Today I peered into a jar of marmalade and using a dessert fork poked for the thickest slices of rind I could find amidst the jelly. The jar was a narrow-mouthed 16 oz. Kerr brand bottle I filled with pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade a year ago. I remember making the marmalade. The steam from boiling down the preserve almost obscured my view of a clear Seattle winter day. The rich, almost unbelievable ever-fresh scent of citrus oils driving into the apartment air from two pots on the stove replaced any longing I had for heading outside. The smell of cut lemons cooking, unfolding and releasing every bit of their flavor and pectin into simmering water, still catches me by surprise. I marvel at the magnetic quality of something so impossible to eat on its own like a lemon. The vapors of paradox pierced the whole house. Siren-like, the lemon whet my senses promising brightness without any fuzz or haze.
It's been about a year since I started this preserves project. That jar of pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade I mentioned earlier was my first stab at the preserving methods laid out in Rachel Saunder's Blue Chair Fruit Cookbook. The leftovers are pictured above. Today they look more like specimens than jars of food. That makes routing around in them easier. I went through a period of being embarrassed that I'd actually given jars of the marmalade away as gifts. But the pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade is a year old and it's qualities are less troublesome. Now it's a sweet artifact of my last year intensively studying jam and marmalade-making.
I checked the Blue Chair cookbook out from the library when I signed up to be a class assistant to Rachel Saunder's Marmalade 101 course at Delancey's Pantry, the Seattle restaurant's farm-chic backroom space for cooking classes. I had a week to look at the cookbook before the marmalade class. I remembered finding the book overwhelming, but interesting. The sheer number of recipes was surprising, the size of the book for just one subject, jam. I had never had citrus so delineated as a subject. I'd heard of Bergamot oranges but i never thought of them as a fruit to hold in the hand. And then the specificity about strawberry varieties, cherry varieties and sentences like, "use late-season Pluots such as Flavor Grenade or Flavor Rosa". So much to think about and keep track of while making jam.
I don't think it's an unfamiliar idea that detailed presentations can initially appear over- opinionated, even narrow. Maybe though, we let ourselves fall in-step and what initially felt tight now looks expansive. Each directive is a piece of information. Nine recipes for orange marmalade teach how certain spices effect flavor, how the size of the fruit pieces change a marmalade, when to add vanilla extract versus orange blossom water. Maybe all these choices are annoying. Maybe they clutter the flavor of a preserve. Or maybe we just learn more from such particularities.
When I look at that fork the varying slices of pink grapefruit rind reflect all the uncertainty and excitement I felt approaching the Blue Chair recipe. I had so many questions. And actually I am still unsure what size to cut that rind. I chose what I remember Rachel saying was one of the most challenging marmalades in her book. (Trying to show off is my way of being excited.) I made this marmalade with sugar although before I mixed the sugar in with the two kinds of grapefruit juice, the two kinds of lemon juice, and the sliced grapefruit rinds, I reserved a small portion of the mixture to sweeten with honey. That would be for me I remember thinking.
Cooking that marmalade, both the honey and sugar versions, was like going out to sea with charts I could read but not interpret.
Besides the wildly different sizing of my grapefruit rinds, I bottled the sugar marmalade too quickly after it came off the heat and all the solids shot to the top of the jars. Both marmalades were overdone, the honey one exceedingly so, but all told, it felt like a success. I decided to give jars away immediately. (More signs of excitement.) I handed them out to my co-workers at Theo.
I found my honey sweetened marmalade poorly textured and very bitter, but it set! A honey preserve had set hard! This meant beautiful jams like the ones made by Blue Chair Fruit were possible. I just had to figure out which fruits and what kind of honey made good preserves. I already had some ideas. The previous year I accidentally made perfectly spreadable Blueberry butter and my apricot preserves from the same year turned out remarkably thick. The Blue Chair Cookbook contained the rest of the clues. I just knew it.