Sunday, April 10, 2011

Autobiographical Marmalade -- Sweet, Strong, and Shocklingly Bitter


Last Thursday evening, I went over to a semi-neighbor's house to pick some of her surplus lemons. (She's a semi-neighbor, because while we're both participants in the same neighborhood gardening forum, I live on a decidedly less posh street than she does.)

Her tree was bursting with fruit. I gathered up a basket-full and went into work dreaming of marmalade.

I'm pretty sure that these are Ponderosa lemons, which are known for their huge size and thick skins.

Some of these lemons were gigantic. I'd never seen anything like them.

A few were downright freaky-looking.

For those curious, here's how I made the marmalade. (I've written about this elsewhere on the blog.) I removed the outer layer of peel, cutting away as little of the bitter pith as possible.

One of the reasons I believe that these are Ponderosa lemons, is because of the very thick white pithy layer, which I've learned (thanks to the fascinating blog, Saving The Season) is called "albedo."

(It's not uncommon to have Mystery Trees in the backyard around here. People plant trees, and then move on. Newer homeowners enjoy the mature fruits, and are left to puzzle over pedigree.)

Don't those peeled lemons look beautiful? I'm reminded of Dutch Still Life Paintings. (Also click here and here and here.)

But what a lot of pith there is to remove! I threw two huge bowls of this stuff onto the compost.

I sliced the lemons onto fairly small wedges. These lemons had almost no seeds, which would seem like a good thing, but is actually a problem. The seeds are a source of pectin. I squeezed some of my own lemons for juice, and reserved the seeds for this recipe.

Here's a photo that Robb took over my shoulder, showing the massive size of these lemons, and just part of the peel that they produced.

Because the insides are relatively small, compared to the outsides, these lemons produce vast quantities of zesty peel. The peel adds a delicious bitterness to the marmalade.

Yeah, it was Marmalade Overkill in our kitchen this weekend. Although the marmalade is all snug in this jars, it may take as long as two weeks for it to fully jell. It's going to be hard to wait for this stuff to be ready.

Okay, so here's the recipe:

There are only three ingredients: lemons, water and sugar. Generally, the proportions are 1:1:1, but I always seem to hold back on the sugar. Measurements are done by weight, and I measure everything in grams, because the math is simpler. In this particular batch I used more lemons and water than sugar, so the ratio is 1 part cut-up lemon (I only measure what I actually use, so don't weigh whole lemons), 1 part water and 2/3 of a part of sugar. Another way to express this ratio of lemon:water:sugar is 3:3:2. Let your tastebuds tell you how much sugar to add.

Also, you don't have to make gigantic out-of-control batches of marmalade, like I did. I was peeling and slicing for over three hours this weekend. Cook up a mid-sized batch, and see how you like it.

Wash the lemons. Since I was using backyard fruit, and was confident that it hadn't been sprayed with insecticides or covered with waxes, I just used warm water and a "magic eraser." You should try to buy organic citrus, to avoid eating chemically treated peels.

Cut the peel off the lemon. If you have a thick-pithed fruit like I did, you'll have to cut away the pith. If you are using meyer lemons, you can skip peeling altogether.

Chop the lemons into small chunks.

Reserve all the seeds, and any easily removed membranes. Wrap these in a clean cheesecloth bag.

Put chopped lemons in a large stockpot, with an equal weight of water, and the cheesecloth bag. Boil for about twenty minutes, then remove the cheesecloth. Stick cheesecloth in the freezer to cool. At the same time, stick a few saucers in the freezer.

When the bag of seeds is cool enough to handle, squeeze it to release the seeds' pectin. This is what makes jellies jell. You want to extract as much of this as possible. The pectin goes into the stockpot with the lemons.

Add sugar. Boil, again, for about twenty minutes.

Now, test your marmalade's viscosity. Spoon a small amount out onto one of your cooled saucers, and wait a moment. Push your spoon or finger through the marmalade. it is wrinkles a bit, it is ready to jar. if not, keep boiling.

While the marmalade is cooking, wash your canning jars, and sterilize them. I boil them in water, some people run them through the dishwasher, or heat them in the oven. Simmer (don't boil) your jar lids as well.

When the marmalade is the right consistency, ladle them into the jars. Wipe off the rims, and seal firmly. Put the jars in boiling water for ten minutes, and then set to cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy the "popping" sounds as the jars seal.

And remember, it may take up to two weeks for your marmalade to fully set up, so be patient.


CrescentJoy said...

You clearly have tons of potential marmalade now, but if you need more you could come help yourself to my surplus of gigantic lemons too

Anonymous said...

that's look very tasty:)

I came across this article today, and instantly thought about you and your bees, and your blogposts about bee swarming. how about this for bee swarming?:)

JGH said...

Gorgeous lemons - and the marmalade looks good too. When I lived in Florida, my mom made marmalade from calamondons - such a treat.

Kay/The Little Foxes said...

In a word: cool! I've never lived in an area that supported citrus trees, so the concept of "picking lemons in a semi-neighbor's backyard" is very amazing ;-))

Anonymous said...

Those look like fantastic lemons for citrus rind candy! You need good thick peels for that.

Debbie said...

Hi Lisa,
I loved your marmalade story. I love your blog.I hope you don't mind but I wrote a blog post on my blog and linked your blog in the post. I had to post a picture of the size of the lemons in Italy. My blog is

Stefaneener said...

I love the marmalade overkill. We had some orange that never really set -- instant chicken sauce!!

The backyard fruit here is lovely. I'm so glad you made bounty into preserved bounty, even if it's bitter.

boodely said...

Yum! And I love the wild shapes of the lemons.

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Wow, those are monster lemons! They more like a navel orange size-wise. I can almost smell the warm marmalade from here though...yum!

Anonymous said...

I need to feed other hobbies besides letterboxing. When I read the title of this blog entry I thought of the inimitable 'boxer, Marmalade. And then I thought: "She's bitter, what happened?!" DOH! :o

Connfederate, who really doesn't want an intervention or a 12-step program...

Gothknits said...

I suddenly have an urge to make lemon curd.

Rabid Quilter from California said...

You are so generous to take the time to write this all out for us. And the photos are beautiful, as always.

Noreen Slank said...

Oh wow...I didn't even know people made marmalade out of lemons. It looks like a lot of work...but way cool!

Nancy Lewis said...

Yummy! And I love your writing and photos.


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