What pops into your head? Lemon bars? Grilled salmon with lemon butter? Any number of dishes on both sides of the taste receptors-sweet and savory. Even more versatile than its distant relative the tomato-- a ubiquitous fruit that is most often found on the bitter side of the spectrum --the lemon’s dreamy yellow color puts a smile on your face just by being in the room .
Here in Arizona lemons grow well. Not quite as well as grapefruit it seems for there are far more sacks of grapefruit languishing in office break rooms waiting to be rescued by condo dwellers who lack lawns carved out of former citrus groves than lemons.
Luckily, I have a friend with acreage right in the middle of south Tempe whose lot is bordered by some of the biggest lemon trees I have ever seen. She always has a bumper crop. And I could not be smiling any wider.
It is becoming an annual tradition for us to trek over there on a Sunday to file our giant wire basket with these luscious footballs of bright yellow delight and spend a few minutes standing around and smiling about it. She is happy to have them put to use without having to do the schlepping and I am happy to have them. (And her fresh enchiladas were smile worthy as well!)
Apparently I am the sort of person who attracts friends that are living in the middle of city but just can’t get the country out of their system. I have another friend with horse property north of Dreamy Draw near Paradise Valley. Her place is in the opposite direction of my private lemon farm but a lot closer to my house. I make regular vigils over there to purloin fresh eggs. She has chickens of several varieties, ducks, geese and the occasion turkey. I have dozens of beautifully colored ovoids of varying sizes in my fridge at any given moment.
When the conditions are just right, these two ingredients come into contact with one another in my kitchen with delectable results.
Every Sunday my husband makes pancakes. When the weather starts acting like spring I have an almost Pavlovian hankering for a jar of lemon curd to compliment those discs of fluff that I usually douse with Grade A pure maple syrup that my brother in law Michael orders by the gallon from Vermont. While delectable, sometimes a person needs a change!
I was introduced to lemon curd by my dear friend and food expert, Judy Walker. We loved it so much we put a recipe for it in our third book, Gifts from the Southwest Kitchen. That was long before I found my lemon and egg pals and before I discovered Agave nectar.
Agave nectar deserves a digression here. My discovery of it is also tangentially related to Judy.
Last fall the Tucson Culinary Festival contacted Judy looking for local authors to sign their cookbooks for the foodies. Unfortunately she was busy in New Orleans that weekend. Fortunately, as the co-author, I was local and happened to be available. I was at a book-signing station with some other local authors and next to me was the extremely attractive and svelte cookbook author Janet Taylor. Her Healthy Southwest Table is published by Tucson Rio Nuevo. She was extolling the virtues of the indigenous ingredient agave nectar to anyone within earshot. Janet insisted that if everyone would simply switch from sugar to this nectar heart health would improve dramatically. This is due to the low glycemic properties of the nectar. Unlike refined sugar, agave does not cause your blood sugar to spike as it is being processed in your body, thereby leveling your sugar and decreasing the conditions that lead to diabetes.
Around that same time my herbologist had given me the same run down on the effects of sugar and complex carbohydrates on the blood. Surely this is not merely coincidence, I thought and I ran right to Costco and bought a bunch of nectar.
Well, I am here to tell you that as a substitute for sugar in cooking, it works great. It has some different qualities than sugar that will require a bit of experimentation or some good recipes until you get the hang of it. But you use 25% less of it than sugar which makes up a bit for the cost. I even used it in biscotti and didn’t notice any difference in the texture as a result.
I am absolutely wild about how well it works for lemon curd. And if you can get your hands on a duck egg, well, let me just say that compared to my lemon curd, grocery store offerings look wan up there on the shelf.
You can treat yourself to this joy because below is the recipe. And for the rest of the lemon cache please consider the preserved lemons technique that follows. Preserved lemons are great in everything from rice dishes to fish and especially wonderful in tagines (sort of Moroccan Dutch oven cooking-but that is for another day).
Lemon Curd, adapted from Gifts from the Southwest Kitchen
6 beaten egg yolks or 2 duck or goose egg yolks
3/4 cup agave nectarr
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons packed lemon zest (the grated rind of 2 large or 4 small lemons)
In a 4-cup glass measure, whisk egg yolks, nectar and lemon juice together well. Microwave at 70 percent power for 1 minute; reach into the microwave and whisk well. Microwave for 1 minute more at 70 percent power and whisk again. Microwave again for 2 minutes (still 70 percent power), whisk again, and see if the mixture will coat the back of a wooden spoon. If not, continue to microwave at 1-minute intervals at 70 percent power until the mixture passes this test.
Remove from microwave. Stir in butter, one piece at a time, until all is melted. Add zest and stir well. Let cool. Divide into two half-pint jars. Refrigerate.
Cut through lemons as if to quarter them but leave the end intact. Toss the seeds that pop out. Jam the lemon flesh into a sterilized jar, adding a couple of cinnamon sticks. Cover generously with salt. Repeat until the jar is filled to the top. Juice will be released in the process of jamming the lemons in the jar and this is fine. Seal the jars. Turn them over occasionally while storing them away from the sun for at least a month before using. I have used them up to a year later with good results.