Happy New Year! and Making Marmalade
It's a New Year, which to me means an opportunity to start fresh. And after another busy holiday season, I am more than ready to do so! I look forward to taking down the holiday decorations, almost as much as I do putting them up. Mostly though, I look forward to switching flavors in my daily cooking from holiday/fall flavors to fresh, lighter recipes that look ahead towards Spring.
It's been an unusually warm and dry winter so far in Northern California. The trees are already starting to bud out and the first daffodil shoots are coming up in my garden. My garden is small but productive, even during the winter months. I (luckily) seem to have the perfect microclimate for citrus trees and I take full advantage by growing several exotic varieties like Italian Bergamots, Buddha's Hand Citron, Yuzu, Rangpur limes, Meyer lemons, and Bearss Limes, to name a few. This year my citrus trees are laden with ripe, juicy fruit and all I can think of is.... marmalade! Ok, maybe some Limoncello too.
My favorite marmalade recipes come from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. Personally, I love the astringent, intensely perfumed, bright citrusy flavor of Bergamots (think Earl Grey tea), and Rachel Saunders has one of the best recipes for Bergamot marmalade I've seen. If you don't happen to have a backyard Bergamot tree like me, try your local Farmers Market or specialty grocery. In the Bay Area, I've seen lovely Bergamots at Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, or from DeSantis Farms at the Marin Farmers Markets, to name a few.
Here are two of my favorite recipes for the above mentioned marmalade/ limoncello respectively. Neither are difficult but both require a fair amount of non-active wait time. Make them when you have a bit of extra time to devote to the process and your efforts will be rewarded... I promise!!
Bergamot Marmalade (recipe from Blue Chair Jam Cookbook): Yields approx. 12, 6 oz jars
3 # bergamots, cut into eighths.
2# halved and seeded bergamots, each half cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced very thinly crosswise
5# white can sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Day 1- Place the bergamot eighths in a large nonreactive saucepan. Add enough cold water to let the fruit move around freely. Cover tightly and let rest overnight and room temperature.
Day 2- Prepare the cooked bergamot juice. Bring the pan with the bergamot eighths to a boil over high heat. Cook the fruit at a strong simmer, covered for about 2 hours, or until the fruit is very soft and the liquid is slightly syrupy. The water level should stay consistently high enough for the fruit to be submerged while it cooks.
When the bergamots are cooked, strain them. Place a 'chinois' or fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl and let the fruit/ liquid drip through overnight at room temperature. Keep the entire thing covered with a lid or plastic wrap.
Meanwhile, prepare the sliced bergamots. Place the slices in a wide dutch oven and cover completely with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, about 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid. Repeat this process once more. After the second blanching, return the bergamot slices to the pot and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and decrease he heat to medium, cooking at a strong simmer, covered for 30-60 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender. As the fruit cooks, stir it every 15 minutes or so, adding a little more water if necessary. The water should remain high enough so the fruit is consistently submerged as it cooks. Remove pan from heat, cover tightly, and let rest overnight at room temperature.
Day 3- Place a saucer with 3 teaspoons in the freezer for testing the doneness of the marmalade later.
Remove the plastic wrap from the bergamot eighths. Keep the juice and discard the solids.
In a large dutch oven or jam kettle, combine the sugar, lemon juice, cooked bergamot juice, and bergamot slices with their liquid. Stir to combine.
Bring the marmalade mixture to a boil over high heat. Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking. Cook at a rapid boil until the setting point is reached. This should take 20-30 minutes but varies depending on your individual stove. Once the mixture reaches a boil, stir every few minutes to keep from sticking. You can use a metal spoon to remove foam as it occurs as well. Decrease the heat slightly as needed to prevent sticking/ burning.
The marmalade is ready to test when the color darkens slightly and the bubbles become very small and cover the surface of the mixture.
To test for doneness, carefully transfer a small spoonful of the jam to one of your frozen spoons. Return the spoon to the freezer until the underside is neither warm nor cold. If the marmalade is done, it should fall off the spoon in jelly-like clumps. If it runs, cook for another few minutes and test again.
When the marmalade is finished, ladle it into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturers instructions. Properly processed jars will keep for up to 1 year.
Meyer Lemon Limoncello: Yields 1 quart/ 32 oz
Meyer Lemons, about 5-6 large
Vodka, 32 oz
1 Quart Mason Jar or other container with tight fitting lid
1:1 Simple Syrup, added to taste (see * below)
1- Using a vegetable peeler, peel the lemons in long strips. Take care to remove only the yellow rind, and leave the white pith behind. Place the strips in your clean mason jar.
2- Cover the lemon peel with Vodka. Leave about 1/2" head room at the top of the jar. Screw the lid on tightly and give the whole thing a good shake. Place the jar in a dark cupboard for 4-6 weeks, shaking once a week, or every so often.
3- When the limoncello is ready, the liquid will be a bright golden color and the peels will have lost most of their yellow color.
4- Strain the peels from the liquid and add simple syrup to taste. Can be stored in a sealed container and kept in a dark, cool cupboard for up to 1 year. Serve ice cold.
* Making a 1:1 simple syrup- Take 1 cup water and 1 cup white sugar and heat in a pan over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring the liquid to a boil without stirring. Once the liquid reaches a boil, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Use to sweeten your Limoncello to your liking.