I know a lot of people complain about their families. It’s a common theme–the dysfunctional family, dreading the upcoming holidays and get-togethers. I guess I’ve never felt that way. On the contrary, I’ve felt that there are not enough family get-togethers in my life. I’ve watched movies, read books, seen other people in real life with big families, and I’ve always been a bit envious. I am close to neither my mother’s nor my father’s families, and my stepfather’s family is really the only family I have. They are great, but I don’t see them much. So I guess my family consists of my mother, stepfather and brother–and that’s okay. I love them. But I’ve always also loved the idea of a big family where everyone gets together and eats food and laughs and exchanges stories and hands down traditions and recipes. Busy holidays where everyone crams together in a cozy living room and exchanges gifts and affection. Summer picnics and fall parties.
Anyway, my life is not like that. It used to be when I was younger. My grandmother would cook a big dinner on Sundays and on holidays and everyone would show up and greet one another and have a wonderful time. We all respected my grandmother and loved her dearly and admired the fact that she was possibly the best cook ever. After she died when I was 18 everyone split up (or maybe it was just me) and there was suddenly no more cohesive family unit.
I used to have this idea in my head when I was younger that I would grow up and get married and have children of my own, and we could experience and pass on family traditions of our own. I could have that family I had dreamed of, the one that looks forward to getting together and one that loves each other and gets along. Being a child of divorce can leave one with a sense of displacement; not belonging here or there or trying to find a way to combine who one is within two or three different families. I wanted to experience a happy family and see it grow and be able to have things to look forward to with them.
Anyway, I’m not sure if I will ever get married or have children. At any rate, it’s not something I can really wait around for because I have a life to live in the meantime. So I have made a family of one–me–and started traditions of my own.
(This is where the tarts come in.)
In an effort to normalize my life and have things to look forward to, I do little things throughout the year that I do every year. It’s my own way of establishing family traditions, even if those things are things I usually end up doing on my own. For example, in the fall I make cider and mulled wine and carve pumpkins on the front porch, in the winter I make peppermint meringue cookies and put together an Advent calendar with winter activities, in the spring I make dandelion syrup and color Easter eggs, and in the summer I make lemon curd tarts and go on a trip somewhere.
I made the tarts today.
Maybe the worst idea ever, considering it is in the high nineties today.
Anyway, I like them. They are delicious. And I am going to eat them all. And in an effort to extend “family” traditions to non-family members, I am going to pretend you are all my family and share my recipe with you.
And here is where I make a confession: it is so hot today that I took the easy way out and got store-bought crusts. I don’t care if you think I’m skipping corners–you try baking curd AND crusts in a hot kitchen when it is 96 degrees outside. So right now I’ll just share the curd recipe. Trust me, it’s just fine with the store crust.
First, you’ll want to assemble your ingredients (the lighting in my dining room is making my food look ethereal):
*zest of 3 lemons
*3/4 cup of lemon juice (just squeeze the lemons you just zested)
*1 1/3 cups of sugar
*1 1/2 sticks of butter, cut into pats
*pinch of salt
*splash of vanilla extract
My ready-made crusts:
Combine the lemon zest, juice, eggs, salt, vanilla and sugar in a bowl. Whisk this until it’s mixed together well.
Now put on some music and grab a glass of wine because this next part will take a small bit of time. Dump the mixture in a saucepan and set to low-medium heat. Whisk constantly for 12-15 minutes, until the mixture has thickened to a pudding-like consistency. It’s going to foam up. It’ll go away. Just don’t let it boil. Keep whisking!!
After it’s thickened, whisk in your pats of butter, a couple at a time. Once all the butter is mixed in it should have a thick, silky texture. I then poured mine into a mixing cup for easier pouring into tart shells, but do whatever you want. They’re your tarts. Just get that stuff into those crusts.
It’ll make enough for about a dozen tarts. I only had six tart shells but I also had one big ready-made pie crust so I poured the rest in there for what will basically amount to a lemon pie.
Pop those babies in the oven! Leave them in there for 15-20 minutes, until they’re starting to set. Let them cool completely and then you can decorate those lovely little things.
For my garnish I rolled some blueberries and strawberries around in a mixture of lemon juice and sugar and finished with some fresh mint leaves from my yard. The mint is not intended to do anything taste-wise; I just thought it was pretty. I’m just going to yank it off and eat it after I finish this blog post.
So there it is! Enjoy your lemon tarts! And now you are part of the Manderson Family Summer Tradition. I’ll see you next season for drunken pumpkin carving.