Did you know there are different types of lemons? The most common commercially grown varieties are Eureka and Lisbon, the large fragrant ones we see in the grocery store. But if you want a sweeter version look for Meyer lemons. Originally discovered in China by Frank Meyer and brought to the U.S. in 1908, this is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It is one of the most prized citrus fruits and it’s season runs from late summer to late spring. The Meyer lemon is rounder and juicier, with a thin skin that is often closer to orange than yellow. The thin skin makes it difficult to transport the lemons so you are more likely to find them at Farmers’ Markets and specialty stores than national chains.
A new cookbook in book stores features recipes that utilize fresh produce to create delicious desserts. Farmers’ Market Desserts by Jennie Schacht is a beautifully crafted book, with stunning photographs (by Leo Gong) showing the beauty of the fruit, the people who grow it and the desserts Jennie created. Following the seasons and chasing the best fruit was a labor of love for everyone involved in this book. Shopping at farmers markets is an important part of supporting small local producers and the sustainable, organic food movement.
One recipe that immediately caught my eye, because I love anything with lemon in it, is the Meyer Lemon Pudding. Slightly tart, but with a smoothness you can only get with Meyer lemons, this pudding puts all the others to shame. Pudding is easy to make but you have to pay attention and keep stirring it. Using cornstarch as a thickener and pressing the pudding through a fine mesh strainer makes any lumps disappear. When a recipe calls for both lemon zest and juice, always zest the fruit first. It is much easier this way! And to get the most juice from citrus fruits, you can microwave them for about 5 seconds and then, using the palm of your hand, roll them back and forth on a hard surface, pressing down. This helps break down the fibers inside the fruit which in turn releases more juice. You can use regular lemons in place of the Meyers of course, but you may want to increase the sugar slightly to compensate for the increased tartness.
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups whole milk, cold
- 1 tbsp finely grated Meyer lemon zest
- 1/2 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- Softly whipped cream lightly sweetened or flavored to taste with Limoncello liqueur, for serving
- Pour water to a depth of about 1 inch into the bottom of a double boiler (or saucepan) and bring to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl until blended and set aside near the stove.
- Whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt in top of double boiler (or heat-proof bowl) off the heat. Add enough milk to make a smooth paste, then stir in the rest of the milk. Add the lemon zest. Place the top of the double boiler over (but not touching) the simmering water and heat, stirring occasionally with a flat whisk or silicone spatula, until the pudding thickens and comes to a simmer. Cook at or just below a gentle simmer for 2 minutes, stirring gently but constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan often.
- Remove the top pan of the double boiler from over the simmering water and, whisking constantly, mix about 1 cup of the hot lemon mixture into the egg yolks. Scrape the contents of the bowl back into the top of the double boiler. Replace the bowl over the simmering water and cook without fully boiling (the pudding may break an occasional bubble), stirring constantly but not vigorously, until the pudding is as thick as sour cream, about 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter until smooth. Use a spatula to push the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (discard the solids).
- Fill a larger bowl partway with ice water, and nest the bowl of pudding inside it, taking care not to slosh water into the pudding. Stir occasionally over the ice water until cool, about 10 minutes. (Stirring vigorously after it sets may thin the pudding.)
- Retrieve the bowl from the ice bath, wipe the bottom dry, and cover the pudding with plastic film, pressing it directly against the surface. (Alternatively, spoon the pudding into individual serving dishes and press plastic film directly against each surface.) Refrigerate until very cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days. Serve the pudding in small bowls, topped with a dollop of whipped cream.