08 December 2008

Curds & ways

Being a “Domestic Goddess” isn’t easy.

I have spent the past week neck-deep in cranberries, oranges and lemons. High from my Thanksgiving successes, I volunteered to make some cranberry relishes and lemon curd for the St. Peter’s Church Christmas Fayre.

“Lemon curd? You’re brave.” said Hilary, the Barford W.I.’s reigning “jam & preserve making” Queen. Hilary is my hero. She can do more things with rhubarb than I can even imagine!

I’d gone round to Hilary’s to collect some spare “jam jars”. In America, we’d call them “canning jars”. Regardless to what you call them, they are virtually impossible to find. (Not even at Sainsbury’s! I was shocked.) Hilary graciously gave me a dozen jam jars to play with. As I ‘clinked’ my way back home, faithful hound in tow, through the Barford allotment gardens, and up passed the playing field, I found myself thinking about the very thin line between bravery and foolishness, and the fact I was undoubtedly about to cross it…

My new favorite cookbook calls ‘Lemon Curd’ the “quintessentially British preserve.” However, that is only part of the reason why I’m utterly smitten with it. Lemon Curd is sunshine in a jar.  It is tart, yet sweet and buttery all at once. It has a texture like velvet. Used as a sweet spread for morning toast, or freshly made scones, it tastes of fresh, English summer days. And, it is also a major feat of British culinary engineering. If I could replicate this divine substance, what could I not do?

Here’s the recipe:

Lemon curd


2 large unwaxed lemons

125 g unsalted butter, cut into cubes

180 g caster sugar

3 eggs, beaten

Finely grate the zest from the lemons into a heatproof bowl. Squeeze the juice and add that to the bowl with the butter and sugar.

(Now the tricky part) Place the bowl over a pan of just-simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Stir until the butter melts, add the eggs and, using a wooden spoon, stir for 10-15 minutes until the mixture thickens noticeably and takes on a translucent look.

Well, try I did, and fail, I did.

Thankfully, I had much more success with my Cranberry relishes. I made a sweet one – and got creative and used tangerine juice, instead of regular orange juice, and added orange zest to finish. I also did a traditional, British, savoury cranberry relish, made with cider vinegar.

The poor D.E.B. suffered patiently through countless taste testing as my official taster. Given time, I’m sure he will have the strength to face a cranberry again. I had to make a second batch of my savoury variety, after the D.E.B. said gently (and with watering eyes): “You might want to tone down the vinegar in this one, sweetie.”  Well, I’ve never been good with math(s), and Metric is hard.

I did finally get the balance right, I think. Then, I boiled my jam jars dutifully, cut and pasted cute, little labels, and then, on Thursday night, before W.I. meeting, I delivered my wares to the Christmas Fayre drop off point. “No Lemon Curd?” organizer Alan smiled at me. I admitted my defeat reluctantly, and Alan kindly cooed over my beautifully packaged cranberry relishes to make me feel better.

The D.E.B. was and still is quite proud of my “Christmas Fayre project” and my little cranberry relishes. He was as excited as I to see them on display at the Christmas Fayre on Saturday afternoon.  I was also more than a little nervous that my wares would not sale at all, and that they would be left, poor darlings, to languish unwanted, unsold on the “Jams & Preserves” stall. Hoping to avoid this potential personal horror, I’d urged the D.E.B. that we get there early and not stay long.  (Basically, see them and run.)

Our plans were thwarted by a surprise visit from our wonderful friends, A&D. Another fantastic couple that enrich our lives immensely. To say that A&D are “foodies” would be an understatement. I think that I shall dub them “King & Queen of Cuisine.”  K&Q offered solid advice and encouragement on the Lemon Curd saga.

Then - on to the Christmas Fayre! I donned my Fool/Jester’s hat (yes, I have one, and yes, it does have bells) and feigned a holly-jolly aspect. As we left the house, I turned to the D.E.B. and said, “I’m not embarrassing you, am I?” He just smiled and said, “Never.”

When we arrived, the School Hall was a hive of activity and holiday cheer. I tried to appear calm and casual -- well as relaxed as one can be wearing a fool’s hat -- as I scanned the room for my tiny bits of treasure on the various stalls. “There she is,” the familiar, smiling voice of the Barford W.I. president called out to me from behind the W.I. stall.

I shyly inquired about my relishes, and asked if I could take a picture of them on display. “No, can’t do that.” Madam President chirped and smiled broad. I felt myself blush suddenly and redder than the silly fool’s hat I was wearing. “They are long gone!” she beamed. Another W.I. member working the stall added: “They went straightaway, they did.” I was stunned and relieved. And then very disappointed that I hadn’t thought to take a picture of them beforehand.

My W.I., and soon-to-be-formed Barford Writers’ Group chum, Diane, had heard about my Lemon Curd attempt, (news travels fast in these parts), and caught me at the mince pie stall, eager to offer me a bit of encouragement: “Never you mind, it’s a very tricky thing,” she soothed in her rolling, Scottish accent. 

I haven’t given up, and I shall have “another go.” I’m just glad I tried. Just by making the attempt, I allowed myself to be part of something new. To contribute something to this wonderful community.

After a few more mince pies, some delicious mulled wine, and a visit to Father Christmas/Santa (and yes, I did sit on his knee!), the D.E.B. and I wandered home in the crisp, late afternoon air.

When we opened our door, we found a small parcel waiting for me.  It was a copy of Mary Norwalk’s book: Jams, Marmalades and Sweet Preserves (1973). Page 99, “Curds & Honeys,” was bookmarked with a tiny note card. The note card said: “You Can Do It! A mistake may slow you – but don’t let it stop you!”


Nanny Debbie said...

I love lemon curd - when i was living in America I think I loved it more just because it reminded me of being home. I really hope you are able to make your own - I'm sure you will crack it ! Good luck Debbie

Anonymous said...

I tried to make lemon curd twice I think. The first time I took it off the heat too soon and assumed it would thicken in the fridge. The second time I ended up with something closer to scrambled eggs. Maybe I need to go at it again... work through my inferiority complex.

An American Girl in the UK said...

Someone suggested a cheat method: adding a bit of corn flour into the mix to 'encourage' it it set. I may give this a try over the weekend. Cheers!

Elynor said...

Hello from another American in the UK! I stumbled across your blog this morning, and I'm so glad I did. Thanks for reminding me of what I love about this country.

And I've made lemon curd successfully myself, so it is possible! Don't give up!

Kelly said...

Oh! How scary - as I read this entry (I'm way behind on my blog reading and doing a mass catch up this morning) I am sitting eating toast with ... lemon curd!!! Only here in New Zealand we call it Lemon Honey. I'd love to say mine is home made and it kind of is, just not made in my home. There are two delightful ladies who run a preserves stall at our local farmers market who keep me in supply all year round, bless them! Every bite of it spread on my morning toast is a mouthful of memories of my lovely nana who was the queen of cooking in our family and made the best Lemon Honey ever.