Having grown up in the Midwest, citrus was not a huge part of our diet. My mother always had cans of mandarin oranges in her pantry, I just thought they were baby oranges. I didn’t have a fresh mandarin until I was in my 30’s. Living in San Francisco, shopping weekly at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, I have begun to try more citrus and have discovered a real love for it. I decided to try my hand at making marmalade.
Initially I used Meyer lemons and turned to Food in Jars and played with her recipe a bit. Then I took a citrus workshop with Happy Girl Kitchen and learned a ton about marmalade. Now here’s the funny part: when I decided to embark on this marmalade adventure, I had actually never tried marmalade. I have no idea why I wanted to make it so badly, when I had never tasted it, but there it is. At this workshop I tried lime marmalade and I fell in love with that hint of spicy, sweet & sour flavor. I also walked out of there with 10 lbs. of Meyer lemons and bearss limes, and then I ordered another 20 lbs. each of the two fruits from my local farmer. What the hell was I thinking? I spent days (and I mean literally days) slicing, boiling, cooking and canning citrus into marmalade. And then something awful happened.
One Saturday night I set up my station, put on some great movies and began to slice away. Of course I had to have a glass of wine while I was working. I didn’t take into account that I had already had a couple of glasses of wine earlier in the day at a cooking class, followed by another couple of glasses with a dear friend after the class. After I spent 4 hours slicing nearly 6 lbs. of Meyer lemons and mandarin oranges, I put them on the stove to boil, which softens the rinds. I set the timer and sat down to watch a cooking show while I waited. And then I proceeded to fall asleep (some might say I passed out). I woke up at some point in the night when the acrid smell of burned citrus finally penetrated my wine-addled brain. I turned off the stove, turned out the lights and somehow made it to my bed (though I didn’t manage to make it under the covers).
I woke bright & early the next morning, hoping that I had dreamed the terrible episode. Unfortunately, my nose told me the truth. I was overwhelmed by the sickly, smoky sweet smell of burned citrus. I walked into the kitchen to assess the damage and was heartbroken at the sight of the black crust that used to be gorgeous yellow and orange fruit. I couldn’t face it. I was devastated. It wasn’t just about the loss of the fruit or the wasted four plus hours I had invested in slicing all that citrus. For me, being in my kitchen is a direct link to my spirituality and my psyche. I didn’t just mess up a recipe, I DESTROYED something. I felt the pain as if I had stabbed myself in the gut. I couldn’t function. I just crawled back into bed, sent a text to cancel my plans for the day and went back to sleep. I woke a few hours later and was in no better shape. So I did the only thing I could: I avoided my kitchen. It didn’t matter that I had another batch of perfectly boiled citrus waiting for the final cook and canning process. I couldn’t face it.
It took me 4 days before I could get back into my kitchen and face the destruction that I had wrought. I cried as I grabbed handfuls of ruined citrus pulp and tossed it into the compost bin. I sobbed as I had to use a butter knife to break through the inch-thick coal black crust that had formed on the bottom and sides of the pot. But then something amazing happened. I checked the other pot of marmalade that I had started before the drunken escapade. I figured it was a loss as well and would need to go into the compost bin, but when I lifted the lid and stuck my nose in the pot, it was fine. The All-Clad lid had kept an airtight seal. So I cooked it down and canned it. I was back in my kitchen and I was happy again.
Yesterday, afternoon, I sat down to watch a cooking show and was suddenly overcome with the need to finish what I started. I still had about 6 lbs. of Meyer lemons sitting on my table. But even better – I was hit with inspiration. I ran to my local Real Food Co. and picked up a few ruby red grapefruit. Then I came home, put on a couple of movies and started slicing away. I even had a glass of wine (or two). I boiled it up without incident. Tonight I will cook it down and can it. And in the meantime, I will continue to work on cleaning up that pot I nearly destroyed. Thank God for All Clad.