Sometimes, life gives you metaphorical lemons and then you’re supposed to make hay while the sun shines, or some shit like that.
Wait, that’s not right.
“When life gives you lemons, don’t count your chickens before they hatch because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
“When life gives you lemons, that’s amore.”
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” There we go!
I tend to differ. I say, when life gives you metaphorical lemons, buy a bag of real lemons. With real lemons, you can make this easy marmalade. Also you can pelt your enemies with them. The lemons, I mean; not the jars of marmalade. Although the latter would be more painful, so I leave it up to you. Just don’t implicate me.
The lemons in question here are meyer lemons, which are delicious, so I opt not to waste them by throwing them at people I don’t like anyway.
I knew I wanted to make marmalade, but I also knew I didn’t want to deal with breaking down a ton of lemons and soaking a pectin sac overnight, because that sounds more like a procedure for lancing a boil than making marmalade. Nigella has a grapefruit marmalade recipe which, being quintessentially British, is pretty much “boil the holy hell out of an otherwise lovely ingredient and then mash it.” (See: fresh peas.) More my speed.
I’d actually tried the grapefruit marmalade and found it not to my taste – way too pithy, and not remotely spreadable – but thought I might be able to adapt it to work with meyer lemons, using the following rationale:
- Meyer lemons are really thin-skinned. Have you ever tried to give one constructive criticism? They can’t hack it at all. Okay, that was obvious and I apologize. But it does mean that a boiled lemon mash would be less pithy than one made of grapefruit.
- Adding a little more liquid to the mix could help with the consistency. Like water… and gin. “When life gives you lemons, make yourself a strong cocktail;” that’s what the saying should be.
- Corn syrup might help too. I have zero scientific basis for this idea and am pretty sure it’s just wrong, but I thought that introducing some corn syrup into the granulated sugar might keep things more supple. You know, different crystalline structures and all? Did that sound smart? It’s like I think I know what I’m doing because I once saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown used tinker toys to illustrate how sugars interact. Probably I’m making Shirley Corriher twitch.
So I boiled the shit out of some lemons, picked out all the seeds (and these are some seedy motherfuckers) and blitzed them in the FoPro. The lemon mush went into a heavy suacepan with sugar, a little water and a smidge of corn syrup and gin. And a pinch of salt, because it makes things better.
If you’re some kind of Martha Stewart acolyte and this marmalade is too messy looking for you, you could always scrape the flesh out of the cooked fruit and finely dice the cooked peel into a picturesque brunoise. I say, to hell with marmalade aesthetics; they all taste the same. Also a stitch in time saves nine.
The sugar and lemon mix bubbles away for 15 minutes or so, and the jam is done when it passes the wrinkly-finger test: get an elderly person to stick their finger into the hot marmalade, and if the burn heals cleanly within seven days they’re not guilty of heresy and Goody Masterson must have been lying about her goats having the mange.
Okay, the real wrinkly-finger test: chill a small plate in the freezer. Put a small spoonful of marmalade on the cold plate. If it runs all over, it’s not ready. If it firms up in a few seconds and you can poke it and cause its skin to wrinkle up, you’re good to go. Jar it up!
If you’re a canny type, you can jar this and do the whole boiling water-processing thing. I’m not, so I chose to make a smaller batch of marmalade and store it unprocessed in the fridge for immediate consumption. It’s nicely textured, just sweet enough, totally spreadable, and the gin adds the faintest herbal note. And the color makes me happy.
So far, it has proven itself to be good (1) mixed with Greek yogurt, (2) on English muffins with butter and (3) in between sponge cake layers with some unsweetened whipped cream.
Now excuse me while I return to my metaphorical lemons.
Small-Batch Meyer Lemon Marmalade
makes 12 ounces
6 meyer lemons, scrubbed clean
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
2 oz. gin (I used Hendrick’s) or another 2 oz. water
pinch of salt
Put the lemons in a pot filled with enough water that the lemons float. Bring to a boil and cook until the lemons are totally tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the lemons from the water and set aside, discard the water.
When you can handle the lemons, cut them into quarters and pick out all the seeds. Put the lemons, skin and all, into a food processor and pulse until everything is broken up and there are no big chunks of skin visible.
Put the lemon puree into a heavy saucepan and add the sugar, water, corn syrup, gin and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
At the 15-minute mark, start performing the wrinkly-finger test: Chill a small plate in the freezer. Put a small spoonful of marmalade on the cold plate. If it runs all over, it’s not ready. If it firms up in a few seconds and you can poke it and cause its skin to wrinkle up, you’re good to go. Pour the marmalade into a jar, let cool and store in the fridge.