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Lemon Ocean

I planted a baby lemon more than twenty years ago, on a patch outside my house that was mostly bare then. I didn't know anything about the kind of lemon it was -- someone gave me a sapling grown from seed and I planted it.

I was a novice gardener. I knew nothing of it at that time, but I know this now:

Fruit trees grown from seed can take more years than a human to come to adulthood and to fruit. If you want a plant to fruit within two years, you need to plant saplings grown from grafts.

For two decades I tried everything to encourage it. I cleaned out the tangled webs of surface roots, I manured, trimmed it, talked to it. Self knowledge kept me from singing to it, but within its hearing I stumbled through Hey Jude on my bamboo flute.

Yet though it was green and sturdy and even had sweetly scented flowers, the blossoms fell to the ground yearly. There were no fruits. Other plants grew taller around it. The plums started to fruit. The angels trumpets swayed over it. Lilies bloomed at its feet. Wild salvia drowned its thin mottled trunk. Violent monsoons tore down plants and snow bent some beyond repair. Still, the lemon stuck it out, small, sturdy, thorny, obdurate.

All at once, two years ago, it woke up.

And when it produced its first flush of little lemons, they turned out to be the most divinely scented, juiciest lemons we had ever encountered. Now, making up for lost time, it produces so much that for a few delirious months we live lemon scented -- sweet-sour daal, lemon bars, lime rice, lemon drizzle cakes, sponges, puddings, cheesecake. And lemon curd. (Followed by meringues -- because how else would you use up the egg whites?)

Since the dazzling yellow of the lemon curd needed an ocean blue to set it off, I searched through the studio for a plate I had made last year. It's a small plate, stoneware, fired to 1260 celsius. The glaze is cobalt blue over red iron oxide slip. The kiln god had ensured that it fell into an oceanic arrangement of froth and deep blues.

As for the lemon curd, here is the recipe:

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest 3/4 cup sugar 3 large eggs – yolks only 1/4th of a 100 gm butter, cut into bits

Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the butter and cook over moderately low heat in a double boiler, whisking frequently, until the curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 8 minutes. Transfer lemon curd to a bottle and chill. This quantity fills one standard jam jar.

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