On Marmalade and Old-Timeyness
A strange thing happens to me every summer. I do not lust after beaches, nor do I long to lounge in the shade. Instead, I feel an irrepressible urge to troll antiques shops. I bring home patterns for dresses that went out of style a half-century ago (and subsequently Google sewing machine prices and reviews). I buy delicate lace gloves adorned with tiny pearls at the wrists, gloves that could never fit my gangly fingers. I scour the shelves looking for butter paddles and pie birds. I listen to Bing Crosby and wish I had more friends my age to invite over for cocktail parties with canapes and sherry and wonder why I can't find chartreuse for beautiful old drinks with gin.
I seek out heirlooms. I find old things at yard sales and hide them in my sock drawer as if they were family treasures. I lust after old cookbooks for the recipes, sure. But really, secretly, for the glimpse of that daily life. A daily life that used to include preparing nearly all the food products at home, by hand. And in this strange spirit of all things old-timey, today, I choose marmalade. (Click here for printable recipe.)
Did you know my favorite $7 mandonline won't slice whole oranges nicely? Knife to the rescue.
Having no intentions of canning (as I have never canned before and I believe there are some start-up costs involved), I planned on one jar for the fridge. Something you ought to know: one orange becomes a lot of peel. If you're not planning to actually process or freeze these, I'd just start with one orange. Into a heavy pot it goes with a squeeze of lemon, a tablespoon of lemon zest and a cup and a half of water because Alton Brown said to. At the ready I had an apple to grate into the mix to supply the pectin I neglected to buy. But guess what? Marmalade is so old-timey that you traditionally make it without any additional thickeners, boxed or not.
The novelty astounds me. On medium heat, simmer for 30 minutes or so or until the peel softens.
Add 15 ounces of sugar (almost a pound or just shy of two cups). On medium heat, boil, boil, boil, stir, stir, stir. Be delighted that you are nearly candying the orange peel, which is about as early American of a sweet as you can make without a wood-fired oven and a pilgrim hat.
As you near 220 degrees say, 10 minutes or so into the boiling, the mixture will darken. At this point, you will know it's almost done because it starts to look like proper marmalade. Tips abound for guessing your doneness: 1) thermometer reading at 223 degrees which is where I stopped and it's almost stiff, 2) when you pour the mix off a spoon do two drops combine to sheet off the spoon, 3) smear a spoonful on a frozen plate, wait 30 seconds and tip the plate around to see if the mix will still dribble around. But here's the reason you should not stress out about this too much: if you undercook, you will have a pot of delicious, chunky orange syrup; if you overcook, you will have a pot of delicious, chunky, candied oranges. Cool, bottle, refrigerate.
This is what you do when you have a case of oranges and one is seeming a bit mushy. This is what you do when need a reason to make biscuits. This is how you make Sunday breakfast very special. This is what you do when you ran short on your grocery budget before the $4.99 on a jar of preserves. This is what you do when you are feeling nostalgic for a time you only know from artifacts.
Friends, make marmalade. Teach your kids the magic of orange + lemon (if you have it) + sugar + water = marmalade. There is grace in small victories, and this, friends, is foolproof.