Sunday, 27 September 2009

When life gives you lemons (and butter)…

Bramley Lemon Curd

After the wedding, I had lots of lemons and some lovely French butter left over so I decided to make a few jars of lemon curd. Is there anything more delicious, spread onto hot toast or spooned under a pillow of meringue in a pie? Is there anything more cheerful than a line of golden jars stacked up on a shelf? And I’ll be honest, I was in need of a bit of cheering up.

Oscar (Admilbu Meridian Dancer) in the Garden.Oscar
3rd January 2000 – 14th September 2009

Our little cat Oscar died. He’d been ill for quite a while, his sturdy frame diminished so he was light and bony as a bird, his once-plush fur rough and dull. A few weeks ago, he jumped down from his chair and his back legs gave out. He sprawled across the floor. I stayed up all night with him cradled in my arms, his head damp with my tears. In the morning, Séan nestled him into a carrying basket, lined with his Arsenal towel, for his final trip to the vet. I busied myself with mindless tasks, loading the dishwasher, folding the laundry, sweeping the floor, my skin prickly with grief.

An hour later, Séan called to say ‘We’re coming home’. So, despite having said goodbye to him, there he was back in the kitchen, walking like a slightly drunken sailor but happily tucking into his breakfast. He’d had some kind of stroke but the vet said he was in no pain and would adjust, could improve. We treasured the bonus of his final few weeks. He nudged up beside us on the sofa, licking our hands with his sandpaper tongue. On bright days he would find a patch of sunshine on the terrace and stretch out his skinny frame on the warm slate.

Colette wrote ‘There are no ordinary cats’. Oscar wasn’t the least bit ordinary. He was beguilingly handsome, with cashmere-soft fur in the richest shade of chocolate brown and bewitching jade green eyes. He had a profound sense of his own importance and would call nosily if he felt that his court (Séan and I) weren’t sufficiently attentive.

Oscar & Liberty With Liberty.

Delphi, Liberty & Oscar With Delphi and Liberty. Another day, another sofa…

When we first brought him home, a tiny kitten you could fit into one hand, we already had two cats, Delphi and Liberty. They weren’t too thrilled with this interloper. He was desperate to play with them, edging towards them unabashed by their hissing hostility. So I was delighted one morning when, as he tumbled about on our bed, Liberty jumped up and gave him a tentative lick. Did he stretch out with pleasure? Give her an affectionate nudge? No, he jabbed her clean across the nose with his paw. In later life, his favourite game was to lurk on the stairs when we had visitors, seducing them with his glorious good looks so that they would ruffle his fur through the banisters. He would purr, his whole body vibrating with pleasure, until the moment when he had drawn them in sufficiently so that they would press their faces against the wooden rails. At this point, invariably, he would give them a quick swipe with his paw and, on one notable occasion, bite them on the nose.

In his final weeks, Oscar was too frail to climb the stairs and spent his time on the ground floor. One evening, as I was making dinner, I couldn’t find him. I searched the dining room and sitting room. Séan looked upstairs. He discovered him three flights up at the top of the house. He had scaled his personal Everest and died on our bed. And that was Oscar. Get where you need to be or die trying.

I still look for him in the house, wait for him to swirl his way around my ankles when I come in the door, jump onto my desk and head butt me as I type. But his chair is empty. Kiddo, I miss you, you furry little fury. Living with you was a ten-year seminar in the fierce pursuit of pleasure, in hunting down the sunniest spot, the cosiest blanket, the tastiest morsel and the highest branch. It was an honour to be your devoted friend and servant.

I'm ready for my close up...

Our lovely vet Caroline sent us a card following Oscar’s death: ‘It was a real pleasure and privilege to treat Oscar over the years. He was a real character and was always so stoical ...’

Bramley lemon curd

Lemons

This recipe is from River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves. It’s been my great pleasure to meet the book’s author, Pam Corbin, a couple of times. She teaches wonderful preserving classes down at River Cottage, where she’s known affectionately as ‘Pam the Jam’. She says of this wonderful curd ‘It’s like eating apples and custard: softly sweet, tangy and quite, quite delicious’. She is quite, quite right. I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Makes 5 x 225g jars.

450g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons (you need 100ml strained juice)
125g unsalted butter
450g granulated sugar
4-5 large eggs, well beaten (you need 200ml beaten egg)

Put the chopped apples into a pan with 100ml water and the lemon zest. Cook gently until soft and fluffy, then either beat to a purée with a wooden spoon or rub through a nylon sieve.

Put the butter, sugar, lemon juice and apple purée into a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. As soon as the butter has melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs through a sieve, and whisk with a balloon whisk. If the fruit puree is too hot when the beaten egg is added, the egg will ‘split’. One way to guard against this is to check the temperature of the puree with a sugar thermometer – it should be no higher than 55-60 ̊C when the egg is added.If your curd does split, take the pan off the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth.

Stir the mixture over a gentle heat, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes, until thick and creamy. This will take 9-10 minutes; the temperature should reach 82-84 ̊C on a sugar thermometer. Immediately pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal. Use within four weeks. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

13 comments:

  1. He was a grogeous ruffian; I can still remember how he must have sensed that Marc didn't particulary care for cats and thus made it his mission to be right one top him at our first dinner together. I am so sorry for your loss.

    XXXOO Marty

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  2. of course it would help if I could spell.....

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  3. Dearest D

    A very touching and elegant post, this. The images of your beautiful cats and beautiful lemons and beautiful jars of lemon curd seem to weld into an elegant whole. I remember lovely Oscar batting me on the nose through the staircase and doing aerial ballet in the kitchen. And on my last visit creeping to lie beside me when I slept on the bergere couch. He was a brave and beautiful cat.
    MX

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  4. I'm sorry for your loss. I don't know what I'd do without my kitties winding around my legs, begging for tuna while I'm cooking. Cats are beautiful and maddening and sweet when the want to be - in short, the best thing in the world. And the lemon curd looks delicious.

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  5. Oscar was one of the attendants who nursed me on that wonderfully louche velvet couch of yours, Debora...and I'll miss him along with you. As you know, my Huckle went from being a robust charmer to a frail old boy and finally, a few days before your Oscar, home to Cat Heaven. I miss him still, but a few purrs in the night tell me he's still with me.
    Many hugs of comfort and joy,
    Karen

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  6. Marty, Thanks so much love. That describes him to a T, the little seducer.
    Mummy - He certainly was.
    Scarlett - Thank you.
    Dana - Jean Cocteau said he liked cats because they become the home's visible soul. Anyone who has shared their roof with a cat knows this to be true.
    Karen - He loved nothing more than a louche sofa and a prone person. We will miss our felines but, as you say, their presence remains. Thanks you for your lovely wishes.

    Dx

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  7. Well darnit...I'm crying so hard I can't read the recipe. What a sweet boy, I'm so sorry for your loss. The picture of the curd I saw in the beginning was definitely bright and sunny like a jewel, though...and very cheerful. Maybe I should scroll back up to it. :)

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  8. i love that he came home and died in your bed - all creatures should be with the ones that love them, in a home full of good smells and even better snugglings
    what a great home he received
    what a character he became
    what a host of memories he left behind

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  9. Darling what a beautiful piece of writing. I miss Oscar (and Delphi also of course). I still have a scar on one of my fingers from the little devil and I dont know if you recall the time he got me in the nostril. That one hurt for a few days I can tell you. He had wonderful character and your bliggety blog has me weeping on a saturday morn.. but in a good way of course. Keep it up. much love. Ali xx

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  10. Girlichef - You are so sweet. I hope you managed to dry your tears enough to take a look at the curd. It's very easy and so delicious.
    Lady P - A lot of lovely memories to be sure. We were lucky he deigned to live with us.
    Michele - Thank you so much.
    Ali - Dearest girl, you were/are our cat sitter in chief and all of our furry creatures adore you, as do we. It is testament to what a special little cat he was that he left you with battle scars and yet you loved him anyway. Thanks so much for leaving such a lovely message. Stop crying though, you won't be able to create all those wonderful images through misty eyes. Dxx

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  11. I came to see your lemon curd and now I'm crying for Oscar. Bless him.

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