Marmalade Redooo

The good news: It worked! I gelled a batch of marmalade!

The bad news: I have no idea why it worked.

I did put the seeds in a little cheesecloth baggie, and boiled with the rest, as some recipes suggested. But there weren’t very many seeds, I can’t imagine it was that. I also let the boiled till tender peels and everything (pre-sugar adding) sit overnight to “develop” the pectin, as some other recipes suggested. Was that it? Or was it that I made a smaller batch? One recipe did say it was hard to get a big batch to reach temperature…

Whatever it was, I sure was excited when the roiling, boiling mass of orangey goodeness started to look right. And just so’s you know, even on a plate that had been in the freezer, a dab still looked a little too soft when it was, in fact, ready.

A good trick for busy mamas:

By the time it had finished cooking and was ready to jar, it was late, all I wanted to do was go to bed. And anyway I hadn’t made it to the hardware store to get the smaller jars. So I let it sit overnight (also gave me the opportunity to see how gelled it had really gotten) then the next day reheated it and poured into my sterilized jars.

Bad trick: letting it burn a teeny bit while reheating. It doesn’t really need to reach a boil. It sterilized last night, and if you covered it, should still be sterile, besides it’s packed with sugar, I doubt this stuff is capable of supporting mold. So don’t overdo it whilst simultaneously eating lunch, oblivious to stirring, as some people might have done. That said, the little bit of burny didn’t make a bad flavor at all.

So, now that you have jar upon jar of marmalade, dear girl, what do you intend to do with it?

For starters I’ve discovered I like marmalade way better than milder fruit jams. I was never a huge jam fan. It’s fun to make (quite easy to make too much, in fact) and I do enjoy stirring it into yogurt, and the occasional PB&J. But I’ve always found jam to be either too sweet or too bland. Wasn’t till I tried my homemade marmalade that I realized fruit you would eat out of hand just doesn’t have enough flavor to carry the sugar it takes to make jam as sweet as I want it to be. But take something like orange peels, add a ton of sugar and you get something with real gusto! Wowza. Zing-orama!

Saw on another blog in my marm research that one woman’s family called it Mama-lade, because she was the only one who would touch the stuff. I like that, and suspect it will be true in our household as well. It is a very unusual taste to an American taste bud. We do tend to scorn the bitter.

In addition to smearing it on homemade toasted wheat bread with butter, I think it’s going to rock for cooking with.

For starters, I followed Riana’s non-recipe for Moroccan Chocolate Tangerine Tart. I love how she cooks exactly like I do, and is therefore incapable of conveying a real recipe, because anyway you’d have to have on hand whatever weird concoction she pulls out of her freezer to substitute for whatever she doesn’t have on hand. It’s impossible to imitate truly resource based cooking.

I did her non-recipe justice by paying very little attention to any part of it, except the concept– bittersweet whole orange puree (I just used marmalade whizzed up in the food processor), thickened with egg, on a pastry crust, with chocolate on top. I made mine bars, cuz I don’t have even a pie dish here, let alone a tart dish. They are intriguing little numbers. Exotic. I added cinnamon to play up the Moroccan flavor, and vanilla. I wouldn’t say they’re my new fave, the bitterness of the marmalade is kind of overpowering in such quantity, but well worth making.

More than star attraction cooking, I’m thinking the marm will be a good ‘punch up the flavor by the spoonful’ addition to lots of yummie things. It’d go great in almost any dessert. How about marm replacing a few tablespoons of the sugar in a chocolate cake? Stirred into the filling of an apple pie? Marmalade ice cream? But savory things too often benefit from a little sweetness– spaghetti sauce? (I once knew a real slimeball who, after asking me if I was a dancer and reading my palm made me spaghetti by his grandmother’s “secret” recipe, which included a big spoonful of grape jelly… I was young.) How about stir fry? It’d be a fab glaze for any kind of meat or fish, I can hardly wait to try it on one of our lovingly brought from Cordova salmon fillets.

So many ideas, and plenty of marmalade to try them all! The neighbor just brought another bag of Satsumas, so I’ll be on to my fourth batch. I’ll figure this thing out yet!

 

 

Monastery Marmalade

Oh yes, you read me right. I’m quite excited about this one. For some reason it took me more than a month living here to realize we lived one and a half blocks from a monastery. I guess in my life up till now, monasteries are the stuff of fairy tales. Maybe they really exist, in Tibet or some such equally fairy tale-ish place. But not just down the street!

Our neighborhood monastery has a big gate that’s usually open, with a sign that says Monastery Gift Shop, as welcoming as an iron gate on a ten foot tall brick wall can be. We kept meaning to check it out, but hadn’t.

Anyway, two days ago walking back from the park I saw some strangely bulging trash bags, right next to the trash can out back of the monastery’s tall brick wall. The strange way they were bulging said to me– oranges! Or maybe, grapefruit. Unless they were throwing out three bags full of softballs…. I ripped one open. Indeed some kind of citrus, but what? Yellow and sourer smelling than grapefruit. Whatever they were, surely I could marmalade them! I marmaladed a big box of limes from the dumpster once, so I know that it’s not just for oranges.

 

But I couldn’t do anything that involved the peels until I found out if they had been sprayed. I had to venture past the iron gate, into the mysterious, walled off lair of the monastery. Would there be nuns or monks inside? Would they be adorably kind and gentle, or tight lipped, harsh and in need of a good lay? Only one way to find out.

With my Toddler and Babe in tow, brandishing my wedding ring like a shield (in case they should suspect my virtue), I entered the iron gate and scaled the wide marble steps to the open door. Inside it was, predictably, completely silent– all dark wood and effigies. There was a sign that said, “for gift shop, ring bell” (the bell was, sadly, just the push button type). I rang and waited. A few moments later a deep-set wooden window opened. I suddenly wondered if I had anything to confess.

It was a woman. Not in any penguin outfit, but nun-looking none-the-less. Older, and definitely the sweet variety.

I apologized for the interruption (of course I imagined she’d been deep in prayer, but more likely she was just balancing the books and contemplating how to lure more shoppers into the gift shop) and then explained myself. Her eyes lit up when she understood my question. She said they were lemons. That they’d had the tree for years, for grafting onto, but never did. The lemons weren’t very good, though they’d gotten better in recent years. No, they hadn’t been sprayed, and yes, I could have as many as I wanted.

I left with a gleam in my mind’s eye. Behind that tall wall was a lemon tree. All the lemons I could want (well, how many lemons can a person want anyway?). But what else? What else were those industrious nuns growing for God back there? What other secrets did they have to discover? I found myself burning with obsessive desire to see behind the wall. I had an instant little fantasy, where I bring them back a jar of their lemons turned marmalade, and they invite me in. They give me tea. They show me around to all their unused fruit. Trees. They let me pick their lemons.

Yikes! Let’s get back to the marmalade!

The bags, which I collected the next day with my bike trailer, were full of lemons, yes. But these were the fallen fruits. They were almost all split open on one side, and having sat in the sun for a day or two, soft and fermenty around the split. I took a few in the house and cut them in half, the good half was still perfectly firm and fresh. I juiced them and tasted the juice, as delicious as lemon juice straight up can be! I foraged online for a recipe, and trialed a batch of marmalade. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have a scale, I didn’t actually follow the recipe, just the technique.

Okay, not really the technique either. I’m one of those notorious recipe disregarders. I always look at two or three recipes when I’m cooking something new, I write at least one down. And then proceed to completely disregard it. It’s like a dysfunction. I always have excuses. ‘I don’t have a scale’ or, ‘But these lemons are only half good, I can’t boil them whole.’ Sometimes I get arrogant and second guess the recipe writer. Or I combine recipes heedless of the importance of one ingredient to another.

For a dysfunction it’s fairly functional. I occasionally have disasters, but most often things work out fine. Not perfect, but good enough. I do learn things. Like why you should follow recipes.

At any rate. My first batch of lemon marmalade candied. Maybe I added too much sugar, or not enough liquid. Either way I let it boil down too much, and got a very soft ball stage. I got a combo of syrup and candied lemon peel. I whizzed it up in the food processor to get a somewhat better texture. It’s actually surprisingly good. I had some on my toast this morning.

In the middle of making my second batch, I willed into reality our neighbor bringing by a big bag of Satsumas. These little mandarins are ubiquitous here this time of year. I personally find them too sweet to be very satisfying. But I had dreamed that the best marmalade would be made from both satsumas and lemons, for a perfect balance of sweet, sour and bitter.

Satsuma Love

The proof will be in the pudding. I have some bubbling away on the stove, and some in the crock pot (I’ve been using the crock pot for canning type projects which need a low simmer for a long time. Works great, and there’s less waste heat) I did have one taste when I tested for sugar content, and wowza. Yu-um!

Marmalade is all about peel. The original definition in fact was just a preserve thickened with pectin from fruit peels. Many fruits have pectin in the peel and seeds. Now marmalade is generally considered to be just citrus, but the antiquated practice of using the peel for pectin remains. It’s a real old school jam!

I worked off of three recipes. The most complete and thorough from Delia Online (I don’t know who Delia is, but the recipe sounds British). This was the one where you boil the whole fruits first, and as I mentioned, that was not an option for me. It was also specifically for Seville oranges, the traditional British marmalading fruit.

Here is the recipe for lemon marmalade from Local Foods, that I more or less attempted to follow. With both batches now done, I can say I don’t know why the hell mine would not gel, and didn’t look remotely “creamy” as the recipe promises. True I didn’t weigh my fruit or measure my sugar, but the recipe gives a fairly large range for sugar, implying it’s not so critical…

And lastly, here’s a recipe and cute blog post from Pots and Pins about Satsuma marmalade.  I might try truly following this one next. If I can manage to.

And yes, as you may have gathered, my second batch is now done. I can tell you that marmalade is not exactly easy. But it depends on your standards. What I got is not like a jelly, it’s like soft sweet peel in a thick syrup. You have to use a spoon, but really the toast sucks up the extra moisture and it works just fine, and tastes… wow.

Actually, I had hardly ever eaten marmalade before and I think I might have a new obsession. I can imagine it’s not for everyone, at least not the stuff I made. It’s quite bitter. I don’t normally go in much for the bitter flavor. I always wish I would, since many wild greens are bitter. But the marmalade is bitter-sweet. And this is somehow incredibly alluring, seductive. Like the monastery itself, I feel this marmalade has a secret I am compelled to discover.

And I will, oh, I will.