Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Little Bit Of Lemon

     The lemons are coming, the lemons are coming!  That is the citrus-cultivators cry soon.  For those lucky enough to have harvests so excessive they may sound as though they’re complaining.   I envy them. And of course, always offer to take a bag or two off their hands for them. 
     I have in my back yard a lemon tree that provided me with this fresh, juicy fruit for the first two years of its life in an over-sized pot. 
But now nothing.  Actually for the past few years, nothing, in spite of my fertilizing, kind words and joyful singing.  While those lovely, fragrant blossoms do appear, they eventually fall to the ground and I am left with a tree of green, healthy leaves without a single lemon to cook down into a rich curd or to whip into a refreshing gelato.  Not even a single lemon with which I can zest or squeeze onto a bowl of garden vegetables with a drizzling of unsalted butter.  So I went out and purchased a new lemon tree.  Here I sit, fingers crossed and hopeful those pretty white flowers will soon transform themselves into bright yellow, ovals ready for culinary adventures.

     Though lemons originated in Southeast Asia, they are currently cultivated in temperate climates all over the world.  California is the largest producer of lemons in the U.S.  It’s true, we can purchase lemons year round, they are best during their natural season which runs from May to October.  History shows lemons have been used for all sorts of medicinal purposes.  Lemon juice serves as my favourite sore throat cure.  Freshly squeezed juice in a cup of hot water, sweetened with a teaspoon of honey and a good tablespoon of brandy.  “Ahhh” says my throat. Lemons were once considered a remedy for epilepsy. 
     And who hasn’t used lemon juice as “invisible ink” for writing secret messages to members of a tree-house or other exclusive club?  Lemons can serve as bleaching agents.  I know some people who add a bit of lemon juice to a tablespoon of baking soda and brush their teeth with this mixture.  Though, according to some commercials, lemon juice negatively impacts the enamel on our teeth.  Lemons and their close relatives have been used as an ingredient in magic and occult.  It is said, witches used lemon verbena, a citrusy herb, put it in a bag then placed the bag under the pillow of those who suffered from insomnia or poor sleep patterns. 
Lemon’s closest cousin, lemon grass, is an important flavor component in Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.  Easily recognizable in your produce section with its leggy, green-gray hued leaves and citrusy aromatics.  I’ve used those long, woody stalks as Popsicle sticks for some of my over-twenty-one popsicles.  Not only do they add visual interest to this otherwise common homemade summer treat, the lemon grass stalks infuse a pleasant high note to my “adult swim” frozen refreshers.

     But I digress from my focus on lemons.  If you are lucky enough to procure a prolific harvest or know someone who is generous enough to share with you I’d like to provide a simple recipe for making lemon curd.  This sun-bright, smooth, tangy concoction is expensive to purchase, so in my mind it doesn’t make “cents” to buy when you can make it yourself. 
     Use lemon curd on your waffles, in my June 2014 Blog story, I shared with you my recipe for Lemon Waffles.  In the photo you can see there is a delightful dollop of homemade lemon curd nestled next to a heaping spoonful of blueberry compote.  Lemon curd on toast or along-side your freshly baked, warm scones.  Lemon curd beautifully highlights crisp rounds of sweet meringue in my version of Pavlova.  Petite individual servings for each guest sitting around your table to enjoy and savor. 

Recipe for Lemon Curd by Deborah L Costella

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3-4 lemons)                          6 egg yolks

·         Save whites for an egg-white omelet or a frothy cocktail like a Pisco Sour, Clover Club Cocktail or a Lemon Lavender Gin Fizz * Think I’ll give you the recipe for that on my web site:www.cosmicmuffincafe.com since more lemons are involved!

1 cup super fine sugar (Bakers or Caster)                   zest of 4 lemons * Hint: zest first then squeeze out fresh juice
8 tablespoons unsalted butter – cut into cubes and held at room temperature


Set a stainless bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.

In the bowl, whisk egg yolks for about 1-2 minutes.   Slowly whisk in sugar, so as not to “burn” the yolks, then add lemon juice and zest.  Continue whisking until yolks thicken and form ribbons.  This will take 7-15 minutes.  Be sure to check the water level so that it hasn’t simmered off.  Add more water if needed.

Once yolk mixture has thickened, begin adding the cubes of butter one at a time, waiting until each cube has completely integrated before adding the next.

When all butter has been incorporated strain curd through a sieve or strainer into a clean bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the curd, just as you do when you prepare homemade guacamole.  Store in fridge for at least 2 hours then use as desired.

To be honest, I like my curd served warm over vanilla scones on top of toasted English muffins in the morning.  So good.

The curd can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Recipe for Individual Pavlovas by Deborah L Costella


1 ½ cups super fine sugar (Bakers or Caster)           2 teaspoons cornstarch - sifted
6 eggs whites (room temp)                                       pinch Kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste                                   1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Parchment paper                                                       1 pint of berries (your choice)                                               

                                                                                  Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Set sheets of parchment paper on 1 or 2 sheet pans (depends on the size you have at home)
Using a pencil, draw 3” circles, then flip parchment to other side so you can still see your template but no pencil will infuse into your meringues.  Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl combine sugar and cornstarch.  Set aside until ready to use.

In stand mixer or using a hand-held mixer in a large bowl, beat egg whites and salt together on high until soft peaks form.  Maintaining speed, add sugar/cornstarch mixture to egg whites, one tablespoon at a time, allowing about 1 minutes between additions.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Turn off mixer, then gently fold in vanilla paste and lemon juice, being careful to not deflate whites.

Using a small spatula, spoon meringue onto parchment paper using penciled templates as your guide.  They don’t have to be perfect circles.  I like mine rather rough and rustic.  Use the back of a spoon to gently create a small indentation on each round of egg white.  This will provide you with a little concave spot to fill with your lemon curd and fresh berries.

Place baking sheets in oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until peaks are a soft golden brown.  Turn off oven, crack oven door open slightly, all allow meringues to cool for 1 hour.

Meringues will be crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  They are now ready to be spread with your homemade lemon curd and topped with the fresh berries. 

                                                                                                 Serves 10 - 12