Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lemon Butter Many Ways.

Before I leave the subject of butter entirely, I want to briefly ponder on the nature of lemon butter. Where I grew up, we had a spread for toast called ‘lemon curd’. It took me some time to adjust to calling it ‘lemon butter’, and I don’t always get it right, even today. Lemon curd is a thick yellow paste which plays the same role on the breakfast menu as jam (or in filling tarts and cakes), but it is more like custard in the making. Strangely, in some parts of the world it has another name - ‘lemon cheese.’

Clearly, there is no cheese, curd or otherwise, in this spread, so why the name? It is for the same reason that damson cheese and almond cheese and Bavarian cheese are so named – because they have a similar consistency to soft cheese, or are made in a mould like some cheeses. Or, if you prefer the name ‘lemon butter’ it is because, and I quote the Oxford English Dictionary, ‘butter’ can be ‘a name for various substances resembling butter in appearance or consistence (butter of almonds, butter of mace etc).

I was delighted to discover that lemon butter or lemon curd or lemon cheese is also, according to the same logic, called lemon honey, as the following recipe shows.

Lemon Honey.
Cream six tablespoons of butter, adding slowly a cup of sugar, then heat in a double boiler until the butter is melted. Now mix in three egg yolks beaten until thick, and the grated rind of a large lemon. Stir until it begins to thicken, then add the juice of a lemon, and continue stirring until the consistency of honey is reached. Turn into sterilized jelly glasses and cover.
The Times, May 22, 1939

Of course, ‘lemon butter’ can simply mean butter flavoured with lemon, and sweetened, or not, depending on whether it is going to be poured over your fish or your pudding - but we might look at variations on that theme another day.

My mother-in-law keeps us supplied with magnificent home-made lemon butter of the spreading kind (I admit to stirring some through yoghurt the other day), but one day I am going to take the plunge and try the following recipe – a‘lemon butter’of the dessert kind.

Lemon Butter with Sweetmeats.
Blanch and pound very fine an ounce of sweet almonds, put them to a quart of boiling cream, add the whites of three eggs well beaten, a little orange-flower water, and sweeten according to taste. Then take a lemon, grate the rind into some lemon juice, add it to the cream and make it oil; the put it into a hair sieve, and when well-drained, beat it together, and lay it in a high dish, with sweetmeats or ratafia cakes all round.
The Cook’s Dictionary and House-keepers Directory, Richard Dolby, 1830

Quotation for the Day.

I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade... And try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.
Ron White.


Sharlene T. said...

I love lemon butter and buy it by the case, whenever I can find it... Suppose I should make my own, but that would be one more thing...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I just finished reading your Pie book (which was really good BTW) and I saw in the author bit a mention about this blog so thought I would check it out as I am interested in the history of food as well.

Reading this recipe makes me ask a question tho - why would you go to all the effort of creaming the butter and sugar only to then melt it in a pot? I know first hand how hard it is to cream butter and sugar by hand, there seems no benefit in this recipe?

The Old Foodie said...

hello bluerose; I am delighted that you like the pie book. I really dont know why the recipe instructions suggest creaming then melting - as you say, it doesnt make sense. Many old recipes have odd instructions - recipe writing was not the "science" it is today.