It's January, which in the Bay Area (and all of California, for that matter) means it's citrus season. While much of the rest of the country is frozen over -- today in Boston the forecast was 34 degrees and snowing -- we're lucky enough to live someplace where winter means fresh oranges, limes, grapefruits and lemons. And queen among the local citrus trees -- at least in my book -- is the Meyer lemon.
Meyer lemons are an amazing fruit. Originally created in China as a lemon and mandarin orange hybrid, it has an appealing sweetness lacking in other lemons. And, with a fragrant and thin rind, barely any pith, and ample juice, it's really the ideal cooking lemon.
I planted my Meyer lemon tree around five years ago, and although it's given me a steady stream of fruit since we first set it into the ground outside our front porch, this is the first year that our tree was crowded with lemons. So what do you do with an overabundance of sweet and tart Meyers? In my case, I had great plans to make marmalade. I pondered how to make it, discussed recipes with neighbors, and deliberated over whether or not I should incorporate other citruses into the jam. But after a couple of weeks with sick kids and a sicker husband, plus a pile of work to wade through, those lemons still sat on the tree: bright yellow orbs taunting me each time I walked up my front stairs.
Thankfully I have talented friends with a can-do attitude (well, one friend in particular). When Kim and Keith Laidlaw came to my house last weekend, I mentioned my marmalade aspirations as we walked past the tree, hoping that one day soon I'd be able to make it. And then something miraculous happened. After walking the dogs in the rain a half hour later, I dried off their mud spattered fur and entered the kitchen to warm up with some hot tea. But instead of finding Kim and Keith relaxing in my family room, I was met instead with the glorious image of Kim sitting at my counter, patiently slicing lemons from the enormous pile she had picked while I was out. A true friend indeed.
After the lemons were all sliced, we set them in a pot and covered them with water to steep overnight. This allows some of the pectin in the pith beneath the rind to release into the water. It also makes the lemon slices more malleable. In the morning, we added some sugar along with a satchel of the lemon seeds, pith and lemon ends (which we had saved and tied in a cheesecloth) to the pot. After simmering for an hour, the mixture was ready to go. It was sweet and tart with a nice mild bitter marmalade edge. If you don't like any bitterness in your preserves, you can omit the seeds from the recipe, but you may end up with a runnier marmalade as the seeds add pectin.
Now normally I would can my jam, but the ennui that has enveloped me all January was still too strong, so Kim and I instead plopped some of the marmalade into washed jars to be used immediately and then I also froze some for later use. I hear that marmalade improves with age, so if you have the time and inclination, it's worth canning.
The next morning after the kids left for school, I sat and ate toast topped with Meyer lemon marmalade while contemplating how lucky I was to have such a lovely jam-making friend. It takes someone special to notice when your life gets in the way of your hopes, even if that hope is simply to make marmalade.
Homemade Meyer Lemon Marmalade
According to Kim, the key to great marmalade is slicing the lemons sliver thin. So be sure to use a sharp chef's knife. Here's what you do:
1. Wash the lemons and set in a bowl.
2. Cut the ends off the lemons and then slice in half length-wise.
3. Slice out the pith in the lemon's inner core and set into a bowl to keep for later use. You should also set the lemon ends in this bowl.
4. Remove the lemon's seeds and place into that bowl of pith and ends.
5. Cut lemons into paper thin slices.
6. Place lemon slices in a large pot, being sure to scrape the juice from the cutting board in as well so you retain the juices. Soak at least over night and up to two days.
Here's the recipe we used. The sugar amount is flexible and should be determined by how sweet you like your marmalade. Kim and I both like ours a bit tart, so we used the lesser amount. When your batch is complete, you can either can the jam in hot jars, freeze it in plastic bags or containers, or refrigerate and then eat within a week or two.
Makes: 6 small or 3 large jars of jam
5 cups thinly sliced lemons with the seeds, ends and inner pith removed and set aside
5 cups water
4-5 cups granulated sugar
1. Place lemon slices in a large pot and cover with water. Let steep overnight.
2. Once lemons have steeped, add the sugar to the pot and mix.
3. Place the seeds, pith and lemon ends in cheesecloth. Tie up and set into the mixture.
4. Bring the lemons to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for one hour.
5. Can or freeze.