Meyer lemons are magic. They lighten and brighten every dish they touch.

The plump, smooth-skinned, canary-yellow fruit is mild and lemony-sweet, floral and tangy. A cross between an acidic lemon and a mandarin orange, it was brought to the U.S. from China in 1908 by Frank Meyer, a Dutch immigrant who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Once considered an ornamental tree for California backyards, it gained popularity as an ingredient in the late 1990s as chefs began to experiment with the fruit.

Unlike most citrus fruit, the soft peel is the best part as it contains the oils that carry so much of the Meyer's fragrance. So, when using these lemons, be sure to include some zest along with the juice.

Meyer lemons are in great supply right now. Look for those that are firm with a perfume-lemon scent. Avoid fruit that has soft spots or holes where the stem was plucked. While other commercial lemons can be left out at room temperature for days, Meyers should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Especially on these chilly gray days of late winter, the sunny color and flavor of Meyer lemons gives us all a lift. Here are a few ways to put them to work:

Roast chicken: Lay thin slices of lemons over a quartered chicken before putting it in the oven to roast.

Open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches: Spread slices of pumpernickel or rye with cream cheese and top with smoked salmon and thinly sliced lemons.

Lemony cream: Grate Meyer lemon zest into whipped cream used as a topping for gingerbread or poundcake.

Meyer lemon gremolata: Mince together lemon zest, parsley and garlic. Use to top roast meat, fish, soups and stews.

Lemon bruschetta: Roast thin slices of lemon with olive oil, rosemary and shallots to place atop bruschetta.

Lemon chicken soup: Drop a few slices of lemons into a pot of chicken soup.

Lemony oats: Grate a little zest into a bowl of oatmeal as it cooks and finish with a dash of fresh lemon juice.

Lemon sugar: Put strips of lemon peel into a jar of sugar.

Lemon honey: Add lemon peels to a jar of honey.

Lemon parsley butter: Smash grated lemon zest and chopped parsley into softened butter, place in a crock and store in the refrigerator. It's great on fish, meats, steamed or roasted vegetables, tossed into pasta or spread on slices of warm baguette.

Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at