Saturday, 6 February 2010

Oranges and Lemons

One of the most annoying things about supermarkets is they way they have robbed us of our sense of seasonality. The tired old pile of courgettes sits there month in month out, the price hardly changing to reflect their journey from the other side of the world this month, and there, just the same in September when they are in season here and should be almost free. Same for strawberries.  Don't get me wrong, I love the convenience of supermarkets as much as the next shopper, but there's a price to be  paid, sometimes I think it's more than I want to  pay. Anyway, that concludes this weeks Reith lecture on Seasonality.
I was actually thinking about oranges and how when I was small they used to be considered in season in winter, which I suppose makes sense really considering they are of course imported from hot places. But then they were quite a luxury, and not the bogof  bags of cheap satsumas of today. My dad served in the Palestine Police during the British Protectorate in 1946, and I can still remember him showing us children the amazing photos of him standing next to a mountain of oranges that was bigger than he was! We could hardly believe it. Tangerines were still special enough to get one in your Christmas stocking in the fifties.

So anyway, apart from marmalade, there's lots of other lovely citrussy recipes well worth making at home. As it's still too early in the year for any home grown fruit, citrussy things like Lemon Curd, and puddings like Sussex Pond pudding are definately worth having a bash at, mostly because you can't buy them. Or at least you can't buy anything like the quality that you can make. Proper lemon curd is the most delicious and wholesome thing if you make it yourself, being mostly fresh eggs, butter, and lemons - (ok and a bit of sugar) but nothing like the commercial stuff. And Sussex Pond pudding, being a suet pudding, is completely unobtainable unless you make it yourself. I think the reason suet puddings have gone out of fashion is not that they are too fattening, (no worse than any other pudding really) but they don't lend themselves to freezing, chilling, canning or any other method of preservation, and so are never seen. If you want one, you have to make it, and you have to make it on the day you want to eat it. So I'll try to make one tomorrow and post the photos.

But for today, Lemon Curd

2 oz/50g butter
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
2 lemons
6 oz 150g caster sugar

Zest the lemons with your fine blade microplane grater (they're expensive but brilliant).
Squeeze the juice and put into a saucepan with the zest, and all other ingredients.
Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves. Continue stirring over the lowest heat until thickened. Don't overheat, or you'll get lemon scrambled eggs, which is not great. Use a double boiler if you're nervous.
Pot into small sterilized jars and cover.
Store in the fridge for up to three weeks.

Having said that, when I made this I used the handy/lazy Aga method, which involves virtually no stirring at all. You just put the sugar, butter and lemon in a pyrex jug or a  preserving jar, and leave it in the simmering oven for an hour to dissolve.
Then you take it out, add the eggs and beat for a minute,

and put it back in the simmering oven for another hour by which time it will have thickened and set, all by itself. Magic.

Uses - makes simple things special -
Lemon curd tarts - use a rich shortcrust pastry or any trimmings you have leftover when making anything pastry based. You'll never throw pastry offcuts away again! Bake in a moderate oven, like shortbread,  ie don't overbrown the pastry or boil the curd.
Cake filling - All in one sponge cake, filled with lemon curd and whipped cream, or mascarpone.
Delicious for tea, just spread on a doorstep of home made buttered bread.

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