I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: real desserts have chocolate in them. But sometimes, sometimes it’s nice to have an “after diner snack” that is light and fruity instead. And I adore fruit for breakfast, snacks…basically any meal of the day. And fruit is more than welcome to dip itself into some melted chocolate and march itself into my mouth. By all means, please do.
Having said that though, I do have a soft spot for lemony sweets as well. Lemon is an amazing flavor when treated right. Sometimes it can be too sweet, or too harsh and sour. But sometimes it can be just the right amount of sweet, just the right amount of tart, just the right level of flavor and then it’s amazing. It’s bright and light and interesting and to be honest, makes me feel like a kid again. As a kid, my favorite (non-chocolate) dessert sweet snack was lemon meringue pie, a favorite I shared with my dad. But mostly lemon makes me think of my grandmother. For two reasons.
One, when I was young–and occasionally still these days–my grandmother would make us lemonade from scratch. As in, from real lemons. Not from packets of Kool-Aid like I know some of you think of when you hear the words “make lemonade.” No, this is the real deal. She hand-squeezed lemons (a juicer? Pshaw) and strained out the seeds and mixed in just the right amount of sugar, water and ice to make a perfect icy cold tart-with-a-hint-of-sweetness treat, especially great during the hot summer days when my sister and I would come over and catch butterflies in the fields by their house, or to make me feel better after their chickens chased me around the yard.
The other reason was a toddy. Another classic Grandma concoction, equally delightful and soothing and makes me smile just thinking about it. Of course, she referred to it–and still does, we all do–as cough syrup. Lemon, honey and whiskey, stirred up, bottled and stored in the fridge for when the kids were sick. I know a lot of you have similar medicinal traditions in your families. I also know that some people respond with shock! and awe! when I tell them it’s my favorite cure-for-what-ails-you and that I used to keep a bottle in my locker at school just in case I or a friend got sick (high schoolers are germy creatures), but it works.
When I was a kid and had a cold, I got a tablespoon of that stuff. Even when I had an upset stomach–I remember one night in particular when I must’ve been about five or six, I woke up retching something terrible (isn’t that exactly what you love to read about in a food blog?) and while my mom was cleaning up (poor mom!), I wandered to the kitchen, opened the fridge, grabbed the little glass bottle in the door and took one good gulp and then went back to bed. It settled the stomach, it soothed a sore throat, it gave you peaceful sleep and it was a gift from my grandmother.
So yes, lemon reminds me of all of that. Plus Josh is a big fan of it, as are many of my friends. It’s definitely one of those flavors that seems to just make people feel happier and buoyant. My lemon bar recipe, for instance, never fails to elicit giddy smiles. I think this lemon curd recipe will end up like that. In fact, this weekend Josh and I went to visit the aforementioned grandmother, as we do every few weeks, and bring her a couple of goodies. Some flowers, a mangosteen (which I had found at Hiller and bought because it’d be something new for her to try), a fancy frozen dinner of macaroni and cheese with lobster (sorry, lobstah–she’s from Rhode Island) and a little jar of the lemon curd I made on Friday. She loved it. She didn’t know what it was, she’d never had it, but she pronounced it to be “like a lemon pudding” and then started licking the spoon, so I knew I had a winner.
I think you’ll enjoy this recipe because it’s delicious, it’s bright, it’s easy and quick, and it’s versatile–you can eat it with a spoon, like my grandmother, or put it inside of little tart shells or on a graham cracker crust, or even use it as a pastry filling. I used Meyer lemons for this–those are actually not really lemons at all, but rather a crossbreed between lemons and Mandarin oranges. It’s got a thin, orange-y yellow skin and just a slightly different flavor and color than a regular lemon. Lemon curd is often made from regular lemons, though, so use those if that’s all you have or even use bottled lemon juice if you can’t procure fresh fruit, although of course, the fresh option always tastes better.
Meyer Lemon Curd
Makes a bit less than 1 pint
5 tbsp fresh Meyer lemon juice, strained (or about 5 lemons)
the zest of 2 lemons
3/4 c. sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1/4 c. butter, chopped into pieces
Combine lemon juice, zest, sugar and eggs in a medium heat-safe bowl.
Put about an inch of water in a medium sized pot (something the bowl will fit safely in without touching the water) and bring it to a simmer. Place the bowl in the pan and cook until thickened, stirring constantly, about 10 minutes. It will sort of thicken up all at once, so keep an eye on it. Don’t go too crazy trying to thicken it; it will continue to get thicker as it cools.
Turn off the heat, add in the butter and stir in until melted and thoroughly incorporated. If you want the lemon zest to remain in the curd, then just pour it into a glass jar or bowl, cover and place in the fridge to set. If you don’t want the zest to remain in, then push the curd through a fine-mesh strainer before pouring into a jar.