. Make that two steps.

Even after making a lemon meringue pie and a batch of lemon curd with the lemons I brought home, I still had several Meyers left (what can I say, it was a big suitcase I filled). I zested them and then juiced them, pouring the juice in an ice cube tray to freeze and spooning the zest into another tray.

After they were frozen I tossed them each into respective zip-top bags to tide me over until Meyer lemon season (approximately November to early March) is here again -- or better yet, until I make another midwinter visit to my California cousin.

Donna Tabbert Long is a Minneapolis writer.