Sunshine In A Jar

It’s no secret that I have a bit of a canning problem. Like so many personal issues, this one can be blamed on my upbringing: my Busia, as I called my dad’s mother, was a food preservationist extraordinaire. Her forty year-old chest freezer was always full, and often topped with a crock of gently-bubbling pickles. On the other side of the utility room from the freezer stood a cast concrete sink deep enough to bathe in, where I spent many hours helping her clean the wild mushrooms that the neighbors delivered (or we picked) by the bushel. From there they went onto old screens over the woodstove to dry, or into jar after gleaming jar, to be piled into the pressure canner and stored down in the basement.

Oh, the basement. What a wonder of musty smells and dark warrens! When my dad was a kid, it was the place where the grownups went to play. In the summers, all the relatives would take the train up from Chicago and spend a long weekend at the farm. When the kids were tucked into bed, the adults retreated down to the basement, where a full bar, record player, radio and the cool concrete all made for hours of dancing and drinking without danger of waking the kids.

By the time I came along, the former party room was lit by a single bare bulb dangling from a tangle of knob-and-tube wiring, and three of its four walls were covered by rough 2X4 shelving, boards spaced just high enough to accommodate quart jars. Most of these shelves were filled with Busia’s preserves. Green beans, tomatoes, applesauce, peaches, blackberries, boysenberries, podpinki—the Armillaria mushrooms I loved, jams, jellies, pickles, beets, even potatoes. The occasional quart jar of “brandy” was tucked up on the higher shelves, filled with cheap vodka, berries, and a bit of sugar and socked away to make long days of Christmas baking seem a little shorter.

I don’t have quite the compulsion to can that Busia did, but I hold my own. Several deep shelves in my own basement are filled with pickled goods, jams, jellies and salsas. But pressure canning, necessary for preserving low-acid foods like vegetables, has never caught my fancy. I’ve tried it a few times, using my other grandma’s mighty old pockmarked aluminum pressure canner, but I just can’t forget the massive BOOM! of Busia’s canner blowing its seal one Saturday morning as I sat watching cartoons in the living room. Superheated steam shot out every which way from beneath the rim of the big pot. Its contents were reduced to a rubble of glass, metal lids, and pulverized green beans, and we could have been thoroughly scorched if we’d been in the kitchen when it happened. Canned vegetables really aren’t worth reliving that moment of terror, especially when you can throw it all in the freezer for a tenth of the work and worry.

This year, I managed to make it through the big canning push of August and September without getting totally burned out on preserving. And so I’ve been experimenting some with pickling beets (two thumbs up on my Beets ‘O Fire! spicy beets) and that most elusive of creatures: marmalade.

yuzu fruits on my tree

Fruits on my yuzu tree. In December. In Portland, Oregon.

Citrus, with its abundance of natural pectin in the pith, membranes, and seeds, should be a slam-dunk base material for delicious things to put on top of other delicious things, right? So I thought. And then I tried to make marmalade with the profusion of little golden fruits coming off my yuzu tree in the backyard. Sure, your first batch of marmalade probably shouldn’t be made from something whose recipes are few and far between, and tend to be poorly translated from Japanese. But you try to figure out what to do with a couple dozen yuzus that will shrivel into useless walnuts within four days and see how far you get.

So there are two ways to make marmalade: the cheater method, where you use store-bought pectin to get it to set, and the more traditional process, which involves separating out all those pectin-rich bits of the fruit and boiling them to extract the pectin. Since store-bought pectin (like Pomona’s) is made from citrus anyway, I felt like it would be silly to go that route. So I carefully removed the yuzu peels, cut the peel into a fine julienne, and ran it and a separate pot of the seeds and other innards through several rounds of blanching and soaking in cold water, just like one of the two recipes I could find for yuzu marmalade told me to do. This was supposed to soften the peels and remove the bitterness from the pith.

HA. Even before I started boiling the innards to make the pectin, I could smell the  bitterness in the liquid. By the time I finished boiling the mess, there was indeed a pool of milky pectin-y stuff in my pan. And it was about as bitter as a dandelion root. I ended up discarding most of it and using commercial pectin to get it to set, and ended up with a few jars of murky yellow marmalade that had all the glorious floral-grapefruit fragrance of the yuzu and enough bitterness to snap those eyelids wide open with the first bite of morning toast. And that was after I added more sugar than I wanted, learned that sugar counteracts sour, not bitter, and tossed in some salt (which is the one thing that can counter bitter.)

So I turned my attention to yuzu curd for a while. It’s delicious. Like, really delicious. When I hosted a little canning swap in November, the yuzu curd earned serious accolades. And if I were smarter, I would have just filled my freezer with yuzu curd.

Instead I went back to marmalade.

Reasoning that perhaps my little yuzu jewels had more bitterness in their guts than the average citrus, I shopped around for a marmalade recipe that only utilized the zest. But I still wanted to make the marmalade set the old-fashioned way. So I subbed in pith from a pomelo. And since there are so many seeds in my wee yuzu, they have virtually no juice, so I subbed in Meyer lemon juice. And heck, why not throw in the pomelo fruit for some color and texture?

It tastes fresh and bright and looks beautiful in the jar, as you can see from the picture on the side here. AND it’s a little bitter, but not unpleasantly so. The recipe is below.

Sunshine Marmalade

Note: extracting the pectin takes about an hour and a half of simmering and cooling time, so plan accordingly. You’ll want to be able to be near the stove for about 2.5 hours, start to finish.

3-5 yuzu fruit (three if mandarin-sized, five if they’re smaller)
1 red pomelo, approx. 1-1.5 lbs. (can substitute red grapefruit)
1 large Meyer lemon
1-2 lbs of granulated sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)

Other equipment: a Microplane or similarly sharp, fine grater; 4-6 jelly jars, with bands and fresh lids to match; a medium-sized pot; and a wide-mouthed pot or pan, preferably enamel or nonstick. (I used a 12-inch nonstick frying pan.)

1. Thoroughly wash all the fruit, using a mild soap and lukewarm water. If you bought the fruit at a store, it’s wax coated, and who wants that in their marmalade?
2. Zest the yuzus, using the grater. If you don’t have one, carefully peel the yuzus, leaving behind every last bit of that incredibly bitter white stuff, and mince it into fine strips. Then cut open the yuzu. if it’s juicaeble, reserve the juice, but otherwise squeeze out the seeds into your medium-sized pot.
3. Peel the pomelo. (I cut off the zest to use for other stuff, but you could leave it on if you like.) Using a knife, cut a slit in the point of each pomelo section and remove the seeds and fruit. Set the fruit aside and pile the pomelo peel, seeds, and membrane into the pot with the yuzu seeds.
4. Take the pot over to the stove and add four or so cups of water, enough to mostly submerge the pomelo peels. Then set it on medium heat, cover it, and bring it to a simmer for about an hour. Add water if needed. After an hour, remove from heat and remove cover. Allow to cool.
5. Meanwhile, put two cups of sugar, the yuzu zest and pomelo fruit into the shallow pan. You can also use this time to thoroughly wash your jars in very hot water. I keep them warm in the toaster oven, set to 200°, but a pan of boiling water works too. And put a saucer in the freezer while you’re at it.
6. Once the pomelo peel and seeds have cooled enough to handle, strain out the milky pectin liquid. You can squeeze the chunks of pomelo pith a bit to extract more liquid.
7. You will now need to add four cups of liquid to the shallow pan containing the fruit. Start with the Meyer lemon juice, then add the pectin liquid. If you’ve got four cups total between the two, great! If not, add water to get to four cups of total liquid added to the pan.
8. Simmer the mixture until the sugar dissolves completely. Then turn up the heat to a rapid boil and cook for ten minutes. Use a spoon to break up any large chunks of pomelo; the rest will easily dissolve over time. Put your canning pot of water on to boil now, if you haven’t already.
9. After ten minutes, dip a spoon in and get a little sample. Blow on it, then blow on it some more—syrup holds heat. Taste it and see if it’s sweet enough for you, and remember that it’s still going to reduce and concentrate quite a lot! I think I used about three cups total. If you want to add sugar, do it , being careful to stir in the sugar till it dissolves completely. If it is too bitter for you, do not add more sugar to compensate: add a dash of salt! More sugar only makes it more bittersweet. (Oh, the poetry…)
10. Keep stirring the marmalade occasionally, and when the spoon begins to leave a wake as you stir, dip out a spoonful of the marmalade and put it on your frozen saucer. Leave it there for about a minute, and if the surface wrinkles when you touch it, or it doesn’t run when you tilt the saucer, it’s probably ready to be put in the jars and canned. You can also use a candy thermometer to monitor your progress; anywhere above 222° stands a good chance of being a good set, but it seems to vary from batch to batch.
11. Take it off the heat and let it sit for five minutes. Otherwise the pulp and zest will not be evenly distributed throughout the marmalade.
12. Fill your jars, apply the lids, and pop them in your canning pot. Process at a steady boil for ten minutes, then turn off the heat and let them sit in the canner for five more minutes before removing to cool. (Add one minute per 1,000 feet of elevation to the processing time.)

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