Lemon Marmalade Than Which There Is No Whicher

This morning at the market I was reminded that these late winter days are still Citrus Season.
Time to make marmalade!

Lemon and lime marmalades are easiest and surest because they can be put up purely themselves. Orange and other citrus marmalades want lemons added for their gelling ability. Eureka lemons and Bearss limes have no seeds which makes them lovely for preserves, but any variety of lemon and lime can be used. I’m non-picky about seeds—if I see them while I’m preparing the fruit, I remove them, but don’t search for them. Anyway, citrus seeds are high in pectin and I figure friends can pick out seeds on their toast…or not.

The following three-day technique was inspired by a recipe in the venerable The Farm Journal and endorsed by classic English cookbooks. I find the pace pleasurable…and because it takes its own sweet time, feels luxuriant. And I’ll say the marmalade is as fine as marmalade can be.

For some reason, yield for marmalade is unpredictable. I just buy as many jars as possible (canning seems to be regarded by grocers as a seasonal endeavor, so jars aren’t always available). If I run out, marmalade holds its quality at least one month in the fridge and one year in the freezer. For yield, roughly figure about ½ pound citrus per 8-ounce jar. For gift giving, 12-ounce jars are ideal–not too skimpy, not too much. I mostly put up 8-ounce jars from our Meyer Lemon tree to grab for impromptu gifts. Few people buy lemon marmalade so it’s regarded as special.

Begin preparing the fruit three days before planning to put up the preserve. If you don’t own a candy/deep fry thermometer, now’s the time to make it easy on yourself and add one to your kitchen. The old-fashioned glass tube with a clip isn’t expensive. And while you’re at it, fetch a canning jar lifter, another invaluable marmalade-making tool.

Wash the fruit well and nip out any stems, trim away any scars. To slice, cut each fruit through the center so segments form a wheel. I set my food processor slicing blade at about 1/8-inch and use a serrated knife to slice thickish end pieces into 1/8-inch julienne. Before I had a food processor with a slicing blade, I used a serrated knife.

Measure the fruit, turn into an enormous bowl, and add 3 times the measure of cold water. Yes. Stir, cover, and let set for 24 hours. It can be longer without harm. I refrigerate the bowl.

Next day, in a big pot over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, boil 15 minutes. Return to the bowl, cover again, let set in a cool place 24 more hours. I’ve left it longer when it suited my need.

On Marmalade Day, in a large very deep kettle*, lay a clean folded dish towel on the bottom. Wash canning jars in hot soapy water**, rinse well, set in the kettle top sides up, close but not touching. You can mix sizes because half-pints, 12-ounce jars, and pints of preserves are processed the same length of time. Fill the kettle with water to cover the jars, set over highest heat, bring to a boil while preparing the fruit.

Place never-been-used (essential) canning jar lids in a bowl, pour boiling water over to soften the sealing compound (but do not boil them). Have their clean unbent rings ready, also a damp clean cloth, and (if possible) candy thermometer and jar lifter.

Stir the preparation to evenly blend fruit and liquid. Into a heavy tallish saucepan (mine is 9-1/2-inches wide by 4 inches tall), ladle in the preparation 1-inch deep. THIS SHALLOWNESS IS ONE OF THE KEYS TO SUCCESS. Measure the amount (you only need do this on the first batch), return to the pan and add 1 cup granulated cane sugar for each 1 cup preparation***. Blend thoroughly. Set over highest heat and bring to a boil.

Stirring occasionally, boil to 220 degrees****—the jellying point: the surface will be covered with small bubbles and when you lift a metal spoon from the mixture and tip it on its side, the preparation will glide together and sheet heavily off the spoon. Another test is to place a tablespoonful on a chilled saucer and run a finger through it—your finger will make a track. Turn off the burner.

Lift a jar from the kettle, shake out water, and ladle in hot marmalade to ¼-inch from the top. Smooth the surface, wipe the rim clean with the damp cloth, set on the lid with the sealing composition next to the glass, screw on the ring only as tight as your hand can screw (do not use pliers). Set the jar in the kettle. When filled jars are ready to process, there must be 1-to 2-inches of water over the top of the tallest jar—add boiling water if need be.

Set on the kettle lid and bring the water to a vigorous thumping boil—at that moment start timing: boil whoopdedoo for 10 minutes. It’s fun.

Turn off the heat. Lift out your precious jars and set on a cloth out of a draft. Do not tighten the bands, do not cover the jars. As they cool, you’ll hear pings as the jars seal.

As necessary, repeat the canning process.

Leave the jars undisturbed 12 – 24 hours for the gel to set. Then test for seal: whack the top of each jar with a teaspoon…if the sound is clear, the jar is sealed. If the sound is hollow—and the lid isn’t curved down–it didn’t seal. Reprocess with a new lid.

One caution from sad experience: label the jars NOW! I cannot tell you how many jars there are on our keeping shelves whose contents are a mystery because I put off taking five minutes to write on the lid with a marking pen. Further caution: I wouldn’t write the date on the lid. Carefully prepared preserves hold their quality for years—but when I’ve come across a jar a friend made six years ago (somehow it got lost) I toss it. Sad waste.

Store jars in the proverbial cool dark dry place.

*Ideally a graniteware canning kettle as large as your largest burner will accommodate.
**Jars do not need to be sterilized (old recipes have you do this) as canning sterilizes them. But they do need to be canning jars, not pretty jars you’ve saved—because their lids must be unused canning lids.
***You can use as little as ¾ cup sugar to each 1 cup fruit preparation if you prefer. More sugar makes a firmer marmalade.
****At high altitude, a standard cookbook will advise how to alter this number for your elevation.

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