We are in the depths of winter here in Pittsburgh. The twinkling lights and yuletide carols of Christmas are winding down for most. I try to hang on to the spirit of joy by celebrating and meditating on Epiphany and the bright shining star that led the magi so far from home. In this way, Catholicism helps us drag our sorry spirits through the dark days and bitter cold nights. Marmalade does too.
I was grateful to hook up with a group of canning enthusiasts over at Food in Jars and joined the year long canning mastery challenge Marissa is hosting. Already, the community and spirit of innovation is serving more than just a push to cook. It is kind of like a big warm hug.
The marmalade, (according to: C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade: its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today, revised ed., 1999, p.32 & others) began originally with the Romans. They had learned from the Greeks that quinces, when cooked low and slow with honey would “set” when cooled. They had no clue why, but their win is still our gain.
The Greek μελίμηλον (melimēlon, “honey fruit”) transformed into the Portuguese “marmelo”— from the Greek μῆλον (mēlon, “apple”), which really worked for all globular fruits. A Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius gives a recipe for preserving whole quinces in honey, with added “defrutum”, which is boiled down grape juice. Hence, the first Roman marmalade.
Evolving from there, preserves of quince, lemon, rose, apple, plum and pear appear in the Book of ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos. This gives us further evidence of this preserve remaining popular.
Marmalades began to fall in and out of favor over the following centuries in Europe, but seem to have picked up heavily in France and England in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to this author, it became less of a paste with newer cooking techniques and was moved to the breakfast table by the Scots, to be served with ham. The Brits seemed to have made it famous in the US application on toast, but it now is most referred to as a preserve using the juice and peel of citrus fruits.
I decided to take my favorite citrus, the meyer lemon and pair it with the sultry vanilla bean. My first attempt was beautiful, but when canned became like glue. Practice makes perfect with marmalade. So I set out again using instead the classic 1:1:1 ratio (1 lb fruit, 1 lb cooking liquid, 1 lb sugar). I paired this knowledge with inspiration from a cocktail I had at a local joint, either Bar Marco or The Livermore. I can’t remember which, but I certainly remember this summer refresher. It was so effervescent with its grapefruit and citrus punch, smooth gin and a bit of one my favorite liquors, San Germaine, or elderflower liquor.
I found an overnight soak to get out all the pectin makes for light work the next day. The marmalade process is really broken down into a few easy steps: choosing fruit, softening peels, extracting pectin, balancing for safety and flavor, cooking until set. Not so hard. Using a thermometer and/or the frozen plate and spoon test will give you the most confidence on your first try. Honestly, for my first marmalade, it was much easier than expected.
Try this small batch marmalade and enjoy a burst of sunshine in the cold. Let it shine like the sun on your toast and bring joy to your heart. SO glad I made it.
- 1 lb organic meyer lemons + 2 additional
- 1 large red grapefruit
- 1 lb white cane sugar (about 2 cups)
- 4 cups of water
- 2 ounces of elderflower liquor
- 1 small pinch salt
- Wash the lemons very well. Since you are eating the peel, it is best if these are organic. Slice the ends off of the lemons and reserve them.
- From top to bottom, slice the lemon in half. Using a sharp knife, cut a wedge in the center, removing the center membrane and seeds, reserve these as well.
- Lightly squeeze each half into a small bowl.
- Turn each on their fleshy part and slice very thin. Repeat with the full pound of lemons.
- Bundle up all of the seeds, ends and centers of the lemons in cheesecloth and tie tightly.
- In a non-reactive pan or dutch oven, add the peels and juice, 3 cups of water and the bundle. Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes. This will assist softening the rind and activating the pectin. Turn off, let cool and set out covered overnight.
- When you are ready to cook the marmalade, juice the grapefruit and 2 remaining lemons. Measure it and add to it enough water to reach 2 cups. The juice should be about 3/4-1 cup so you will need about a cup of water.
- Add liquid, 1 lb of sugar, the bundle and pinch of salt to pan. Bring to rolling boil then reduce until it is bubbling consistently for about 20 minutes. At about 20 minutes begin testing the marmalade to see if it is at 220 degrees F or until it passes the frozen plate test.
- When ready, turn off heat, squeeze and remove the bundle and mix in the elderflower liquor.
- Let cool a few minutes.
- When finished, ladle into prepared preserving jars, wipe rims, place lids and rings on jar and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Remove when ready and wait for the lid to pop!
- Tuck away and enjoy!
- Frozen Plate Test: Before cooking, place 4 spoons on a small plate in the freezer. When ready, place a bit of marmalade on the spoon and put it back in the freezer. If after about 2 or 3 minutes it is wrinkly and jelly like, you are ready. This will likely be slightly more liquid than your final consistency.
Looking for good books on marmalades and preserving fruits? These few have been wonderful teaching and inspiration books. Each has a unique style but all are valuable in their own way. Keep me posted on your preserving adventures! It is time to bring back these traditional crafts! Love, Sheila