Lemon curd

In honour of the fact that despite the snow and freezing temperatures of the last two weeks our five Black Rock chickens (there used to be six but that is another story – naughty Mr Fox!) are still laying 2-3 eggs each day I made some lemon curd today.  I was inspired by my mum who has made batches of this for my  dad in recent weeks as he has developed a particular fondness for it, as has my eldest daughter.  So I baked another loaf of brown soda bread so that we had something that we could slather it onto when she got home from school – and the combination was very good indeed.

I normally use Mary Berry’s recipe in her excellent The Aga Book, but today I followed Darina Allen’s in her Forgotten Skills of Cooking and I think maybe Mary Berry wins this one.  She cooks hers in a bain-marie  (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of hot water), whereas Darina Allen suggests doing it directly in a pan over a gentle heat and when you are using an Aga it can be difficult to get a gentle enough heat, even on the simmering plate, without being in danger of having lemon flavoured scrambled eggs.  I just managed to avoid this by taking it off the heat periodically and standing it on the cold granite worktop and giving it a good whisk with my balloon whisk.  Mary Berry’s technique takes longer but is less hair-raising.  However if you have a hob that you can easily control then Darina’s direct heat method will no doubt work very well.

Here is what I did, and it made enough to fill one ex-Bonne Maman conserve jar which previously had 370g of strawberry jam in it:

50g (2oz) butter
zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons
100g (40z) caster sugar
2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk, beaten

1 or 2 sterile jars (depending on size) – sterilise them by washing well, rinsing with hot water and then placing in a low oven for about 20 minutes. Make sure not to touch the rim or the inside once you have sterilised them.


Either in a saucepan over a direct gentle heat or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (depending on whether you can control your hob enough to give you a gentle heat) melt the butter.  Grate the zest of the lemons directly into the butter and squeeze in the juice, using a sieve to catch any stray pips. Add the caster  sugar and the beaten eggs. Stir all the while over the gentle heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon.  If you are using the bain-marie (bowl over water) method this is likely to take about 25 minutes.

Pour the curd into the sterile jar(s) and seal when cool. Keep in the fridge and eat within two weeks.

It is good on fresh bread, warm scones or crumpets or you can make lemon curd tarts.  It is also good as the filling in a Victoria sponge.

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Daisy in the snow

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Quince jelly

quince jelly

My parents have a quince tree on the side of their house and it really is beautiful, it has very pretty red flowers when blossoming and this time of year the ripe quinces fall to the ground.  They are  a bitter and unyielding fruit and cannot be eaten raw but they smell lovely.  If you never make anything from the quinces you can at least bring the fruit into the house in bowls and they fill the house with their delicious smell.  The unyielding fruit is transformed with cooking and quince jelly tastes delicious.  It is easy to make, it just needs a little time, and it is delicious with a lamb roast or with cold meats or spread onto a cracker before a slice of mature cheddar is put on top.

It is an amazing transformation from green fruit to an amber jewelled juice, which becomes even more jewel-like with the addition of the sugar.

strained quince juice

This recipe for quince jelly is based on Mrs Beeton’s, the original domestic goddess. I used 600g of prepared quinces and that yielded about a pint of juice, as you can see from the above picture.  Mrs Beeton recommends peeling them but that is a very fiddly job, so I washed them and cut out any bruises.  I did heed Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s warning in the River Cottage Cookbook though that you need to remove the pips before cooking as they can cause stomach upsets.  Hugh FW also suggests adding a quince to an apple pie, which sounds like a good idea that I may have to try.

To every 1 pint (570 ml) of juice add 1lb (450g) sugar.

Sterilised warm jars (wash the jars well and rinse well and place in a low oven, 100°c, for about 20 minutes to sterilise)


Wash the quinces and remove any bruises.  Slice into chunks and remove the seeds and place in a large pan or a preserving pan.  Cover with enough water so that the quinces just float and boil until the fruit is tender.  Mrs Beeton suggests that you boil for three hours.  I placed it in the simmering oven of the aga, which is the equivalent of simmering on a very low heat, for about three hours. Remove any scum that rises to the surface and strain the juice through a sieve. Measure the juice and return to the pan, adding 1lb (450g) sugar for every pint (570 ml) of juice you have. Bring this slowly to the boil, stirring to help the sugar to dissolve and then boil for about ¾ hour until a little of the jelly poured onto a cold saucer will wrinkle.  Pour into warm sterile jars and seal.

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Pickled Damsons

Pickling damsons
Pickling damsons

We have a couple of damson trees in our garden.  Last year a late frost damaged the blossom and there was not a damson to be seen. This year the trees have been loaded. We have frozen some ready for making stewed damsons this winter, I have made damson jam and damson vodka and pickled damsons.  I was introduced to the idea of pickled damsons by my husband and I must admit that I was appalled at the very thought until I tried them!  Now I am a convert, they are absolutely delicious with cold ham, sweet with a sour tang. If you haven’t tried them they are very easy to make and really worth it.  Once tried you will be making them again and again. This is a recipe from my mother-in-law from an old pamphlet collecting local people’s favourite recipes.

Sterilise 3 x 1 lb jars by washing them thoroughly, swilling with hot water and then placing in a low oven (100°c) for 20 mins

2 lbs (900g) damsons
½ pint (275ml) malt vinegar
2 lbs (900g) dark brown sugar
1 oz (25g) ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
2 tsp ground cloves or 6 whole cloves

Prick the damsons with a fork or several times with a skewer and put into a large jar or bowl.  Tie the spices into a muslin bag and place in a large saucepan with the sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil. Pour this mixture over the damsons and leave for 24 hours.  Turn all into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Boil for 3 mins.  Carefully spoon into the hot sterilised jars and cover when cold.  These are best stored for 6 weeks before tucking in and they last for ages and ages.  I have had jars for a year or more and still tasting delicious.

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