Clearly I like to cook. Spending time in the kitchen is one of my favorite things to do, and also serves as a distraction from my other source of constant pleasure – eating! When I’m cooking, I’m being industrious and I’m concentrating on technique rather than my usual pasttime of contemplating the food that I want to eat but probably shouldn’t. I’m not as disfunctional as I sound. I don’t think….
Despite my love for food preparation, and its end result, there are some types of cooking that don’t really occur to me. I don’t ever have the urge to bake bread, or to make homemade candy. I don’t love making fancy, complicated composed salads, and I have only once made my own pie dough. I guess that there are some things that I feel more than okay about purchasing. Jam has always been in that category.
I should tell you that I really, truly adore jam. It started when I moved to France in the fall of 2000. I hated the milk (which was ultrapasteurized unrefrigerated Parmalat — nasty!) and did not discover “Lait Frais” until years later. As you can imagine, however, the bread was out of this world. I quickly adopted the French version of the “petit dejeuner” and ate a bit of bread with jam for breakfast each morning, occasionally treating myself to a croissant with the same fruit topping. Though the bread choices were myriad, the “confiture” selection was even more impressive. Stores like La Grande Epicerie and Fauchon offered hundreds of different brands and flavors – from the standards of American breakfast tables to the preserves of non-translatable fruits like arbusses. All of these were topped, however, when I went to the 2004 Salon d’Agriculture, a French phenomenon I will not soon forget. In 144,000 square meters of exhibition space, over seven gigantic warehouses, exhibitors from all over France and the world gather to demonstrate and sell their agricultural products – everything from wine to cheese to sausage to rice to tractors to livestock to prize dog breeds. I could have spent weeks wandering through all the stalls, and still not have seen the whole thing. I sampled apples from Limousin, cheeses from Haute Savoie, ham from Bayonne, and even saw a fountain of Confiture du Lait from Normandy (basically the most awesome caramel you can imagine). I was in heaven! The jams at this expo were extraordinary – lush and vibrant, bursting with flavor, and not overly sweetened or hardened by preservatives and pectin. These were freshly-picked berries and fruits, conserved at their peak ripeness for year-round enjoyment. I was sold!
You can probably guess where this post is headed. Though there are certain food products that I leave to the experts, having this blog has definitely encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. In the coming year, I intend to challenge myself and bake a loaf of bread, experiment with salads, and maybe even try my hand at candy-making! To kick it all off, this past weekend I made my first marmalade.
What makes a truly delicious jam or preserve is the fruit itself – it must be in season, ripe, and full of natural sweetness. It being winter right now, choices are limited! However, citrus is at its peak right now, and a recipe in Fine Cooking magazine looked more than enticing.
Though the preparation involved about an hour of devoted time for a half recipe, it was cathartic kitchen time, and as soon as the ginger and lemon started cooking, the house smelled wonderful! If you have the time, let me tell you that this is not a difficult recipe to follow, and the results are unquestionably worth the effort. I cannot wait to attempt some new combinations – grapefruit and orange, perhaps, or lime and cilantro. Happy canning!
Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, from Fine Cooking Issue 97
This golden-hued marmalade is right at home on toast, but it’s also divine stirred into plain yogurt or dolloped on coconut ice cream. Find pectin where canning supplies are sold—try supermarkets or hardware stores.
Makes 6-8 cups
1-1/2 to 2 lb. lemons (6 to 8 medium)
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh ginger
One 1-3/4 -oz. package powdered pectin
6-1/2 c. granulated sugar
Peel the zest from the lemons with a vegetable peeler, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible. Slice the zest strips crosswise very thinly at an angle to make strips about 1/16 inch wide by 1 inch long—you’ll need 1 cup of zest strips. Put the zest in a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan.
Trim the ends from the zested lemons to expose the flesh. With one cut side down on the cutting board, trim the pith off the lemon all the way around and discard the pith. Quarter the lemons lengthwise and remove any visible membranes and seeds. Slice the wedges crosswise 1/4 inch thick—you’ll need about 1-1/2 cups.
Add the sliced lemons, ginger, and 2 cups water to the lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the zest is soft and the membranes start to break down, 6 to 8 minutes.
Whisk the pectin into the mixture. Increase the heat to high, add the sugar, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly to smooth lumps. Boil vigorously for 1 minute, whisking constantly (move the pan off the burner momentarily if it threatens to boil over). Remove the pan from the heat and let sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Skim any foam and seeds off the surface of the marmalade. Stir gently to redistribute the solids. Transfer the marmalade to heatproof storage containers, let cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for up to 1 month. For longer storage at room temperature, can the marmalade. See the canning directions below.
To can the marmalade:
Transfer the hot marmalade to clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each jar, and wipe the edges clean with a paper towel. Screw the lids on tightly.
Put the jars in a large pot of water fitted with a rack insert. The water should completely cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Return the jars to the pot of water and make sure the water covers them by at least 2 inches. Boil, covered, for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove the jars; let them cool undisturbed on the counter. You should hear a popping sound as the jars cool, indicating that the vacuum seals have worked.