Of all the dessert flavors available, the one that will always be my favorite is fresh lemon. I love the aroma when I slice into them and their bright yellow makes a beautiful centerpiece for your table. Scrape your nail across the skin of a lemon and breathe deeply. Your mind clears, focuses, and you start to smile – that’s what I call perfect aromatherapy!
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, they are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It is a prized citrus fruit and it’s season runs from late summer to late spring. The Meyer lemon is rounder, juicier, and slightly sweeter 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.
Both lemons can be used interchangeably in recipes, but if a type isn’t specified, the recipe has been developed using the common Eureka lemon. You can use regular lemons in place of the Meyers in this recipe, but you may want to increase the sugar slightly to compensate for the increased tartness. Mix in the amount the recipe calls for, taste it, and add more if needed.
One of my favorite cookbooks, Farmers’ Market Desserts Cookbook by Jennie Schacht shows us how to utilize fresh produce to create fabulous desserts. It 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 traveling the country in search of 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, local, organic food movement. Jennie writes a wonderful food blog that you should check out when you get a minute.
One recipe that immediately caught my eye is the Meyer Lemon Pudding. Slightly tart, but with an amazing smoothness, this pudding puts all the others to shame. It is a wonderful end to a filling meal because it is light, not heavy. The natural tartness lends itself to warm evenings – either outdoors in the summer or cuddled next to a fire in the winter. 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!
If the concept of supporting your local food vendors appeals to you, you might want to look into joining the Slow Food Organization. Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with supporters in 150 countries across the world. They link the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment. It was founded in 1989 to offer an alternative to the rise of fast food and fast living, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the entire world. There are over 100,000 members with local chapters all around the world. If you are interested in joining one, click here for more information.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
To get the most juice from citrus, heat them in the microwave for about 5 seconds. Then, using the palm of your hand, roll them back and forth across the counter, pressing down firmly. This helps break down the fibers inside the fruit which in turn releases more juice. Using a wooden reamer works better than other materials because the natural grain of the wood catches on the fibers of the fruit, releasing more juice with less pressure.
- 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.
- Variation: This pudding makes a wonderful filling for tarts as well. Prebake the tart shell, let cool, and pour the hot pudding into it. Set aside to firm up.