I was looking through old photos today for a shot I thought I remembered of our Meyer lemon tree, to accompany this week's Local Food Report on lemon curd. I couldn't find it. But I did come across this one of my grandmother, and the one below it of Alex on our honeymoon in Italy, and the one below that of my friends Casey and Jess and me, getting ready for our friend Amy's wedding. And in the end, I decided these belonged with this post more, because the people you love are what matters when you're talking about holiday gifts, and that's what we're here to discuss today.
My family is big on comestible gifts—things that are delicious and wonderful but then after the holidays disappear. For my dad's 60th this year my sister and I gave him "60 Beers for 60 Years," and my sister's boyfriend has come to depend on us for a steady supply of nice bourbon on his birthday and at Christmas. Last year, Alex figured out how to Peri-ship eggnog to my grandmother, and she nearly wept with excitement. And of course, lest you think we only give out alcoholic gifts, I should add that I always make lots of eight ounce jars of strawberry jam and bread and butter pickles, because they make excellent hostess and holiday gifts.
This year, the Meyer lemon tree that we brought home three—or maybe four?—years ago is finally bearing fruit, and I've been wanting to try homemade lemon curd as a holiday goodie. The only trouble is I've never made it, and as anyone who's ever tried to make a custard can tell you, curds can be tricky. So I called my friend Kim Shkapich, who makes a killer lemon curd, which she sells at farmers' markets and out of her shop, Lola's Local Food Lab, on Main Street. She agreed to share her recipe, and also gave me the following tips.
First of all, she says a good lemon curd is all about adjusting it to your taste. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others a mix of eggs and egg yolks, and others want only yolks. The more yolks you add the more firm the set is and the richer the curd, but this richness also masks the brightness of the fruit. She likes whole eggs, because she doesn't mind a soft set, and she likes a nice light flavor. Then there's the sugar issue—tart? sweet? It's up to you. Finally, you have to decide about the butter, because more makes the custard denser, and less makes it a bit more fluffy. Lemons are sort of a given, though you can play with the standard variety versus Meyers (Kim likes Meyers best, both for their sweet flavor and their bright yellow color). And she likes a lot of zest.
There's also the quality of the ingredients to consider—farm fresh local eggs are best, especially if you can get them before they've been refrigerated, as this tightens up the proteins and makes it trickier to get a nice set—and you want raw, organic sugar and high-fat butter. Organic lemons, too, if you can find them, since you'll be using the zest.
Kim is a genius on all things chemical, and she gives an excellent run down in this week's show on how the reaction in this recipe works. I'm not going to re-type it all here, because it's so great to hear her explain it, so if you're interested I recommend you listen online.
The other thing I wanted to add before we get on to the recipe is that growing Meyer lemons yourself is not all that tricky. The tree is pretty, so it makes a nice winter houseplant, and we move it outside onto the deck in the spring. So long as it gets light and sporadic but deep watering, it seems pretty happy. The first few years we had it we didn't get any fruit, despite lots of blossoms, but I'm pretty sure this was because it didn't get enough sun when it was inside. We did some renovations last winter that opened up the southern exposure on our house, and as soon as the plant bloomed this year it set lots and lots of tiny fruits. They start out green—I first noticed them in June, or maybe July?—and the biggest ones are just now turning yellow. There are still a lot of small ones on the tree, and I imagine it'll be a few months before those ripen, which makes sense, since Meyer lemons are available in stores from about December through March. So there's an idea, if you're into lemon curd and local food too.
KIM SHKAPICH'S LEMON CURD
This is a good recipe for beginners. It's nice and light, and not too sweet. Kim uses Meyer lemons, but she says regular lemons also work here just fine.
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 tablespoons butter
zest of four Meyer lemons
Get out a double boiler. Fill the bottom with water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, in the top pot, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until very smooth. Warm these up over the boiling water, whisking constantly. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, and keep whisking. After about four minutes the mixture should start to steam around the edges and thicken, and after about six minutes the steam will be coming from all over the surface and the first tiny bubbles will begin to form. When you see this change happen, the curd will thicken. Immediately remove the pot from the heat—you want the curd somewhere around 165 or 170 degrees, and you do not want it to boil. Stir in the zest, spoon it into jars, and let it cool. The finished product will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.