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#5 (and 5.1) : Meyer lemon tart(s)

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

(Pay no attention to the tart on the left.)

This blog was created in honor of my 60th birthday, and so it seemed a no-brainer to make a tart on and in honor of that birthday ( FYI January 24th; no gifts required). Since we were spending my birthday week in Mendocino on the Northern California coast, making the tart required some additions to my suitcase.

Filmed on location

We were staying in a cottage in Albion. Many of you probably know of my fondness for Mendocino, beginning in 1988 when I briefly dated the Murder, She Wrote set decorator and discovered the quaint town, which doubled as Cabot Cove, Maine, for that show. Jeff and I have been to Mendo 10 times (he knows I get homesick for CA) and have stayed at the Beam's End cottage three times previously, so we knew that it's not entirely equipped for cooking or baking. In the past we've bought (and donated to the cabin) a champagne stopper, some good wine glasses, and other kitchen gadgets the kitchen didn't have. This time I decided to pack my tart pan (not to be donated) with a removable bottom. Friends couldn't believe I was packing a tart pan in with my clothes, and my friend Lorie said, "Just buy one of those disposable foil tins at the store, make a peanut butter pie that doesn't need baking, stick it in the fridge, and, voilà - instant pie." Jeff said, "No, that is just unacceptable" (sorry, Lorie, but I agreed; not good enough for a birthday pie). I also packed some zip lock bags with Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (the best for cooking and baking) and some Old Bay seasoning for the crab cakes I knew we would be making. I even included a zip lock bag full of sugar so that we wouldn't have to buy any, but on second thought I decided the sugar looked too much like a bag of cocaine that would trigger the TSA scanner...I decided to leave it behind and buy sugar there. Probably a good call.

First off, a warning for anyone planning a trip soon - rental cars are in short supply across the country. Jeff had reserved one through Dollar on Hotwire back in September; we arrived at SFO to find that no one had rental cars - not Dollar, Thrifty, National, Avis, Budget, or Hertz. People had been waiting for four hours for a car, any car, and the lines were growing with no results in sight. Turns out that this is happening at airports all across the US. Our friends Tim and Robin live in Mill Valley nearby and in desperation we texted to explain the situation and ask if they had a car we could borrow. "Sure, hop on the Marin Airporter Bus," Robin said, "and get off at Manzanita and I'll meet you." Had she not been there with her generous lending of a car for a week we might still be waiting at the airport. The above photo is a first for us - crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by bus!

I was able to find everything I needed (flour, a small box of sugar, meyer lemons, butter, and eggs for the tart, and other staples like dungeness crab and celery for the crab cakes) during a full morning of shopping at the Harvest Market in Mendocino and the Safeway in Fort Bragg (Safeway is the only place that sells our beloved jalapeño-cheddar bagels.) I also bought lots of cheeses. ("Too much cheese," Jeff said - is there ever such a thing?) It was an interesting experience making the tart dough "the old-fashioned way" - without a mixer and blending the flour and butter together with a fork before chilling overnight.

For some reason - habit? the thought that we might need two tarts to get through the week? - I made a double batch of dough which turned out to be a smart decision.

We had cleverly printed up all recipes we thought we would need (lemon curd, crab cakes, apple-fennel remoulade, and even a lemon-olive oil tart which Jeff suggested we try for variation.) Things to include in our next cottage visit include a whisk and our instant-read thermometer. Jeff decided to buy a small cast iron skillet for the crab cakes which I announced we would not be donating to the cabin; it was coming back home with us.

Meyer lemons are found easily in California, and occasionally in New York. They are a cross between lemons and tangerines, have a bright orange thin rind and are super sweet. If you use them instead of regular lemons, cut back the sugar slightly, as they are plenty sweet on their own.

I made two key mistakes here. First was cooking the lemon curd on a slightly too high heat (not being used to a gas stovetop) which slightly "cooked" the eggs making them sweet lemony scrambled eggs. (See photo above). Second mistake? Seeing the result and thinking the curd would still be fine and pouring it (basically dumping it) in the tart shell anyway and baking it. What went wrong? Possibly the overcooking, and possibly making the tart with olive oil rather than butter. Who knows, maybe both, but the tart looked lumpy and unappetizing. Luckily, as mentioned, I had made two tart dough circles, and when I decided the first tart was "unworthy" I was able to make the curd again (just like the contestants on Great British Baking Show who decide "I have to start over") using the second crust, which saved a lot of time. Below, you'll notice that we chose to cook the second lemon curd in a double boiler rather than directly on the stove. This took longer but resulted in a gorgeous curd which had no over-cooked eggs. The tart was saved.

The Verdict: Star Baker or Leaving the Tent?

This pie is Sent Home/Star Baker. The first tart looked so unattractive I surely would have been sent home but the second tart was Delicious! Tim and Robin joined us for a couple of days and shared dinner we made in the cottage (dungeness crab cakes, of course, with a fennel-apple remoulade), lots of wine, and the tart. Tim pronounced the second tart "mind-blowing, unlike anything I've ever had" and said even the first tart (which he insisted on trying) was "nothing to be ashamed of." But the eggs and maybe the olive oil in the first tart tended to muddy up the bright lemon flavor that came blasting out of the second tart.

(Despite her sad expression, Robin liked the tart...her face is due to the fact that the tart broke in half when she tilted it toward the camera.)

As previously mentioned, the cottage does not have all the kitchen amenities we have at home, but that's about the only fault I can find in such a place with spectacular views and a hot tub looking out at the Navarro River meeting the Pacific Ocean! We did all go out for an amazing dinner at nearby Ledford House, but Jeff and I spent most of our time at the cottage, soaking in the hot tub and basking in the sun (in January, imagine!) Not to mention drinking delicious wines from Roederer Estate, Navarro and Baxter, and enjoying two lemon tarts - one sensational and one....well, edible.

I used David Lebovitz's lemon curd recipe, modified as he suggests for Meyer lemons.

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