On the day before Valentine’s Day, I set out to make lemon curd for the second time in my life. I used the recipe on the Pioneer Woman site by Erica Kastner and hereby apologize for any sacrilege that results from my hackneyed efforts.
You see, I’m kind of a klutz in the kitchen. I have some anecdotes that would curdle your curd. Anyway…
The one thing I had going for me was the incredibly fresh, beautiful Meyer lemons given to me by a friend a few weeks ago. Yes, in the middle of winter, California trees are offering up fruit… sorry if that hurts anyone’s snowbound feelings. 😉
So what is lemon curd, really? It’s a buttery, lemony kind of thing you can spread on scones or shortbread (or what have you). It’s decadent—you may wish to scroll quickly past the photo of all the butter that goes into this further down the page—and very British. And that’s why I’m blogging about it today. My novel Avenged takes place in England and while there is no specific mention of lemon curd, I feel absolutely certain that my character Eleanor, the manor’s maid, would have delivered this delicacy on her mistress’s breakfast tray many times.
To get started, I had to zest two of those lemons. Here they are, sadly denuded.
(I felt I had to censor them.)
Then I juiced three of them to get a half-cup of juice. This was the best part of the whole ordeal. There’s something really fun about pressing down relentlessly on a defenseless lemon: it’s cathartic. It also makes the kitchen smell great.
This recipe calls for eight egg yolks. I put the yolks in a yellow bowl and the whites in a green one. Retroactively, I thought the colors would look better if swapped and spent some time considering doing that for purposes of the blog photo—also searched for a sky-blue bowl but it was holding pico de gallo in the fridge. I guess we’ll just have to live with these poor color choices.
So, the deal is, you beat the yolks with sugar and then put them over a double boiler for 10-20 minutes until they thicken. I jerry-rigged a double boiler and had to keep separating the two pots to check that the water was simmering and not boiling. This is how things looked at ten minutes: is this normal? Only real cooks know.
I should mention that at the same time I was attempting this taxing recipe, I was also making dinner. The smoke alarm did go off, but only once, resulting in my somewhat heatedly exclaiming that directly above the oven is not ideal placement for a smoke alarm. (This was where it had been relocated after being above the toaster where it also made a nuisance of itself.)
I concluded my concoction was ready for the next step. My daughter created this pyramid of cut butter. The first time I made lemon curd, I abided by the rule that you put in one piece at a time and wait until it’s melted to add another and that is how I became an octogenarian. This time I dappled multiple pieces across the surface of the brew; life’s too short.
After all the butter has been incorporated, you push the curd through a fine mesh sieve. This is my least favorite part because I have a hard time making it all go through. It gets messy. Why doesn’t it go through?
I know late at night I will sleeplessly ask myself, were my zests too big? My sieve too fine? This is what it looked like right around the time I decided it wasn’t worth fighting anymore.
But! It is delicious.
And yet! There is part of me that thinks this is a rare and time-consuming recipe and I must be a very special person to have made it, and part of me that thinks it tastes like the inside of those 50 cent lemon tarts in the oblong wrappers.
Idea: buy a bunch of those tarts, eviscerate them and put the insides in mason jars and pass it off as homemade. You could be the white trash Martha Stewart!
Alas, I took the high road and decanted my mess into a lovely little yogurt jar from France and a larger mason jar for my neighbor. There was enough left over to probably fill another yogurt jar.
If you want to read about people who doubtless have better success with lemon curd, Avenged is the third book in my young adult neo-Gothic trilogy. It’s all about Eleanor, a servant in a haunted English manor who learns she plays a role in an ancient prophecy. Also check out Haunted, the first book, and Betrayed, its sequel. My website is www.lynncarthage.com and I welcome tweets @LynnCarthage. Enjoy making the lemon curd if you choose to make it: in the comments, you can let me know how to better sieve the end product.
I had a nightmare. The scene where Phoebe comes across the little stone cottage in the woods and climbs up to its roof? That was straight from the dream. When I woke up, I wrote it down and began building other scenes and characters around it until it became a first draft.
Did you always want to be an author?
Yes, pretty much. When I was in fourth grade, I was put into a special creative writing program, which was the first time I started thinking of myself as a writer. It was a long journey to publication for me, so maybe I should’ve aimed for an MBA instead of an MFA (ha!), but to be honest I feel grateful that I’ve always known what my passion is.
Who are some authors that influence your work?
Great question. I’ve been influenced by some of the masters of the horror genre: Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Also Henry James for his magnificent The Turn of the Screw. I loved the John Bellairs series that began with The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Lois Duncan and Zilpha Keatley Snyder: I grew up in a time when Y.A. fiction was just beginning to take off, and I remember standing in front of the shelves in that section of the library and being so happy.
Tell us more about Phoebe Irving, the main character in Haunted. Will she continue to feature in the next books as well?
Yes, I’m excited that Phoebe will continue to be a vital part of the remaining books of the trilogy, although she will no longer narrate. Book 2 will be told by Miles, and Book 3 by Eleanor. I have a special fondness for Phoebe because she reminds me of myself in some ways: feeling shunted to the side (I was the youngest of four daughters, so I know we all have to share “face time” with our parents), feeling unsure of herself. But Phoebe is a very strong swimmer, whereas I think I spent about five years as a “tadpole” (the lowest level in my municipal pool’s swimming lesson hierarchy).
How would you personally classify Haunted? Do you consider it a young adult Gothic mystery/thriller? A YA paranormal/fantasy? Something in between?
That’s an interesting question! Young adult author Michelle Gagnon called it a “neo-Gothic thriller” in her blurb and I’ve kind of adopted that. I know that it’s categorized under “New Teen Fantasy and Adventure” at Barnes & Noble, which is not where I expected to find it (in fact, I didn’t even bother to look there, and the bookstore employee very kindly guided me straight to it after I asked). I think paranormal fits, as does mystery. This business of categorizing books is pretty tricky. You want people browsing in the bookstore to come across it, so it’s important to be shelved where people’s interests lie.
Which are some of your favorite authors at the moment?
In the Y.A. world, I’ve been enjoying Danielle Paige (whose latest in the Dorothy saga releases March 31), Michelle Gagnon, and Alison McMahan. Danielle writes a revised, darker version of the Wizard of Oz story, which totally captivated me—and many others; her first novel in this series was a New York Times bestseller. Michelle writes incredibly-plotted hacking, conspiracy, abduction books—I know her in real life, and she’s so super nice. It’s hard to believe she can think from, for instance, the point of view of a serial killer. Yet she does it, and chillingly so. Alison writes historical fiction, and The Saffron Crocus is a wonderful book set in medieval Venice about a girl who wants to sing although that world is reserved for castrati boys. Throw in some murder and intrigue, and you’re off on a fantastic voyage.
What are some hobbies that keep you occupied when you are not writing?
I read voraciously (does that go without saying?) I love Zumba class and walks in nature. I don’t watch much TV but I’m hooked on Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Something that they can take away and use in their own writing process?
Yes! Anyone can come up with an awesome plot, but people who can keep chugging at page 200 when others run out of steam…those people are the real deal. So find time to write. Carve out a particular time, whether it’s 20 minutes a day, or a particular Tuesday when you have two hours to spend with your book—whatever works for your schedule. Just make sure it’s frequent and that you stick to it.
“Remarkable. . .a twist you’ll never see coming.” – Michelle Gagnon, author of Don’t Look NowMoving to my stepfather’s English country mansion sounded so promising. But the Arnaud Manor is neglected and unwelcoming, and I get the feeling it isn’t exactly uninhabited. Something wants to hurt us–especially my little sister, Tabby.
Okay, so I might be a little sensitive lately. My parents act oblivious to me, my old life is far away in San Francisco, and the gorgeous guy I just met tells me terrible stories about the infamous Madame Arnaud who lived here long ago, and about missing children and vengeful spirits. The kind of stories that are impossible to believe–until you’re living in one of them, fighting to protect everyone you love…
“If you like American Horror Story, you will love Lynn Carthage’s Haunted. Carthage delivers a spooky, fun trip across the pond. Loved!”–Danielle Paige
“Get ready for a very different type of paranormal read. Different from your average ghost story, Carthage makes Haunted work by doing a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life. Along with the twist, there’s a lovely romance, as well as a mystery…Overall this is a fast, easy read that will keep you on your toes.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“A complex chain of heroics, redemption, and forgiveness that strikes the right cord of sincere emotion . . . a slightly gruesome haunted house story that will appeal to paranormal romance readers who also crave light horror. The titular haunting is multilayered and centers on a grotesque villain who delivers camp and true horror.” — School Library Journal