Chinese Lemons (国产柠檬): A 23 Word Recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd

One of the surprising wonders of living here is discovering some things you coveted back home are actually easy to find in China. I’m not talking about Sichuan peppercorns, or a big bottle of beer for 3 kuai (40ish cents). I’m talking Meyer lemons, one of the sought-after treats from my life in Northern California. This little treasure is actually native to China, as I found out last year through the fabulous Hawberries & Kumquats (thanks Shelley!). No one seems quite sure what a Meyer lemon’s origin is, but this luscious citrus is best described as a cross between a lemon and an orange – slightly sweeter, thinner skinned… all the bright lemonosity you’d like yet without the sour pucker or bitter peel you’ve learned to expect. Thin skins means Meyers don’t travel well, so unless you’re lucky enough to live near Meyer lemon trees…

Which I am apparently right now. They package these babies individually, labeled as “ning meng” which is the phonetic translation of lemon (guochan ningmeng 国产柠檬, or Chinese-grown lemons) and they sell for LESS than the imported US lemons. The Chinese have little use for lemons, so you don’t find them often in local market. When in season, you’ll see hoards sold from street carts, or even just on the sidewalks from a tarp, and you can scoop up a bundle for cheap. With such spoils before me, what else could a girl do? Thus I bought an embarrassing number of these lovely deep yellow fruits on a sunny Sunday, and took them home with dreams of tangy-but-not-too-tart Meyer lemon marmalade and lemon curd. Having made neither before, was plagued with thoughts of how tedious Google-ing and then mulling

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over recipes would be (was feeling very lazy this Sunday, obviously).

But as luck would have it, Brian, chef at Beijing institution Maison Boulud (Christine and my happy place from days of yore – see post) took pity and solved my conundrum via a simple text. Apparently, lemon curd recipes can be distilled down into 20ish words – who knew? Taking a leap of faith (i.e. embracing my Sunday slothdom), I didn’t bother looking up a recipe online and just did as texted.

The result? A few jars of lovely, lusciously lemony yellow Meyer lemon curd, to do with as I please. I was told to put it into a tart. But that requires… making a tart shell. Thus, while contemplating said tart shell, I’ve been dipping into it daily with a spoon. Or throwing some onto my morning yogurt. Or smearing it on toast. Or (and it must be admitted) being too lazy to do any of the above and just eating it with my fingers.


“2 eggs 2 yolks 3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup lemon juice 3 oz butter cook like sabayon then finish with the cold butter”

Well, I did change just a few things. First, I doubled the recipe. Then, I decided to add a 2 tablespoons of zest (because it’s there, and because I love my Microplane). A dash of salt, and oh, I forgot to finish with the cold butter, and whipped it all u

p together in the pot instead. Still, I ended up with a wonderfully rich yet lightly tart, and tartly light lemon curd.

– 4 eggs
– 4 yolks
– 1.5 cups sugar
– 1 cup Meyer lemon juice
– 2 tablespoons lemon zest
– 6 oz unsalted butter, diced
– pinch of salt

1. Juiced 1 cup of lemon juice (about 5 lemons in my case), and grate about 2 tablespoons of lemon zest. My hands smelled nice for the rest of the day. I love zesting.

2. Put the lemon juice, 4 eggs, and 4 egg yolks into a saucepan with the sugar and lemon zest. Turned the heat on to low-medium, and kept a constant stir with the whisk.

3. When the sugar is melted and everything is warm, I chopped up the butter and whisked it in (but Brian said to whisk it in only at the end. This might make a difference, and it’s shameful to fuck up a 20 word recipe, but all’s well that ends well, as it tasted fine to me!)

4. At this point, it’s mildly simmering, so just keep whisking like mad to keep the eggs from cooking through. The point is to thicken up the mixture without cooking the egg and making the custard into lumpy lemon-flavored scrambled eggs.

5. In about 20-30 mins, depending on how high the heat is (I kept mine pretty low), the mixture will thicken up. The picture below is about halfway there – I thought it was done when it was somewhere between cake batter and mayonnaise.

6. Can it! I put my lemon curd in some old jam jars, and the rest in a mason jar. The jam jars I sterilized with boiling water and pop sealed it (which should last a few months – it works with jam but I’m not sure I trust that for lemon curd, seeing it has egg and butter), and the mason jar…was not sterilized, but that’s my stash for this week, to abuse as I please.

For those of you living in Beijing (or anywhere else with ready access to these mutant lemons), do yourself a favor and mix up a pot of anything Meyer-lemony. Curd is probably the easiest (I made marmalade too, and it’s a bit more work, and you certainly can’t eat it with a spoon). It’s one of the few times in Beijing when I’ve felt truly blessed and bathed in luxury, and it’s well worth the 30 kuai I spent on the Meyers, and the 40 minutes of cooking effort, to be able

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to eat up this sunshine every day.

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11 Responses to Chinese Lemons (国产柠檬): A 23 Word Recipe for Meyer Lemon Curd

  1. Lovely post Jen, great photos.
    There are occasional glorious culinary joys to remind us of home, aren’t there?

    Freshly shelled spring peas for 50c a kilo
    Autumn figs cheap enough to make jam, compote and fig paste with
    Big fat tender broadbeans

    Enjoy your lemon curd!

  2. the ladies says:

    Fiona – thanks! And yes, the discovery of figs here last fall was magical 🙂 I did a post on fig compote then, and am still holding onto a jar or two of it to enjoy slowly.

  3. Shanti says:

    Oh the things I’ve taken for granted from childhood. We had a Meyer lemon tree in my yard heavy with amazing fruit. I didn’t know how coveted they were until 8 years ago. I love that they’re everywhere here in Beijing. They made their way to the US via Frank Meyer, a state department agriculturist, from a trip he made to China. Hence the name. My mom just kept telling me they were expensive lemons. When I moved to Beijing and found them at Sanyuanli, I cleared up my little mystery. It’s funny they’re commonplace here and so loved in the States.

  4. nico says:

    I Love mayer lemons, they are super good specially for lemon curd!!
    One thing about the butter at the end, the idea is to incorporate the butter when the mixture is no hot enough to melt it. I usually use a handhold mixer to incorporate the butter when the mixture reaches the 30-32C mark. That will give a very nice airy and light texture to the curd.

  5. the ladies says:

    shanti – you had a meyer tree and you left the US? seems like a good reason to live at home 🙂 we should start a meyer lemon product exporting business-we’d make a killing in the US

  6. the ladies says:

    nico – thanks for the tip! the 23 word recipe even managed to say that, and yet… i totally forgot. i blame the heady smell of lemons and sugar for causing a temporary high that made simple instructions impossible to follow

  7. Mmm Meyer Lemons… I have a tree with 3 baby lemons on it right now 🙂 The curd sounds divine…

  8. liz says:

    I have a Mexican lemon juicer that squashes the lemon longitudinally rather than horizontally. What did you use to juice your lemons? I’m rather intrigued by the marks left on the flattened lemons.

  9. the ladies says:

    i heard that’s the best way to juice as well, but have never seen one…. i’m too lazy to even use a juicer, so the marks are left by me using the back end of my favorite tongs to squeeze the life out of those lemons. probably the fastest way to go!

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