When I first moved into my current house, I was amazed at what the previous dwellers had done in matters of gardening. As the proud owner of a black thumb I was fully aware I wouldn’t be able to keep the bounty of vegetables and fruit they had planted. I know how fashionable it is these days to grow your own food but, really, I only have 18 hours a day at my disposal and worrying about the cabbage doesn’t factor into them.
I had to let go of most vegetables – I still tend to tomato plants, strawberries and the most common kitchen herbs but that’s about it. And then there are the fruit trees. Apricots seem to come every other year and they are small and delicious but the citrus trees, so common in California, are busy at work every winter. I actually haven’t bought a single lemon since I moved in.
The first winter I found myself with an inordinate amount of tangerines which I kept distributing to friends and family but, as most Los Angelenos have citrus trees of their own, marmalade became the only option. Unlike jams, marmalade will set just by cooking it with sugar, without the aid of pectin, so it can be made on a whim.
The term “marmalade”, originally meaning a fruit preserve, has come to define a citrus preserve since the British appropriated themselves of the word and the production. Why the Brits? one has to wonder, thinking not very hard at the lack of citrus trees on the British Isles. Well, as Britain is not climate friendly when it comes to growing fruit, it became obvious during the First World War that a good way of providing vitamin C to the soldiers (or the population in general) was through preserves, thus preventing scurvy. Seville oranges were the citrus of choice for many decades and, somehow, the art of making marmalade was refined in Scotland. Go figure.
It was indeed in England that I became a long-lasting fan of marmalade. Spread on toast, with a veil of salted butter, it is one of life’s small pleasures (and a definite enemy of the waistline). The bitterness imparted by the peel that is boiled with the fruit and the sugar makes it a bit of a grown up food and also an inspired pairing for many a savoury dish.
So, my Angeleno friends, if your backyard yields more oranges/tangerines/Meyer lemons or grapefruits you know what to do with, here is how you go about it.
- Put a couple of small plates in the freezer (more about that later)
- Start with 3 cups of oranges or Meyer lemons or a mixture of both – cut into quarters, seeds and membranes removed as much as possible.
- Put them in a sturdy pot with 3 cups of water (you want the same amount of water in volume as you have fruit). Bring to a boil and cook until the peel feels very soft.
- Add 3 cups of sugar (white or raw or a combination), bring back to boil and then let simmer until done – that should be about 30 minutes.
- To test, remove your plate from the freezer, drop a tiny spoonful of marmalade on it and, if it sticks and doesn’t run, you are good to go.
- You should have about 2 1/2 cups that you can refrigerate and eat within 4 to 6 weeks. Although it won’t last that long. Not in my world anyway.