I love fruit curds, they might be my favourite of all the preserves, sweet or savoury. In fact I’m not even sure if a curd is a true preserve or not; it isn’t chock-full of sugar like a fruit jam, plus there are eggs and butter in there too; the eggs technically make it a kind of custard. These ingredients mean that fruit curd doesn’t keep for very long, maybe two months in all. That said, they rarely last that long.
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.
You can go further back to find recipes for lemon curd, though it is called lemon cheese, and it seemed to generally be used for lemon cheese cakes which are what I would call nowadays lemon curd tarts. When you look in the books, the old recipes give the instruction to rasp the lemons’ skins “well with sugar” to extract the zest and aromatic oils. This seems rather a curious thing to do; perhaps the zester or fine-grater hadn’t been invented, or maybe it was terribly difficult to lay one’s hands upon such a thing. It all makes perfect sense in the end though because the sugar in the larder wasn’t granulated in a bag like we get it now, but was a solid, long, tapering palisade – a sugar loaf. You could simply crack a piece off and rub it against your lemons to get all the flavour out of that pesky zest. I have found these instructions for recipes as recent as 1974 (Jane Grigson, English Food), if you to attempt it buy those posh sugar lumps that are all irregularly shaped, normal ones will just crumble.
A 19th century sugar loaf and tongs
Curds can be used for so many things: cakes, tarts, pies, steamed puddings, American muffins, as a pancake topping or filling, or at its best on hot toast. Though I have always thought lemon curd ripple ice cream would be good.
Curds don’t just come in lemon yellow of course, you can make one from any fruit that the juice can be easily squeezed from: orange, grapefruit, passion fruit and pineapple are all ones I have spotted at one time or another.
Here’s my recipe for lime curd. Have a go at making it; it’s very easy to make because it’s difficult to curdle the eggs as they are stabilised somewhat by the acid and egg whites. It is wonderfully tart and not too sweet. Honestly, you’ll never go back to the bought stuff.
This recipe makes around 1 UK pint (that’s 20 fl oz for any non-Brits). If you think things might be too sharp, add an extra egg and a couple of ounces of butter.
the zest and juice of 5 limes
5 oz salted butter
8 oz sugar cut into small cubes
4 large eggs
Set a mixing bowl over a simmering saucepan of water and add the lime zest and juice, butter and sugar.
Let it warm up, the sugar dissolve and the butter melt. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and strain through sieve into the juice. Stir with a wooden spoon until the eggs have amalgamated and thicken – this will take at least five minutes. When very thick, take off the heat but keep stirring for a minute or two as the eggs may carry on cooking if left in contact with the still hot bowl’s inner surface.
Pot into sterilised jars and allow to cool. Unless you have a nice cool larder, I would store them in the fridge, especially once opened.