Improved Lemon Curd

Did you know that there is no such a thing as a Meyer lemon anymore? Well, at least not as we know them. Officially, they haven’t existed for about fifty years, when a virus attacked the Meyer lemon trees and they were banned in the United States.


Then in 1975, a new, “Improved” Meyer lemon tree was released that was virus-free, and people began planting them in backyards in America. And in Paris apartments, too. (More on that, later…)

squeezing lemons butter

Some think that the now-extinct Meyer lemons, and the new, Improved Meyer lemons, are a hybrid between oranges and lemons. But I’ve been told by my produce guru that no one is certain as to what the heck they are, exactly.

lemon curd and bread yolks & butter

Because they are relatively fragile, these delicate citrus fruits don’t ship well. You have to know someone with a tree, as they’re usually not easily-found, commercially.

Yet I scored when a friend arrived in Paris, claiming to have not one—but two Improved Meyer lemons for me. I thought about making a small batch of sorbet or ice cream, but then realized that since there wouldn’t be all that much juice from my two brilliant-yellow beauties, I wanted to extend it as much as possible.

whisking butter & yolks stirring lemon curd

And Improved Meyer lemon juice is sweeter than standard Eureka lemon juice, and the small amount might get lost in another dessert. So I decided to make a batch of creamy, tangy Improved lemon curd.

straining lemon curd straining lemon curd

If you’ve never made, or tasted, lemon curd, you’re in for a treat. In spite of its slightly off-putting name, it’s made somewhat like a custard, but you can cook it directly on the stovetop, without tempering the eggs. It takes a few minutes of constantly stirring with a whisk over modest heat. Then, in about three or four minutes, right before your eyes, the mixture will magically thicken into silky, rich lemon curd.

lemon curd

When I was all done, I saved the Improved Meyer lemon seeds and was hoping to germinate them in my apartment to create my own little citronneraie. I didn’t know if they would sprout, but followed some advice I found online; namely to sandwich them between a damp paper towel for a few weeks until they sprout. Unfortunately, after a couple of days, I noticed things inside looked a little dark. So I unfolded the essuie-tout and found the each seed covered with an unpleasant-looking…shall we say—growth, on the outside. (Hint: It wasn’t a lemon tree sprout.)

lemon seeds

So I guess I won’t be whipping up any more Improved Meyer lemon curd anytime in the future, unless I find an Improved Meyer lemon tree somewhere in Paris. But that’s probably not going to happen, unless someone with a bit more pluck than me at cultivating citrus takes on the task.

Am not sure what they’d call them here as the word for ‘improve’ in French is améliorer. In English, ‘amelioration’ means to add more sugar. And since these lemons are sweeter than standard lemons, that would be a French paradox. And we certainly don’t need any more of those around here.

lemon curd and toast

Lemon Curd

Makes 1 cup (240 g)

Here, I use a slightly dare-devil method for making curd by heating everything together over direct heat. If you’re feeling unsure, instead of increasing the heat in step #4, keep the heat very low, or cook the curd in a double-boiler; a bowl nested over a saucepan of simmering water.

  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (65 g) sugar (or 1/2 cup, 100 g, if using regular lemons)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g) unsalted butter, cubed

1. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.

3. Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.

4. Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.

5. Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.

Serving: Lemon curd is wonderful spread on toast or crumpets. It can also be used as a cake filling and you can make a tangy lemon cream to serve alongside gingerbread by folding in an equal amount of whipped cream.

Related Links and Recipes

Lemon Tart

Lime Meringue Tart

French Tart Dough Recipe


Improved Meyer Lemons (University of California)

Ortho’s Citrus Guide (Amazon)

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Citrus by Lance Walheim (Amazon)

Blood Orange Sorbet

Improved Meyer Lemons (Available online, from Melissa’s)

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  • February 8, 2011 9:05pm

    Just made a double batch and it’s fabulous!

  • Oakjoan
    February 9, 2011 4:27am

    So haha on you Mr. I Live in Paris! I have 2 (two) Meyer Lemon trees in my yard in Oakland, CA.

    I’ve been making lemon curd shortcake ala Medrich for the past few weeks. I also came across an article in the NYT last week for crumpets and blood orange/meyer lemon marmalade. It’s sooo easy and quite delish with clotted cream (Mascarpone and cream and I used a dollop of Pavel’s yogurt).

    I love that you’re touting the easy direct heat method of making lemon curd. Medrich does it too and I was delighted it was so easy!

  • Nori
    February 9, 2011 5:35pm

    Oooh, I wish I came across this recipe when I was living in Orange County with my budding citrus garden. The meyer lemon tree was the only consistent producer but my yuzu and kafir lime trees were maturing nicely…Now I am woefully citrus-deprived in Montreal.

    BTW “intrepid” means “fearless” as in “an intrepid explorer” so I believe you may be thinking of its antonym, such as “timid” when suggesting the use of a double-boiler.

    Please keep sharing your wonderful recipes and humorous insights with us!

    PS In Japan we have many varieties of citrus (other than yuzu). Some I haven’t seen mentioned much outside of the country are the ponkann, kabosu, and dekopon. Wikipedia does a decent job of explaining the cultivars on their citrus page.

  • Lindsay Rowe
    February 10, 2011 7:57pm

    Hi David!

    I just had to write you because I knew you would appreciate my utter astonishment to have stumbled upon some Meyer Lemons in my natural foods supermarket yesterday! I bought them all for three dollars! I should go back and see if there are any more because I adore lemon curd….