I've been wanting to make ranja, lemonade syrup, for a while now and when I spotted these Meyer lemons I knew I had the perfect fruit for it. Meyer lemons (Citrus × meyeri) are hard to find and only have a short season but when they make their appearance on the shelves in grocery stores and produce sections, they disappear quickly. These lemons are thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange, and were discovered in China by Dutch botanical explorer Frank Meyer (née Frans Meijer). The flesh of this fruit is less acidic and a tad more sweet, lending it perfect for our purpose today.

Lemons aside for a moment, this Frans Meijer was an interesting man! Born in Amsterdam in 1875 as Frans Nicholaas Meijer, he showed an early interest in plants and worked in the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam. Meijer emigrated to the United States in 1901 and started working for the United States Department of Agriculture. He naturalized in 1905 and changed his name to Frank Meyer. Frank lead several plant exploring expeditions into Central Asia until his death in 1918: and on one of those expeditions he discovered the lemon that is now named after him. That's his picture next to the glass of lemonade. Quite the handsome fellow!

Now, ranja is one of those childhood memories that are hard to forget. The sweet orange or lemon flavored lemonade was a special treat during birthday parties and summer festivities when we were kids, long before commercial carbonated beverages made their way into the household. A splash of sweet syrup was mixed with cold tap water in a glass and stirred, and you were good to go! Nowadays, only the youngest of children will sometimes get ranja: most kids will prefer carbonated lemonades or colas over the sweet, non-sparkling beverage.

The actual name for the syrup is limonadesiroop, but Ranja was a brand name that became the common name for all lemonade syrups, regardless of their flavor. Popular tastes were lemonade, orange, reine claude (a bright green syrup!) and strawberry.

Limonadesiroop, or ranja, is very easy to make.  You can substitute the amount of of lemon juice for orange or strawberry juice, or make your own version with fresh herbs (mint, lavender, basil) to make a refreshing drink this summer. I often use carbonated soda water to mix with ranja for that extra refreshing zing.

"Zij dronk ranja met een rietje, mijn Sophietje" sang Johnny Lion happily, in the 1960's. Now you can, too!

2 cups (475 ml) lemon juice (from about 8 to ten Meyer lemons)
4 cups (800 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon citric acid

Strain the lemon juice through a coffee filter or cheese cloth to get a clear juice. Bring the lemon juice and sugar to a boil in a non-reactive pan on the stove. Turn down the heat to low and skim the foam off the surface several times. Let simmer for a good five minutes, then stir in the citric acid. When the granules have dissolved, cool down the syrup to room temperature and store in clean, sanitized bottles.

The syrup should be refrigerated and used relatively quickly - within a couple of weeks. The citric acid will prevent rapid spoilage, but any signs of mold, foam or discoloration on the syrup after storage indicates that the syrup is not fit for consumption and needs to be discarded. If you don't drink ranja that often, it's better to cut the recipe in half and make small batches.

Proost, Frans!