We might be biased, but we happen to think that our sellers are the go-to gang for the best, most thoughtful Christmas presents. That said, we also think there is something lovely about hand-crafting gifts for your loved ones yourself. This year, we wanted to give a little something handmade to go with our other gifts, so we had a go at making our own lemon curd. We collected (or more accurately, scrounged around the office for) some empty jam jars, bought a ridiculous number of lemons and set up camp in the kitchen.
We started by soaking the jam jars in hot water to remove the labels and ensure they were clean. Surprisingly, this was actually the most challenging part of the whole process. We found that the slightly more expensive jam jars have lovely labels that peel off beautifully, but getting the gluey residue off the supermarket jam jars was a lot harder. After an hour or so of scouring, scraping and a tiny bit of swearing, we turned to good old Google for help. There are lots of tried and tested tips on how to remove the devilish glue, but the two most popular options were to boil the jars in vinegar, or rub at them with a tea towel soaked in nail varnish remover. We opted for the nail varnish remover option because we didn’t have any vinegar (and couldn’t have coped with the smell) and happily it worked a treat.
Once the jars were label-free, the next step was to sanitise them. This may seem like a bit of a faff, but it’s really important to ensure that no unwelcome bacteria, yeast or fungi are left hanging around the empty jars – especially if you plan on keeping jam or curd in them for a long period of time. Any dirt in the jars will infect the preserve inside and it will spoil very quickly. The easiest way to sanitise your jars is to pop them into a pre-heated oven, no higher than 180°C. We covered a shelf in our oven with baking parchment to protect the glass from the heat of the metal. We placed the jars onto the parchment-covered shelf, ensuring the jars weren’t touching each other. They need to be sterilised for a minimum of 20 minutes, but can be left for longer.
The lemon curd
Whilst the jars were sterilising, we got to work on the lemon curd. We’re no cookery experts, so we relied on Delia to lead the way. We found one of her recipes for lemon curd and followed the instructions to a tee:
Ingredients (makes approximately six jars of lemon curd)
- Grated zest and juice of 9 lemons
- 8 large eggs
- 700g (24 oz) golden caster sugar (we couldn’t find golden, so used regular caster sugar which worked fine)
- 450g (16 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small squares
- 2 tablespoons of cornflour.
The method is surprisingly easy: all it takes is a bit of patience, a lot of whisking and some self control to stop you tasting it before it goes into the jars. To start with, lightly whisk the eggs in a large saucepan, then place on a medium heat. Add the rest of the ingredients. Whisk continuously until the mixture thickens. It took about 20 minutes of whisking for our mixture to thicken; there were a few tense moments when we thought it wouldn’t and we found ourselves reaching for the cornflour, but we persevered and it all came together in the end. Once the curd has reached a nice smooth consistency, turn the heat down to the very lowest setting and leave to simmer while you remove the jam jars from the oven.
Ensure you use oven mitts because, as you might expect, the sterilised jars will be extremely hot. Remove from the oven and place on a heat-proof mat (or trivet) and fill each jam jar with the hot lemon curd. It is very important that both the lemon curd and the jar are hot when you fill them; if the lemon curd is cold, the heat of the jars will overcook it and if the jam jars are cold then the heat from the lemon curd will shatter them. It’s a dangerous business, this curd making.
Cover the lemon curd immediately with waxed discs (we used greaseproof paper) and seal with a lid or cling film whilst it’s still hot. Allow the jars to cool slightly before moving to the fridge or another cool, dry space for storage, where the lemon curd will keep for several weeks.
We called on one of our sellers, Vintage Princess, to help us make our jars look pretty. They sell a genius Jam Labelling Kit (this can still be ordered in time for Christmas) that comes complete with gingham lid covers, gift tags, labels and twine to make your jam jars really look the part. We think we could quite easily get addicted to lemon curd making; it’s a great gift idea as it’s inexpensive but shows that a lot of time and effort has been spent creating a little something special for the recipient. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, we want to try making all manner of jams, marmalades and chutneys. We’d better get on to Delia again…