A Scottish delight made from lemons

Lemon curd was a wonder and then a hit among my college friends.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor
Sunshine in a jar: Lemon curd is a British speciality made from sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter that can be spread on scones, cake, or muffins.

While wandering the international food aisle of a local grocery store, I was surprised to find jars of lemon curd on the British Isles shelf. I had never thought of the delicacy as an item you buy because I had only known the homemade variety.

Our Scottish friend, Chris Penman, introduced my family and others in our church to lemon curd when she brought it to the ladies sewing circle potlucks. In high school, I first attempted to replicate Chris's recipe, but because I didn't use a double boiler, I curdled the eggs and burnt the custard to the bottom of the saucepan. I learned to pay attention to the details of her instructions and eventually stirred a confection coveted by college friends.

In the 1970s, I attended a small college founded by Dutchmen where my Scottish last name was an oddity almost as peculiar as my stash of bagpipe records and wearing a kilt in my clan's tartan. I arrived at my dorm assuming that everyone loved Robbie Burns's poetry, Scottish shortbread, and lemon curd. My new friends looked puzzled when I tried to explain about the lemony treat.

"It's sort of like lemon custard, but tangier, smoother, richer," I said.

"How do you eat it?" Sue asked.

"On pound cake or ice cream, mostly with a spoon." I thought of the rounded, warm spoonfuls that traveled from the saucepan to my mouth. "I'll bring some back after Thanksgiving."

On a gray, drizzly November afternoon, I grated and squeezed lemons. Their soothing scent mingled with the richness of melting butter. The essence of lemon seemed to defy the raw weather and the early winter gloom. I stirred in sugar and the beaten eggs, carefully scraping the bottom of the double boiler as I stirred. Finally the liquid thickened into the lovely yellow of daffodils, and I poured it into a quart jar.

At our college, we could not take food out of the dining hall or bring it in. I felt like Flora MacDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the English as I plotted how to sneak in my contraband. After wrapping the jar in my scarf, I stuck it into my backpack and zipped through the serving line. My dormmates sat on orange plastic chairs at one of the 12-foot long Formica top tables. They handed around the jar, sniffing the jiggling jell.

"Sort of gloppy." Karen frowned.

"Try it on that yellow cake," I said.

Marcia Anne spooned some on her blueberry muffin. "Tasty," she said.

The others dribbled the curd onto ice cream or cake. By the end of the meal, most relished the lemony delicacy. I stashed the curd on the window ledge of my dorm room. Certainly the intrigue of hiding the jar in the pocket of our sweatshirts or inside a raincoat, all added to the epicurean pleasure.

We scraped the last smidgen of yellow curd from the jar when snowflakes sifted over my windowsill.

"You'll make some more over break?" Karen asked. "Bring it back after Christmas?"

"Aye," I replied. "We'll need it to celebrate the Burns Supper on January 25th. But we can skip the haggis; I never learned to like that stuff."

Note: A Burns supper celebrates the life of Robert Burns who was born in Ayrshire, Scotland on Jan. 25, 1759 and is considered the national poet of Scotland. His writings were part of the Romantic movement and influenced Scottish literature. Two of his best-known songs are "Auld Lang Syne" and "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose."

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