Updated: Jul 1, 2021
"I’d like to remind you that there is no reason why it can’t be eaten, as is, with a spoon." Lauren Joseph - Epicurious
This is my farewell to this month's Coles Magazine, although I could probably find something else if I had another look. But I won't. In an attempt to advertise their MasterChef pots and pans, they chose to make Lime and passionfruit curd in one of the saucepans. Now I'm not about to launch into making some, although I am sorely tempted, but it did make me wonder why I didn't make lemon curd more often. I have made it in the past and I don't remember it being all that difficult. In a way it's a bit like the Béarnaise sauce that I made the other day - well beating in the butter bit by bit anyway. But it's actually simpler than that.
"If you’ve never made curd before (lemon or otherwise), you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how simple it is—as long as you watch the flame on your stove to prevent burning or curdling, you’ll be just fine." Lauren Joseph - Epicurious
Somewhere along the line in my investigations into lemon curd I came across a reference to fruit cheeses. I think it was Felicity Cloake who, having stated that almost all fruits could be made into a curd, noted that for some reason if they were made with damsons then it was called a cheese. So I checked that out, and yes there were some recipes that included the butter that makes this particular preserve a curd, but mostly damson cheese seemed to more like quince paste - a really thick purée of fruit and sugar, that held together in a sort of jelly-like way. So I'm ignoring the cheeses here.
I couldn't find out a lot about origins, although it does seem to be a British thing. It is curious is it not, how one particular nation will develop one particular dish and another something else? I mean I don't think anyone else does lemon curd - not as a preserve anyway, although the French at least make a sort of lemon curd as the basis of their lemon tarts. And probably other nations do too. Yes I know that the Americans and the Australians and probably the Canadians make lemon curd, but that's because of their British heritage. No, it's really a British thing - just like the lemon meringue pie - perhaps the most common usage of lemon curd in England.
And it is common - even our humble family had lemon meringue pie fairly often. Now doesn't that look good - it's from Bon Appétit.
Often the reason for national dishes is obviously because of the local ingredients available, but some things use the same basic ingredients - flour, water, cheese, eggs - but in very different ways. So if someone in England thought of making lemon curd from lemons, sugar, eggs and butter, then why didn't anybody else? After all you can't even grow lemons in England. Well maybe with global warming they will be able to some time soon - they are now getting quite heavily into wine for example.
Origins. The best explanation I found was this one.
"Looking in the recipe books, the earliest mention of the term lemon curd I have found goes back to 1844 in The Lady’s Own Cookery Book by the splendidly named Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury. The recipe is rather different though because the lemon curd is literally that; lemon acidulating cream to form curds which could then be separated from the whey through some cheesecloth." British Food: a History
The versions we now know seemed to have started appearing in the Victorian age, or maybe just before. Maybe this is when lemons came into common usage. And those versions include eggs and butter, plus, of course, lemons and sugar. That's basically all it is and if you follow the lovely Delia's recipe, basically all you do is beat your eggs, and then chuck everything into a saucepan, heat gently while constantly whisking until it's thick and creamy. You can then sieve it if you like, but at least half of the recipes I found didn't bother.
It can, of course be rather more complicated than that, and Felicity Cloake will take you through most of the variations: rubbing the lemon zest into the sugar before you start; whole eggs, just yolks, a mix of whole eggs and yolks; when you add the butter and how, indeed whether you add butter at all; do you add cornflour; and that final sieving or not. On the butter, Felicity Cloake had this to say in response to writers who talked about:
"the 19th-century way, using nothing but lemon juice, egg yolks and sugar (though this must be the 19th-century American way, because most Victorian recipes I find are pretty heavy on the butter)." Felicity Cloake
And I think virtually all the recipes I saw included butter. It must make it creamier, surely?
“A curd that is simultaneously smooth (as in, not curdled) and properly thickened requires lots of acidity,” Claire Saffitz, Epicurious
People also argue about the proportion of juice to sugar, but that's more a personal thing and also depends on what kind of lemons you use - Meyer or Eureka. But acid there must be, because the acid helps to prevent it curdling - which is rather ironic considering that the very word curd refers to the solid part of milk you get when you curdle the milk with acid.
Another minor mistake you might be tempted to make in this era of eating things raw and not processed was made initially by Felicity Cloake:
"avoid the mistake I made – golden caster sugar will give you a murky-golden result, so white is preferable here." Felicity Cloake
She had a picture and indeed it did not look good. An unappetising beige colour. As to that zest; opinion seems to be divided as to whether you should sieve it out or not - together with bits of egg white - although it seems to me that if you have whisked your eggs sufficiently well then you won't get any bits of egg white.
"The zest should be so fine as to be indefinable in the finished preserve – this isn't marmalade." Nigel Slater
Jane Grigson adds another old variation - one that I did not see mentioned anywhere else I have to say:
"an interesting thing - nineteenth century recipes for lemon curd sometimes include crushed Naples biscuits or ground almond, to give it extra body." Jane Grigson
In Australia we are in the middle of the lemon glut - for those of you lucky enough to have a lemon tree growing in your garden. As I have said before, I have never been able to grow one and so I depend on the generosity of friends - well they may well be glad to get rid of them, and indeed I was given some the other day, so I should set to and put in a very short burst of effort for a delicious result. After all, I've got all those surplus jars. I really should because I do have a tendency to put them in the fridge and forget about them. David Lebovitz, hit a chord when he said of some special Meyer lemons that he had:
"And they kind of got put into the “too good to use” category of things that one saves for something special – so special that you don’t want to use them." David Lebovitz
So I should set to:
"On a particularly icy day last week, my kitchen came alive with the stinging hit of freshly grated lemons for a batch of lemon curd. One or two would have been pleasing enough, but when the whole kitchen is filled with the scent of grated citrus the effect is startling. Slightly steamy, warm and bitingly fresh – this was the perfect kitchen atmosphere for a winter's day." Nigel Slater
It's going to be pretty miserable for the next week or so, so perhaps I should try. I could even have a go at lemon meringue pie.
Of course, as Coles' recipe demonstrates you can make a curd out of all sorts of other fruit - not just citrus and there are a lot of them too. A really good starting point here is an article by Lauren Joseph of Epicurious called When it comes to curd, lemons are just the beginning in which she points out that:
"Of course, there are some guidelines to what can be curded—try to curd bananas and you’re really just renaming pudding." Lauren Joseph - Epicurious
One variation that more than one writer thought was possibly even better than the standard lemon curd was Pam Corbin's River Cottage Bramley lemon curd which includes apples in the mix. Food 52 said:
"This is lemon curd elevated to something else entirely. Something ethereal. Mysterious. Almost quince-like." Mrslarkin - Food52
which is praise indeed. Apples are in season too of course, although not so many people seem to have apple trees in their garden these days, so you might have to find an orchard or a market that is selling them off. And there's that apple jam I was going to make as well.
Having made your curd what to do with it? Well eat it of course. On toast or a crumpet perhaps for breakfast, maybe that lemon meringue pie. If I was more adventurous I could find a heap of other ways of using it up in pancakes, cakes and desserts of various kinds. Nigel Slater says it is good:
"for stirring into thick, Greek-style yogurt and crushed Amaretti biscuits as an instant dessert. A couple of quickies I should also mention: you can produce an instant syllabub by stirring an equal quantity into whipped cream and serving it with crisp almond biscuits"
Ice-cream was often mentioned too.
I also tried to find weird curds. After yesterday's weird ramen things I thought there would be heaps. But no. Depending on what fruit was being used there were a few 'different' flavour additions - pepper, ginger, cardamom etc. but nothing wildly unusual. Mostly pure lemon curd seems to be respected. The Epicurious lady did say that you could experiment, but it almost seemed like she was saying that the experiments could be disastrous:
"If you’re hoping to experiment but nervous about tainting a whole batch, cook your curd almost to completion and then separate it out into smaller bowls to stir in your various additions." Lauren Joseph - Epicurious
Which to me, implies, don't mess with lemon curd. She was not the only one to suggest just eating it from a spoon.
The only advice I have to offer is not to make too big a batch, because, unlike jam it won't keep for ever. It does go off after a couple of weeks. So have a plan of what to do with it when you've made it. The kids might enjoy making it - and then eating that lemon meringue pie.