Sunday, March 15, 2009
Preserving My Sanity, Among Other Things
I've always said that no matter how busy life gets, there's always time to whip up a batch of homemade marmalade.
OK, I don't really say that. But lately, life has been pretty busy, and I still managed to find a worthy Saturday time slot for slicing and dicing a few pounds of blood oranges for a surprisingly tasty homemade treat. This isn't to say that homemade marmalade is a working girl's best friend, but if you want your marmalade badly enough, you can find a way to make some. Finding time really is the hardest part; once you've got that, all you need is a sharp knife, a big pot, and a loaf of toast-worthy bread.
The first time I remember enjoying marmalade was when I was in South America, where breakfast is never more than toast with a few sacred condiments: dulce de leche, queso de crema (like fromage blanc), and of course, mermelada. And although I don't always conjure fond memories of the food I ate in Argentina and Chile, I distinctly remember the delicious homemade marmalade that I ate in a small inn in the wine-growing region of Chile. Long, pliant strands of orange rind preserved in a fragrant and bitter-sweet stickiness, the maramalade was complex and perfect on a crisped slice of bread.
I haven't had that type of marmalade since, even though I sometimes keep a jar of store-bought grapefruit marmalade in the refrigerator. An abundance of citrus and an episode of culinary adventurousness, though, persuaded me to see if I couldn't recreate my Chilean marmalade awakening.
So far, I've made three batches of the stuff - two blood orange, and one meyer lemon. The blood orange is by far my favorite, and seems to me perfect for this use; I'll admit that, although I love the drama of a blood orange, the taste is just OK. For eating, it's hard to beat a sweet, juicy, (seedless) navel orange, as boring as that may be. But for maramalade, I'll take the mottled rinds and crimson flesh of blood oranges any day.
The thing about marmalade is that it's really pretty easy to make. You have to boil it twice, each time for nearly an hour, and slicing the oranges into tiny little strips is a bit labor-intensive. But at the end of the juice-stained day, it's just a big pot of oranges, water, and sugar, poured hot into jars and saved for many breakfasts to come. Actually making shelf-stable (preserved) marmalade is a bit more challenging, and involves boiling, sealing, sterilizing, etc., but you can skip all of that if all you want is a few jars of marmalade that will be eaten in the short term and stored in the refrigerator. I tried both - "canned" and not, and, while the sealed jars have been making adorable gifts, the refrigerator version lasts plenty long and tastes just as good.
So, the recipe. I hesitate to include a recipe here, because I stuck with the formulas that I found on other blogs. You can find examples of marmalade recipes here and here, although the basic recipe is equal parts chopped fruit and water, boiled for about an hour, then measured and mixed with an equal volume of sugar, then boiled again. Some sources say to use the seeds for added pectin, which worked marvelously well for me with the meyer lemon batch because those little devils were so chock-full of seeds. My blood oranges were comparatively seedless, which made for a runnier, though still spreadable marmalade.
The point, of course, is that homemade marmalade is both a culinary adventure and a pure delight on morning toast. I can't get enough of it, and spread it on everything in sight. And even though life has been busy, and time has come at a steep premium recently, I can't think of a better way of spending a few chilly, when-will-spring-come weekend hours.