Counting our blessings at the end of a tumultuous year is never a bad idea. Despite all of the things going wrong in our world today, taking care of ourselves (and others) by lovingly preparing a nice meal or stopping to make a batch of preserves can take you and the lucky recipients of your largesse through the season and beyond. I for one am always grateful when I peruse my tea cabinet and behold the varied riches and inspiration contained within it. Resolved to do more than just drink the tea, I set out to make the most of the current citrus season in California (the bounty of which is widely available in other parts of the country) and create a citrus marmalade flavored with tea.
On a recent visit to my local farmers market, I found table after table filled with kumquats, blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, Melogold grapefruit (the kind with a fragrant non-acidic juice but, alas, many seeds), bright skinned and floral Meyer lemons, tangerines, and clementines of many sizes and sweetness/tartness levels, and subacid Oro Blanco white grapefruit. What to make of this beautiful array? A tutti-frutti blend cooked with sugar into a sparkling marmalade, topped off with a splash of well-brewed potent tea (Darjeeling would be my choice here but feel free to use whatever tea is your current favorite).
There’s a contemplative calming effect to preparing your own marmalade. Here’s how I do it.
Simply wash in soapy water however many Mason jars and lids you estimate you will need (depending on their size—pints, quarts, etc.). Also wash a metal spoon to use for stirring the marmalade and a tool to transfer the finished product into the jars. Sterilize all in enough boiling water to cover the tops of the jars by at least 3 inches. Keep all of this in the hot water until ready to fill while you are making the actual marmalade. You can bring the water back to the boil again just before you are ready to fill the jars.
Assemble a collection of citrus fruits with as varied of colors and sweetness levels as you wish. Wash them well. The pleasurably-focused and somewhat time-consuming part of the process is as follows: Other than for kumquats (with their sweet skin and tart flesh, which simply must be quartered with seeds removed) handle the fruits in the following way: Using a small serrated knife, cut a thin slice from the ends of each of the fruits to allow them to stand firmly on your cutting surface. Using that same small serrated knife, now remove the remaining peel from each of the citrus fruits. Then using a metal spoon, scrape away and discard about half of the pith–the white under-layer–from the peel. Then cut the peel into strips about an inch in length by half-inch wide or thinner if you would prefer. Reserve the fruit and all the juice that you yield in the process.
Now bring all the assembled peel (and quartered kumquats, seeded, if using) to boil in a generous amount of water. Once the mixture is at the boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes and then drain the peel through a sieve, discarding the water. Repeat the process two times more, discarding the water each time. The goal here is to have citrus peel that is meltingly tender but not disintegrating into a mush. If it is still not tender enough, continue cooking in water. Remember that once the peel is cooked with sugar it tends to toughen–not tenderize–so it is vital that the peel is tender before that point.
Now place a glass or porcelain plate into the freezer which you will be using later to test for adequate thickening of the marmalade.
At this point, you are ready to mix the cooked peel with segments of the fruit (removing the segments cleanly by inserting a small sharp knife into the membrane on each side of the fruit segment). Weigh the fruit segments, the now-tender peel, and the juice. Weigh out an equal amount of white sugar and place all into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to be sure that the mixture does not burn on the bottom or sides of the pot. Be prepared as well to skim off scum and seeds which rise to the top of the mixture as you go. At this point, for each 4 pounds total of fruit, sugar, and juice, add 2 cups of well-brewed tea and bring again to a boil. (Any additional seeds you have missed will most likely float to the top of the scalding mixture and can be carefully removed as you see them emerge.) Continue cooking over a medium-high flame until the mixture reaches approximately 220 degrees F. Test for adequate thickness by spooning out a bit of the mixture onto the now-well chilled glass or porcelain plate. If the mixture wrinkles when lightly pushed with a finger or a spoon, it is done. If not, continue cooking the mixture and test again.
When done, retrieve the sterilized glass jars from their hot water bath, using tongs designed for this purpose. Then using a sterilized metal spoon or ladle, fill the prepared jars with the hot marmalade to ½ inch below the top rim of the jar, screw on flat lids and rings, and then place the filled jars into a canning rack set into a large pot of enough boiling water to cover the jars by 3 inches. Boil for 10 minutes and then carefully remove the jars from the pot. Place on a countertop lined with a clean dish towel and let cool. Label and date them. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to enjoy and gift freely. Morning toast never had it so good!
Image provided by author and is copyright to Lauren Wemischner