Editor's Note: A few years ago, Grechen Rose - King William resident, author, and friend - gave me some marmalade she made. I was intriqued by the vivid yellow color and its translucent appearance. And I was amazed at its intense, mouthwatering flavor. I found lots of uses for it... slathered on Jim's homemade bread or a toasted English muffin; a relish for chicken, pork or fish; a dollop spooned onto a bowl of yogurt; a topping for vanilla ice cream. Who knew there were so many ways to enjoy marmalade!
I asked Gretchen to share her recipe, and she did -- along with the story behind it, which starts with her mother and Gretchen's initial dislike of the whole process of preserving... A dislike that has turned into something else over the years... something that brings home a closeness to her mother who passed away years ago. Here's her recipe, and her story.
-- Jane Gennarelli
My mother was a woman of many talents. Slender and graceful, she had stunning blue eyes that sparkled with warmth and intelligence. She loved beautiful things, was possessed of an innate flair for fashion and design. And even though we weren’t well-to-do, our home was always tastefully furnished, spotlessly clean, and awash in her floral arrangements—whether it be pussy willows in the spring, cut flowers throughout the balmy days of summer and into the crisp of autumn, or evergreen boughs and holly berries at Christmastime. Possessed of a runway model’s frame that screamed, dress me, she modeled high-end couture and luxurious furs at the most exclusive clothing store in downtown Bay City, Michigan. And by that small town’s standards, believe me, she was exotic.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Yields about 8 half pints
2 1/2 pounds (about 8 regular sized) Meyer lemons
6 cups water
6 cups granulated sugar
You will also need:
6 half-pint (8-ounce) canning jars with rings and lids (I always prepare a few extra, just in case.)
Cheesecloth (You will need enough to fold over for double thickness to form a bag to hold the seeds for making pectin) or a muslin jelly bag (approx. 20” X”16”)
Candy thermometer or instant-read thermometer
A large pot, large enough to be twice the volume of your lemon/water mixture
Preparing the fruit:
Scrub the lemons clean. Discard any that are moldy or damaged.
Prepare the lemons:
Cut 1/4 inch off from the ends of the lemons. Working one at a time, stand a lemon on end. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Cut each lemon half into several segments, lengthwise.
As you cut the lemons into segments, if you can, pull off any exposed membranes. Just get the ones that are easy to get and ignore the rest. When you've cut down to the final segment, cut away the pithy core. Remove all seeds from the segments. Reserve the seeds and any removed membrane or pith. These you will use to make pectin.
Cut each lemon segment into approx. 1/8th” by 1” strips of lemon peel (Don’t be exacting, Longer, shorter, it doesn’t matter, but you do want your strips thin.)
Place all the seeds, membranes, and pith you removed from the lemons onto the center of a piece of cheesecloth that has been folded in two, for double thickness, to about 10” X 16”. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth up, capturing all the seeds and pith in the center and twist tightly. Then secure the twist with a length of kitchen twine about 20’ in length to create your bag. After tying the knot, both ends of twine should be about 10” to 12” long.
First stage of cooking:
Place the lemon segments, peel, and water into a large, wide pot. Position the pectin bag low in the pot so that it will be submerged in the lemon/water mixture, and tie the twine ends to a pot handle. Once secured, cut off the over-long twine ends to prevent them from touching a burner and catching fire.
Bring lemon/water mixture to a strong boil on high heat. Let boil, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, until the peels are soft and cooked through. (If too much of the water evaporates from the boil and the peels start sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a little more water back in.)
Test one of the lemon peel pieces by eating it. It should be very soft. If it is still chewy, keep cooking until soft.
Remove from heat. Remove the pectin bag and place it in a bowl. Let cool in fridge until it is cool enough to work with. Once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, squeeze it like Play-Doh into the small bowl to extract any extra pectin from the cheesecloth. This way you can easily remove any seeds that might escape as you wring the cheesecloth removing the pectin. (Pectin is what ensures a good set. But store-bought pectin can turn your preserves brown and change the taste. This natural pectin is gold!) You should be able to get a teaspoon or two from the bag. It has the consistency of runny sour cream. Put the pectin in the pot with the lemon mixture.
Measure out the sugar and add it to the pot.
Second stage of cooking:
Put a small plate in the freezer to use for your wrinkle test.
Heat the mixture on medium high and bring it to a rapid boil, stirring occasionally, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
After the marmalade first comes to a boil, it will foam up considerably. This is why you need to use a large pot. Make sure you pay attention and keep your eyes on the entire process. Stir with a wooden spoon to bring the foam back down. If it gets too high, lower the temperature to keep the mixture from overflowing the pot.
Secure a candy thermometer to the side of the pot (or you may check the marmalade temperature with an instant read thermometer). The marmalade may take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes or so to reach a temperature of 218 – 220 degrees F. and be ready to pour out. After about 15 minutes, start checking the temperature frequently.
Test for the gelling point:
The marmalade is ready to pour out into jars when it reaches a temperature of 218-220°F. When you use a candy thermometer or an instant-read thermometer to test the temperature of your mixture, make sure the probe is NOT touching the bottom of the pan. Make sure that the indentation on the probe (with modern candy thermometers this is about an inch and a half from the bottom of the probe) is actually surrounded by the mixture. This may mean that you have to tilt the pan to one side, to cover the probe sufficiently to get a good reading.
You can also test by performing the wrinkle test. For the wrinkle test, place a small plate into the freezer. As the jelly temperature reaches 217°F, start testing it by placing a small amount of the hot jelly on the chilled plate. If the jelly spreads out and thins immediately, it isn't ready. If it holds its shape a bit, like an egg yolk, that's a good sign. Push up against it with your fingertip. If the jelly sample wrinkles at all, it is time to take the jelly off the heat and pour it out into jars.
Sterilize canning jars. While the marmalade is in its second cooking stage, sterilize your jars using your preferred method. (This not only sterilizes the jars, but it helps to keep them from cracking from the temperature differential when you add the hot marmalade.) I like to place my clean, dry jars in a large roasting pan in a 250 degree oven for 15 minutes or more.
Wash the lids in hot, soapy water, rinse, and place in a bowl. Just before pouring your marmalade into the jars, add boiling water to cover.
Once the jelly has reached 218-220°F or its "wrinkly" stage, remove the jelly pot from the heat. Carefully ladle the jelly into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space at the top of the jars.
Wipe the rims clean with a clean, wet paper towel. Place the clean, dry lids on the jars, securing with jar rings until they are fingertip tight. Work quickly. Turn jars upside down 5 minutes. After 5 minutes turn jars right side up, and they should begin to pop, indicating a good seal.
Or, for extra assurance of a good seal, you may process the jars in a water bath canner for 5 minutes. Current recommendations are to process jars of marmalade in a water bath canner for unrefrigerated storage. However, many home canners choose to skip this step for marmalade, as it is high in sugar and acid. The route you choose is up to you.
This delicious marmalade is wonderful slathered on toast or croissants, or spooned over vanilla yogurt or ice cream. And a pretty jar, tied with a bow, makes a great hostess or holiday gift.
There were six of us kids, four older girls, and two boys, and we all adored her. My dad did, too. We girls were subjected to her exacting standards and didn’t mind a bit. Under her tutelage, we learned to stride, imperiously, with weighty tomes atop our heads, to improve our postures. “Lead with your hips,” she extolled us. “Heads held high. If you don’t know how to walk into a room and command respect, you’ll never make a success of it.” I’m beholden to her for that lesson and so many others. For although I’m her oldest child, at a statuesque 5’ – 2”, I’m also the runt of the litter. Yet I’ve been cast in leading female roles in many a professional production. Wardrobe was always aghast at my measurements, having to drastically alter the rental costumes to accommodate my petite frame. But directors, enamored of my huge voice, often employed my diminutive size to advantage, having me hoisted up on some burly fellow’s shoulder for the grand finale before curtain.
Mom led by example, and to this day, her voice is often in my head. She taught us girls to sew, iron, clean, cook, and put up preserves, empowering us with skills and mindsets that have greatly enriched our lives. A voracious reader, at the urging of Jacqueline Kennedy, she signed up for the Book-of-the-Month Club. So that, while in my impressionable teens, in addition to our weekly jaunts to the public library, I was exposed to provocative new releases. Eagerly, I poured over treatises that would today be judged age inappropriate. She didn’t care. She didn’t censor; Instead, she encouraged me to expand my mind. And I did. Sinclair Lewis’s, Babbitt, John Fowles’s The Magus, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, by James Thurber, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, and Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.
The one thing she taught me that didn’t resonate was how to can. Not that I didn’t love accompanying Dad to the farmer’s markets on mild Saturday mornings when Earth’s bounty was gaudily on display. We were on a mission, her shopping list in hand, to ferret out the choicest fruits, berries, and vegetables for her to preserve. It was the actual canning I disliked. I remember those hot, sticky days of summer when Mom’s pristine kitchen would be transformed into a steaming, aromatic jungle—huge pots boiling on the stove, Ball jars lining the countertops. It was a foreign landscape and one I didn’t take to. Reluctantly, I helped— chopping, sterilizing jars, stirring, stirring, stirring, and sweating over one bubbling concoction or another. But secretly I considered this a plebian exercise. Still, without my sanction, she produced a wealth of canned goods—pickles and jam of every complexion, corn relish, marinara sauce, canned tomatoes, peaches, and apple pie filling—staples that not only nourished our large family throughout the long winter months, but that brought a ray of sunshine to those gray, dreary days.
It didn’t matter; I deemed this endeavor beneath me. I, of course, would one day live in the city. Not sure which one, perhaps in New York, where I would star in Broadway productions, or maybe in L.A. where I would write movie scripts. Never in a million years would I be tied to a stove by my splattered apron strings and canning somewhere in the heartland. Good God, no!
Isn’t it funny how, as we grow older—perhaps wiser—our attitudes change? If only my mother could see me now tied to a stove by my splattered apron strings and canning somewhere in the heartland! How I wish that she might just drop by for a cup of coffee and a chat. I would proudly show off my tastefully appointed home and the marinara sauce I’ve canned, maybe serve her a plate of homemade biscuits accompanied by one of my luscious jams. Or if it were after five, I’d bring out a bottle of my limoncello or loquat brandy, raise a glass, and toast, “Here’s to you, Mom!”
Gretchen Rose is an author who lives in King William
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