Monday, January 17, 2011

Lemon (Daydream) Marmalade

I'd feel funny saying that I worked for 3 days on this lemon marmalade only because it didn't seem at all like work. My house has been transformed into a lemony clean paradise as the skies above are overcast and sun is scarce. In the world of preserves, marmalades are a bit famous for being fussy and time consuming. They are also a paradox of flavor, being sweet, sour, and bitter most of the time. That could be why they are some of my favorites to eat. I've read lately of some people dipping their spoons again and again into their various nut butters and homemade versions of "Nutella", but I'm certain that my future sneaky spoonfuls will contain fat dollops of this lemon marmalade instead.

I actually didn't plan on making any marmalade this year, since I have one jar left over from my canning party with Lo and a fully stocked preserves shelf in the basement. When my hold on the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders came in at the library (and I was as impressed both with the weight and size of it as I was the photography), I set out scheming to make this lemon version shortly after reading about it. One particularly interesting thing about Rachel's method is that she uses the oven both to sterilize the jars and lids and to can the finished product. I wasn't sure about that, but decided (after a brief consultation with Julia) to give it a shot.

I'm pretty sure I had two different kinds of lemons, some were thinner skinned and smooth, and some thicker and dimply. I can't claim to know much about lemon varietals, since they don't grow in Wisconsin, unfortunately. I love reading things like this where lucky people have things that I can only imagine growing myself dropped in their laps. It's curious that I recall such instances as if they happened to me. I know I had *wished* that I could make Deena's lemon thyme marmalade last summer when I read about it. But like most things, I forgot about it when "lemon season" has hit me here, right now, in the broadest part of the Winter.

How do I know it's lemon season? I make an assumption based on when my co-op has specials on citrus; I got my 6 lbs of fruit for around $8.50, which works out to about 65 cents per jar for organic marmalade (if you don't include the sugar price).

Rachel's method is easy. The work is shared with three days, but each day's work is rather light. Day 1: soak cut half of the lemons overnight, Day 2: boil soaked lemons to make lemon juice and strain overnight and cut more lemons into thinly sliced eighths and let them soak overnight, then Day 3: add sugar and a touch of fresh lemon juice to the past 2 day's labors and boil until you reach marmalade.

I will say that I admire canners who develop recipes. It seems to be a highly specialized art. I can follow instructions (and in the event of canning, follow them without addition or subtraction which is usually hard for me), but I'm not sure I would be cut from the cloth of precision as canning writers are. This recipe delivers what she says it will, it is very pretty and hard to improve upon. I'll say that it is a miraculous balance of flavor that stems from the patience in 2 days worth of various soaking periods. There is bitter, there is sour, and there is sweetness. And, when you catch a piece of peel and bite into it, it is pure summertime even in the depths of snowy winter.

perfectly gelled.

I've actually only made marmalade one other time, with the aforementioned Lo. While the flavor was really good, the set was not. We did not, however, employ the method of spoons. Prior to making the marmalade, stick 5 spoons in the freezer to get good and cold. When the time comes to test for the gelling, you can pour a little onto the spoon and put it back into the freezer for 2-3 minutes. If properly set, it should not run off the spoon. I liked this step immensely, especially since I got to eat the spoonful after the check. It took me 3 spoonfuls to determine the set, and a full hour and (almost) a half to get to that step.

the method of the spoons.

Cooking down marmalade when the snow was falling was especially enjoyable. I made my coffee and pulled up a stool to lazily keep an eye on it, stirring every so often. I thought about the Italian tradition of serving espresso with lemon peel on the side of the cup. I took hipstamatics using my new free film in the app upgrade I downloaded this morning. I took apart and cut hearts out of an Alterra coffee bag, that I intend to string up and hang somewhere. I in general gave thanks that I am a stay-at-home mami that can do what she pleases, so long as the house is clean and so forth. And, I daydreamed of Summer and it's business of growing and walking and playing: those things I love that prevent me from sitting down at the counter for a couple of hours and tinkering with a jam that I don't even know will work.

thankful for cameras.

The recipe as written did not give an exact amount of lemon juice liquid that should have been extracted from the fruit during the process leading up to the boil. I think that the water just needs to evaporate to the proper stage, and so no exact amount is probably needed. My liquid level decreased by a good 3 inches in my stockpot. Because I kept testing with the spoon method, and because I had pulled up a chair to properly observe, I could actually tell when the boil changed from aggressive bubbling to more subdued activity.

All the while, I had my 10 clean jars with lids in a 250 degree oven. This technique of sterilization and canning I have never done. It actually seemed like something that was too good to be true. No boiling water turning my fan-less kitchen (and the rest of my smallish house) into a sauna? I love this method! I had only one that didn't seal, and I added it to the extra three I had, so I have some to devour straight away. Obviously, I have a couple unsealed to give away as well. This is the time I break out my favorite strange canning jars that I can't really use to preserve in - one triangular jam jar that Sasa gave me is my favorite:

It originally contained a Croatian fig and chocolate jam. Next time I see her, I'll give her this unsealed jar of lemon marmalade knowing I'll get it back again to fill with more surplus jams or jellies. I'm telling you, it's the simple things in life that give me the most joy.

peels seemed to rise to the top, but the gel is set so no matter.

I confess, that so far I've only read through the beginning and "Winter Through Early Spring" sections of the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. I was smitten, my heart at first purchased with luxe paper and pictures, but now also with a sound recipe written very well. Now, I busily page through the rest of the book and drop it into my bottomless Amazon cart. I daydream of warm weather, thankful for California and it's bounty that provides me lemons in January.

I pause, and suddenly shutter at my thoughts: at the end of this summer, I will have officially hit my mid-thirties and I daydream some more that I'm still 23. But then I lighten at the hope that my first ever knit sweater should be complete by that time (I cast on yesterday!). This is what happens to me in the winter. Roller coasters of retrospect and expectation move in when I have time on my hands. I try to remember not to dream it all away and be thankful for each second.


  1. Is it freakish that I've been looking forward to this post all week?

    I'm definitely checking out this book, since rumor has it that it assists in the production of some seriously fine preserves... and here's more proof in the pudding, from the look of things.

    You and I definitely share a love for marmalade. I love its sweet tart sticky bitterness, and can't wait to taste a lovin' spoonful of that gorgeous looking stuff!

    And definitely don't dream away all that youth. You're one of those people whose sense of adventure and appreciation for life will keep you young well into your nineties! And I look forward to accompanying you as you reminisce on your rocking chair 60 years from now!

  2. Looks delish..I just made some is ninteresting to see how this one is sondiffetrent from the one I made on my blog..I like in your recipe how the fruit is on the peel,

  3. Looks lovely! So nice to have sunny marmalade in the middle of winter. My favorite tip on determining the set is to look for chilled marmalade that can be softly mounded like egg whites (I think that's from David Lebovitz maybe?).

  4. I'm a little behind in my reading, as you can see! But this looks gorgeous and as you said, must have come out perfectly. So, what kind of preserving pan do you use? I like the look of it! Shallow and wide. Can you divulge?

  5. Julia, that isn't actually a small pot at all - it's my AllClad stock pot. I don't think it's 10 qt., but am pretty sure it's at least 8. I usually jam in my leCrueset cast enamel pot, but my largest one is 5 1/2 qt., and not large enough for this. I kind of liked using the stainless though, and probably will use it more this year. If I can ever get my shelves eaten up...


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