Sunshine in a Jar: Meyer Lemon Marmalade

I”ve always been partial to the idea of canning. I’d picture a nice steel shelving unit in a cool pantry, filled top to bottom with little jars. “Oh, this?” I’d say to visitors. “This is just a little stockpile of jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, and other assorted delicacies to tide me over when I’m feeling peckish. Homemade? Of course!” and then I’d chuckle modestly. However, in practice, I’ve never really had the space for a canning shelf, and the planning involved always seemed daunting when I actually stopped to think about it. After years of hemming and hawing about it, and, with a Costco membership card in hand, I finally promised myself that I would actually give it a try, and it turns out: dead simple. And fun!

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The first challenge to overcome involved equipment. I did my homework and read enough warnings about botulism and horrible death that I decided to go for the full-on sterilizing water bath stockpot approach. I opted for a Ball canning kit and set of 8 ounce jars to get me started. Second challenge: recipe. At last count, there are approximately 9,826,437 recipes for marmalades and jams online. What follows isn’t really from anywhere, so much as it’s an amalgamation of bits and pieces from all over. Plus something extra I came up with, because I am terrible at leaving well enough alone.

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I think cutting the channels out of the middles of the lemons really helped when breaking them down. It served the double duty of getting rid of all the seeds, and (with the help of my kitchen shears) it also quickly removed the most fibrous bits of of membrane from the center. I also opted not to put in additional pectin — I read conflicting advice on this count, with some people saying pectin was required, and others saying that citrus fruit has enough in their peels already. The deciding factor was pretty simple: I didn’t feel like going to a store to buy pectin, and I had faith that my pretty little Meyer gems were up to the challenge.

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I actually made two batches, in order to try out two variations I had in mind. To one, I added a quarter cup of Saint Germain, the elderflower liqueur of which I am so very, very fond. To the other, the seeds from a particularly fat and juicy vanilla bean. In the picture above, you can see the lovely dark flecks of vanilla steeping through my bubbling delight of lemon pulp. You can also see that the bubbles are looking pretty syrupy — I used that, and a little test of cooling off a drop of the gel to see if it sets, to decide when I’d boiled enough. Again: I didn’t feel like going to the store for a candy thermometer. A lot of my decisions in the kitchen boil down (no pun intended) to simple laziness, more than anything else. I am glad I bought the canning kit, though! If nothing else, the funnel was an absolute necessity when filling the jars.

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Both variations are pretty exceptional. The Meyer lemon-vanilla combo is the hands-down favorite, though — the vanilla lends an almost creamy flavor to the marmalade, smoothing out even the gentle bitterness from the Meyers. I want to eat it on every bread product ever invented, and it’s likely this is going to find an application on a roasted chicken in the very near future. The upshot of all of this: canning is as awesome as I thought it would be, the little jars have already made great presents to several people, and if I’m not careful I am going to need that shelving unit after all. Next up, I think I’m going to tackle berries, and secretly I want to make a mint jelly that 1) is not nuclear green and 2) contains actual fresh mint. Any other ideas? Sound off in the comments!

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

2.5-3 pounds Meyer lemons
6 c sugar
8 c water
6-8 8-oz canning jars and lids

Variations
1/4 c Saint Germain, or
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean (my favorite thus far), or
Any of a million other possibilities: other liqueurs, candied ginger, whatever sounds tasty.

  1. Cut the lemons in half lengthwise, and slice out the centers. Remove the seeds and as much of the fibrous membrane as you can easily get at, reserving everything you remove.
  2. Slice the lemons into half-moons, as thin as you can get. Put them in a stockpot along with any juice you can strain out of the reserved seeds and pulp, cover with 8 cups of water, and let sit in the fridge overnight.
  3. The next day, simmer the pot over medium heat until the peels are soft, about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Add the sugar and any other extras, and then bring them up to a hard boil. Bubble away, stirring more or less constantly, until a) the mixture hits 220 degrees, you fancy-pants candy thermometer-owning chef you, or b) it thickens up in the pot and feels gooey to stir. I supplemented one visual check with another: I put a drop on a cold plate and set in the freezer for a few seconds. When the droplet didn’t drip when I tilted the plate, I called it done.
  5. While the above is happening, make sure you’ve sterilized your equipment. Run the jars/funnel/ring lids/ladle through the dishwasher if you have one, or boil them for a few minutes in the canning stockpot if you don’t. Keep in mind that the canning pot is huge, so it’ll take a good long time to come up to a boil. For the rubber-lined flat tops, I put them in a bowl and poured some almost-boiling water on top, so as to avoid melting the seal.
  6. Line up your jars, put in the funnel, and ladle your marmalade in, leaving about 1/4″ space at the top. There’s a very nifty tool called a “magnetic wand,” which basically means “stick with a magnet on the end,” that you can use to pick up the flat sealing lids without actually touching them. Pop one onto each jar, and screw down with a ring lid.
  7. Put all of your jars right into the merrily boiling canning stockpot, and boil the whole mess for 10 more minutes.
  8. Remove the jars from the stockpot with the “jar lifter,” which is canning-ese for “tongs shaped to pick up jars.” Let them cool on the countertop overnight. The flat lids should be popped slightly down in the middle after they’re cooled off, and shouldn’t move when you poke them.
  9. If you have any jars that didn’t seal quite right, I’d recommend eating their contents immediately. On a fresh croissant. Shame, that.
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