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I love food given or gotten as a random gift. Someone goes to the gourmet shop and gets your favorite coffee, or they bring you a bottle of good olive oil from a trip to France. You give a new neighbor maple syrup and barbeque sauce — condiments for their shiny refrigerator.

The gift of food jumps to a whole different level when it is homemade. A summer jam, or toffee pulled in someone’s hot kitchen, or even fruitcake — improved by incremental addition of an entire bottle of rum — is a gift that glides like a queen into any kitchen. For all its plainness, Grammy’s custard sauce had that homemade gift-of-food sparkle.

Custard sauce would arrive in Grammy’s bag in a large and well-worn former Peter Pan peanut-butter jar, lid firmly anchored over a square of waxed paper to ensure a tight seal. The jar of billowy pale-yellow custard would be whisked into the fridge. Theoretically, it was going to come out after dinner, to be poured over drained canned apricots, or fresh strawberries, sliced and lightly sugared.

Custard Sauce from Baking FamilyThe siren call was too strong, though: In mid-afternoon, my middle brother and father would be found leaning over the counter, spoons in hand, with a random bowl of something that “needed a little sauce.” Or they would abandon pretense and dive spoon-first into the jar, claiming “medicinal value” to a spoonful or two of custard sauce straight up.

This is that custard, creamy, soothing, perfect for vanilla-lovers. Custard sauce can dress up any fruit, turning “but that’s just cut-up fruit” into dessert. It’s a perfect recipe companion to the Surprise Meringue Cookies that use three egg whites. And it certainly still offers a beneficial something-something for those of us who eat it straight from the jar.

Custard Sauce

If you like a lighter vanilla flavor, cut the quantity of vanilla extract in half.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Off the stove, put yolks into top of double boiler and beat in sugar and salt. Put double boiler over medium heat. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly. Cook mixture over hot water, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to coat the spoon (about 7-9 minutes). Do not overcook; mixture will thicken more as it cools.

Remove pan from heat and mix in vanilla. Cool slightly, pour into your favorite recycled glass jar and store in refrigerator. (In theory, this keeps for three or four days in the refrigerator. My jar is empty well before then.)

Recipe and photo copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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