13 Aug 2012

Lovely Lemon Curd

Lemon curd jars

Lemon curd to me is as Hunny to Winnie-the-Pooh - once there is a jar in the house, one little taste just won't do.  When the Veg Patch was started four years ago, a group of us thought that some lemon trees would be a novelty for the children. Despite the advert's claims, they don't fruit in this country (although, perhaps in a greenhouse?) but the leaves have a lovely citrus scent when crushed. The trees duly arrived, folded into their boxes. Not an auspicious start and the ensuing winters fairly well did them in.  There's one tree left which I brought up to my balcony last winter for shelter. It's now on the stairwell, by a window which acts as a greenhouse; because I pass it every day, it's watered and tended regularly and has slowly recovered. During the last week, my efforts started to pay off as it produced lots of fresh new leaves.  A couple of days ago, I noticed tiny flower buds!  Ah, exciting times.

Lemon flowers

I doubt these will ever make useable lemons but refocussing on the lemon tree reminded me that I hadn't made any lemon curd for a while.  All you need are lemons, eggs, sugar and butter - and a couple of jars. I always have these ingredients to hand so, an hour later, I was tucking into lashings of lemon curd atop a hunk of freshly baked bread... which, of course, was photographed after one bite!

Having honed my recipe from one my Mum makes and Heston Blumenthal's filling for a lemon tart, I've just realised it's very similar to Delia Smith's recipe but without the extra cornflour she uses.  I feel that the curd should set on its own without extra thickeners and I imagine the cornflour would make it unpleasantly thick, like a lemon meringue pie filling.  So here's my combination of the two, for folk who like a good sharp/sweet bite to their lemon curd and fancy making some at home. It's really very easy and much nicer than shop-bought and without the preservatives or thickening agents.

Lemon Curd

6 oz Caster Sugar, 3 medium eggs,
2 unwaxed lemons (yielding about 100 ml juice), 4 oz unsalted butter
3 small or 2 large clean jars.

First wash your jars in hot, soapy water (do I really need to say that?) and put the glass jars upside down on a shelf in the oven at 150C while you make the curd.  Put the lids in the bottom of a saucepan, cover with a couple of inches of water, bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. This is the simmering water which will be under your cooking lemon curd; may as well use it for sterilising the jar lids. (Take the lids out, with tongs or a fork, after about 5 minutes, by which time their rattling will be very annoying.)

Weigh out the sugar, chop the butter into chunks, beat the eggs well, finely zest the rind of the lemons and squeeze the juice. Add all ingredients together to a heatproof bowl (I use Pyrex glass) and place the bowl over the simmering water. (It should sit above the water, not touching.) Stir gently for about 15 to 20 minutes as it gradually thickens. (If you don't stir, your curd will be lumpy like scrambled eggs and won't set.)

Take the jars out of the oven and get a clean bowl and plastic sieve ready. Pour the curd into the sieve and, with the bottom of a ladle or a wooden spoon, gently stir the curd through the sieve to the bowl below.  This removes any cooked egg whites and pieces of zest (I like my curd smooth).

Ladle the curd into the jars. Put a sprig of lavender (optional) on the surface of the jars being stored and quickly put the lid on while the curd is still hot. As it cools, the air in the jar will contract, giving a nice tight seal to the jar.

Why the lavender?  I've read that it's commonplace in the South of France to place a sprig of lavender on home-made preserves where its anti-bacterial properties will prevent any mould forming on the surface. (Thank you Karen, writing for Garlic and Sapphire blog.) Lemon curd won't be around long enough in my house for this to happen, but it looks pretty - especially if you're giving the jars as a gift.

Make sure that you've put some aside for yourself ...

Bread and curd

10 Aug 2012

Time to throw out the rule book

Cherry tree blossom Aug 2012
~ Cherry blossom in August, with ripe cherries on other branches. Confusing? certainly ~

Every year is a learning curve in the garden and this one is certainly no exception.  I read only yesterday that August is the last chance to trim hedges before the autumn frosts.  I was quite taken aback at this as, for me, the summer has only just got going. Plants such as courgettes, cucumbers, hyacinth beans and squashes that have been quietly waiting for some warmth have suddenly started to shoot away.  The cucumbers are putting on a rapid growth spurt, as are the beans. Canadian wonder beans are producing enough for dinner every day; so delicious as young pods but I had intended to grow these for the red kidney beans inside!

Without dwelling on the weather so far this year, my belief is that the seasons have shifted slightly; I'm optimistically expecting another slow decline into autumn, just as we had last year. Jekka McVicar told me earlier this year that she no longer cuts back her lavender in autumn, preferring to leave it until the air has warmed slightly in the early spring. Cutting it back in a warm autumn promotes new growth and confuses the plant, leaving it vulnerable to winter frosts.  She stated that she no longer relies on the old rules and given wisdom because the seasons have noticeably changed. Coming from someone whose business and reputation relies on interpreting the seasons correctly, hers is an opinion that I take note of.

Global warming is definitely affecting the gardening calendar and we have to make adjustments accordingly. Personally, I'm trying to garden instinctively, being prepared to experiment a bit and remaining stoic about any losses along the way. In this way, I haven't lost plants to water rot or slug damage this year but everything is very behind in it's growth. Except the sunflowers and herbs which are perennial or self-seeded.

If my prediction for the autumn comes true, that would mean 90 or more days of reasonably warm weather before any cold winter snaps visit the garden - bearing in mind that I live in London, in the South East of the UK.  Of course the light levels will diminish as days get shorter, so any planting done now would have to be in the brightest areas of the garden.  I'm fortunate that the veg patch gets a good seven hours of sun/light at this time of year.  The north-east facing walled border gets around 5 hours but the fruit trees planted there partly shade the earth beneath anyway.  (One of my winter jobs is to move a couple more fruit trees, especially as the cherry tree re-established itself so successfully this year.)

I pulled the last of the Little Finger carrots this week - they are by far the tastiest I've grown and I've just received a new bag of seeds to sow a new crop which should be ready by mid-October. The Amsterdam Sprint carrots will keep me going but the taste is not quite as delicious.  I'm also going to put in more dwarf beans (Canadian Wonder and Annabelle french beans), mange tout and salad leaves. It may not work but, on the other hand, my cherry tree thinks it's spring!

Edited to add:  I sowed mangetout, dwarf beans and giant sugar peas 2 days ago on the 8th; this morning, the 11th, they are showing through the soil.  :)

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