When we were preparing to buy our first home six years ago, it was - to put it mildly - a seller's market. Houses were selling like hotcakes. Time and again, we would make an appointment to see a house, only to hear from our real estate agent the next day that it was already taken. So when I saw the listing for a cute little house with hardwood floors inside and roses in the front yard, I didn't hesitate. "Please go see it today," I begged my husband. "If you like it, let's make an offer." He did, and we did. By the time I saw the house a day later, three more people had made offers on it, but they were too late. It was ours.
Our little house was built in the 1940s. It's old, it doesn't have central air conditioning (yet), and it's probably a tad too small for our family of five. But we love it. The prior owner was a sweet old lady named Agnes, who was in her eighties and had bought the house over 40 years earlier. She had outlived her first two husbands and was getting ready to move to Oregon with her third. Agnes had accumulated so many "treasures" during the time she lived in the house, when she finally moved out and I saw the house empty for the first time, I was shocked to find there was a door in the living room that I didn't even know was there, so hidden it was by her many belongings.
Agnes was a prolific gardener, but due to the limitations of her age, not a very good one. Agnes's garden had simply gotten away from her, and the plum, nectarine, peach and apricot trees - among other plants - all either died or had to be removed within a year of our moving in. Agnes was also a prolific home canner, and the shelves in the storage room behind the garage were chock-full of jam jars. Unfortunately, Agnes's canning skills were about on par with her gardening skills. The seals were questionable, the jars were unlabelled, and it was impossible to tell what was inside them, much less if they had been canned that month or decades earlier. We politely accepted the jars she gave us as a gift before she moved out... then secretly threw them away.
Luckily for us, most of the plants in Agnes's yard survived, including a wonderful Eureka lemon tree right outside our back door. And seeing Agnes's jars of mystery jams rekindled anew my desire to try home canning, which began when I was a child, seeing my grandmother's North Carolina canning cellar for the first time. (My mom explained to me that her mama - we called grandma "mah-maw" - would make her own jams, pickles and vegetables, then pull out a jar of her choosing whenever she liked. From her own cabinet. Without going to the store. Incredible.) It was a sign. Our tree was bursting with bright yellow citrus, so I decided to make lemon curd, using a recipe from our county's Master Food Preserver Program.
My first forray into home canning was bit of a flop. The recipe was delicious, but I failed to fill my jars sufficiently full, and with too much air space, the contents quickly deteriorated. Unfazed, I tried again several weeks later, this time with a more attentive eye to the details of safe canning methods. Voila! My efforts were rewarded with six jars of sunny, creamy, sweet-tart lemon curd that remained perfectly sealed in their sparkling glass homes until we opened the last one months later. Since that first attempt a few years ago, I've successfully "put up" a couple dozen jars of lemon curd, trying different recipes, finally coming up with my own, and all the while putting Agnes's beloved lemon tree to excellent use. I think she, and my grandmother, would have been proud.
This recipe has a forward, "all-lemon" flavor due to the lemon zest, which I love. If you prefer a slightly smoother version, with a less prominent lemon oil flavor, dial back the amount of zest. Untreated lemons and fresh eggs are essential to this recipe; do not use bottled lemon juice. I have made this lemon curd with equally tasty results using, alternatively, either all margarine or 1/2 goat milk butter, 1/2 margarine.
These canning directions are very "bare bones" and are not ideal for the novice home canner, since I don't discuss the equipment, prep or finishing processes for safe canning (sterilizing jars/lids, how to test seals, etc.). For an excellent, thorough resource, I highly recommend the book Putting Food By. It has clear, precise directions for safely canning all manner of foods, and the authors lay out the methods, ingredients, and science of preserving in simple, understandable language. If you are new to canning, be wary of the inaccurate and potentially dangerous canning advice to be found all over the internet. I'm only about one step above a novice, but I have done my homework. If you have questions about canning, please feel free to comment or email me and I'll try to help. Even better, find out if there is a master food preserver program near where you live. In my experience, such organizations are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, and most offer food preserving classes for free or at a nominal fee.
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups butter or margarine (4 sticks or 1 pound)
8 large eggs, beaten
Finely grate the zest of the lemons into a medium saucepan. Squeeze juice from the lemons. You should have around 1 1/2 cups of juice. Add lemon juice to the saucepan, along with the sugar. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the pan.
Set the pan over low heat, and stir until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Strain eggs through a fine-mesh sieve into the lemon mixture. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly. As the mixture begins to steam, it will thicken, take on a creamy consistency, and coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from heat. Fill hot sterilized jars with the lemon curd to within 1/8 inch of rims. Wipe rims clean and top with hot lids. Screw bands onto the jars just until finger tight. Process jars in a hot water bath (212°F / 100°C) for ten minutes. Remove jars immediately and set upright on a clean towel, or wooden surface, away from drafts. Let jars sit undisturbed for 12 hours. Check for proper seals. Label the jars and store in a cool, dry place for up to a year.
Makes 7 half-pint jars.