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One of my treasures from Gram is a slim, pale-blue, hard-bound volume entitled “Cook Book,” published by the Day Nursery Association of Richmond, Indiana. It’s your basic school fund-development effort. Back in 1924, however, a fundraising cookbook did not have a plastic binding, and it did have a letter from the First Lady’s secretary (more on that in another post).

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

There is space at the back to write in one’s own recipes, two or three blank pages with “Memoranda” printed at the top. Only one recipe made it onto these pages, for a lemon spread called “Mother’s Lemon Butter.” It’s written in my grandmother’s hand. Was it her mother’s recipe, or had it been passed down from a generation before that?

For those of you not familiar, lemon butter or curd is a tangy-sweet conserve perfect for spreading on scones or toast. Picture high tea, late afternoon, in your country house with the butler serving. Ah yes . . . when exactly does that happen? My extended clan used to buy jars of lemon curd in England or Scotland to give as gifts; the jars would sit for years in regal glory on pantry shelves, waiting for the “right” occasion. Whatever the occasion, it never quite warranted opening the precious stuff.

If you whip up a quick batch of lemon butter yourself, the pressure is off. You won’t worry about using it all up as the filling for a two-layer cake, or as dipping sauce for fresh spring strawberries. You’ll be fearless about folding it into whipped cream to serve with poundcake, or building layers of creme fraiche, lemon butter and berries in a tall glass bowl. Lemon butter is an ace in the hole: Something that allows you to create a company-worthy dessert, fast.

When my tasters tried the recipe as written, however, they were not about to go home and make this treat: Too sweet, and complete with sugary grit. I cut the sugar by a third, and gave the lemon juice a few minutes to work on dissolving the sugar before the eggs go in. Those tweaks delivered the kind of creamy, tart, bright spread I imagine Grammy’s mother — or grandmother? — would appreciate.

Mother's Lemon Butter from Baking Family copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

Mother’s Lemon Butter

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • Grated rind and juice of one lemon
  • 2 eggs

Off the heat, put butter and sugar in the top part of a double boiler. Cream them together, then add grated rind and lemon juice. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the sugar to start to dissolve.

In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs well. Put the double-boiler top onto its base, and begin to heat the lemon mixture over medium heat. As the mixture starts to heat, add eggs and whisk in, hard. Keep stirring or whisking as mixture heats; after 5-7 minutes, mixture will thicken dramatically, to the consistency of pudding. Take pan off the heat and pour lemon butter into a bowl to cool.

Serve warm, with toast or scones, or cool and refrigerate. Lemon butter will keep up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

All photos and recipes copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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