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Saturday, February 12, 2005

When Life Gives You Lemons, Part II

winter harvest

It's citrus season here in Northern California and the backyard lemon trees have fruit dropping off the branches. Besides harvesting three dozen standard lemons from a friend's trees, I have gotten some Meyers from coworkers and friends. Meyers are a common backyard lemon up here in the north, as they are sort of inbetween lemon and orange, and thus a wee bit cold-hardier than regular lemons; every little helps if we get one of our rare pretty-cold snaps.

The mystique about Meyer lemons and the Chez Panisse gang probably started because someone had a boatload of lemons in the backyard and a clever pastry chef did something about it. So now they're trendy, and people outside the growing area envy us our Meyers, as they don't often get shipped out-of-area (and were, until recently, not that available commercially even here ... you had to know someone with a tree to get some). Of course, I will say that the perfumed skin smells absolutely divine.

I have made a couple of batches of Mom's Lemon Curd recently, to rave reviews from the recipients. My mom is the regular recipient of large bags of Meyers (I had to tell her how trendy they had become in the chi-chi baking world ... again, like I said, this is a regular backyard tree where I come from), and pays the givers out in curd.

I have some notes on the recipe:

the right tool for the job

A Mexican-style lemon juicer is your friend. Actually, I'm going to get the "orange" size when this one wears out. I gave Mom one two Christmases ago and she really appreciates not having to fish the seeds out of lemon juice. Her labor is greatly reduced.

I really love my fine Microplane for zesting them. I gave Mom one of those, too, although she usually uses a potato peeler and finishes the chopping in the food processor.

You do want to watch out for the scrambled-egg effect when cooking the curd. Strain if necessary.

A thermometer will read about 130 F when it is done. I also use the spoon test (does a finger trail stay?) and the drop test (take some up in a spoon, drop it back on the pot, and see if it leaves distinct drops).

The jars for this one do not have to be sterilized the same way as jam jars would, as you will be refrigerating or freezing it. Just make sure they have gone through the dishwasher, or been washed out in hot water, recently.

And be sure to have an English muffin around the house when you are done so you can toast it and WIPE OUT THE PAN with it. Cook's treat.

Mom always gives a six pack of English muffins with the curd when she gives it to someone for the first time. After that, people are usually happy to supply their own muffins :).

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend trying french toast topped with lemon curd and fresh fruit, such as strawberries or rasperries. Unbelievably tasty.
Yeah, lemon & tangerine. Those wacky meyer lemons. I can't deal with them, taste funny to me.
I need a LIME tree, now THAT's useful. MmmmMMMmm, limes.

I will say that dipping shortbread fingers in lemon curd is about as good as it gets. Except for those little tartlets with lemon curd and a raspberry on top.
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