When Life Gives You Lemons . . . Make Marmalade

My canning shelf overrun with marmalade jars.

My canning shelf overrun with marmalade.

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.

10 lbs. of washed Meyer lemons.

10 lbs. of washed Meyer lemons.

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.

The outside of the burned pot.

The outside of the burned pot.

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.

I couldn't take a photo of the burned citrus. This is after 3 attempts to clean the pot.

I couldn’t take a photo of the burned citrus. This is after 3 attempts to clean the pot.

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.

Today's batch of Meyer lemon and ruby red grapefruit. Boiled and waiting for the cooking with sugar.

Today’s batch of Meyer lemon and ruby red grapefruit. Boiled and waiting for the cooking with sugar.

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This entry was posted in Healing, Inspiration, Mistakes in the Kitchen and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When Life Gives You Lemons . . . Make Marmalade

  1. Wendy says:

    Wow, cooking as catharsis! I love it!

  2. Joanne Fox says:

    Yikes! I feel your ruined pot pain…not to mention the work that had gone into the contents. Glad you got re-inspired.

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