Many of you will be too young to remember the song with the chorus line “Lemon tree, very pretty, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat”, written in the 1950s and recorded by several well-known artists, ranging from Peter Paul & Mary to Bob Marley.
The song itself is an allegory of the bitter-sweet qualities of romantic love, using the contrast between the aesthetics of a lemon tree in full bloom and the intense tartness of lemon flesh. However, as we all know, the lemon actually has many virtues, which are reflected in the variety of its uses in the kitchen.
Maggie and I are blessed with an old war-horse of a lemon tree as the centrepiece of our kitchen garden. It is probably around 50 years old and was in a state of sad neglect when we bought our home in 2005. Fortunately, it responded well to a blend of generous nurture and a one-off dose of very tough love; most years, we receive a bountiful supply of large, juicy lemons.
We use lemon in the kitchen several times a week, in the forms of: juice; grated or peeled zest; and the skin or the flesh of pieces of the preserved lemon we make for ourselves. The most ‘lemony’ dish of the wide range of savoury and sweet destinies of our lemons is lemon delicious pudding. It is a firm winter favourite.
This old-fashioned dessert tastes naughtier, in dietary terms, than it actually is, due to the slippery texture produced by the air in the beaten egg whites. Here is how we make it.
2 large lemons
60g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
2 tbsp (40ml) milk
3 eggs separated
4 tbsp (80ml) self-raising flour
1¼ cups milk, extra
- Zest one lemon and juice both (you need about 2/3 of a cup of juice).
- Cream the butter with the sugar and the 40ml of milk in an electric mixer, then add egg yolks and mix well.
- Add about 1/3 each of flour and extra milk alternately to make a smooth, runny batter. Beat in lemon juice. Fold in lemon zest by hand.
- Lightly butter a 2 litre ovenproof basin (or divide between two smaller basins) and heat oven to 170oC
- Whisk egg whites until firm and creamy, and fold gently into the batter.
- Pour into prepared basin; stand basin in a baking dish and pour boiling water into dish until halfway up the sides of the basin.
- Place in oven and reduce thermostat to 150oC (the initial cooking time at 170 will stimulate the rising agent in the flour and help to trap the air bubbles in the egg white)
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown and slightly firm to the touch, cool a little and serve as is or with cream or ice-cream.