Friday, May 2, 2014

May's Preserve Trifecta Part One: Meyer Lemon Rhubarb Marmalade

Eating locally and seasonally is a hot topic these days, and while I like it in theory and the intentions behind it, it's much hard to practice than it seems on the surface.  I mean, Illinois has a relatively limited growing season, and there are just some things that will never grow here, even in our sweltering summers.  Bananas, pineapples, pretty much any citrus...if I strictly ate locally, these would be off limits.  Then there's the tricky issue of seasonality.  I try to store, freeze, and preserve as much fruit as we can hold, but there's some times when nothing will do except for some fresh blueberries, or a real strawberry.

But I do try to make the most of seasonal foods while they're here.  I'm just on the start of my canning journey.  I've been canning a couple of years, and while no one's gotten botulism yet, I still am not super comfortable with my canning skills.  Following a recipe, possibly making small alterations to the flavoring?  Cool.  Making my own up out of the blue?  No way, Jose.  Enter Preserving by the Pint, by Marisa McClellan, a great cookbook that my family gave me for Christmas.

This book is amazing!  I think it will really help me build my canning confidence, and I'm already brainstorming new flavor combinations to tuck into my own preserves and chutneys.  It's organized by season, and all of the recipes are smaller amounts.  It makes it a bit quicker and easier to can.  Instead of a whole day project, each recipe is more like an hour or two.  The photos are gorgeous.  The recipes make me drool reading them.  Seriously, the publishers should have considered laminating the pages.  It's that good.

This week has been dreary.  Rain, gloom, no chance to get out in the garden.  Which means extra kitchen time.  Time to test recipes.  I've gotten through a few new recipes, some more successfully than others (smoke alarm-inducing syrup attempt, yikes), and three of the preserves from the book (so far!) are all winners.  Rosemary Rhubarb Jelly, Honey-Sweetened Apricot Lavender Butter, and Rhubarb and Meyer Lemon Marmalade. Coincidentally, they also are extremely trendy, as they work together to form a nice ombre.  Ombre is so hot right now.

So, my friends, I'm going to share these jems with you.  Starting with Rhubarb and Meyer Lemon Marmalade.

Meyer lemons are not local for me.  But they are only available seasonally, and they are delicious.  I tend to overbuy them when I can find them.  Then I make yummy stuff like Meyer lemoncello.  Rhubarb, on the other hand, is extremely local.  As in, I have it growing right off of my back deck, 20 feet from my kitchen.  Rhubarb is also pretty seasonal, and that's one of my favorite things about it.  Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring, a ruby signal of hope that reassures me that my garden will soon be growing and providing fresh nourishment.  There's this small, slight bit of time where I can still get Meyer lemons when I can harvest rhubarb from my yard...perfect conditions for this marmalade.

This recipe is made over 2 days, but it's probably about an hour and a half of work, total.  Start by taking a pound of Meyer lemons and washing them with warm water and gentle soap.  You're trying to get that waxy layer of who-knows-what off of them.  Dry the lemons completely and move them to a cutting board.

Cut off and discard both ends.

Cut the remaining bodies of the lemons into 6 wedges, then cut the middle pith (white part) and seeds out.

Store those parts in a small bowl to the side, because they're going to be used.

Then slice the lemons into very thin pieces.

Put them into a bowl or measuring cup and cover them with 2 cups of water.  Take a piece of cheesecloth and tie the pith and seeds up in it.  This is going to be the pectin power pack in the recipe.  Once it's tied, submerge it in the lemons and water.  Cover that, set it in the fridge, and let it sit overnight, or up to 48 hours.

Prep a boiling water bath and 4 half-pint canning jars, lids, and rings.  Here is a good resource for how to set up water bath canning, if you need some help.  I still always do.  Want to keep that botulism-free record rolling, if you know what I mean.

Pour the lemons, water, and pectin bundle into a large pot.  Add 3 cups of sugar, stir to dissolve, and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Cook for 15-25 minutes, until it reaches 220 degrees (F).

While it's boiling, grab 8 ounces of rhubarb, rinse off any dirt, and slice it into very thin pieces.

Throw it into the pot for the last few minutes of cooking before it gets to 220 degrees.

When the marmalade is at temp, it should be pretty thick.  It's also hot, so be careful when you're sneaking a quick, delicious sample.  Take it off of the heat and funnel it carefully into jars, leaving a half inch of headspace.  Wipe the rims, put on the lids and rings.  Process it in your boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Here is another great resource for how to can using a water bath.

This marmalade is fantastically springy.  The color of it is like rose-tinted sunshine.  The sweet-tart flavor transports you to days of running barefoot through a field of flowers.  It's pretty much happiness in a jar!

Goes great on toast, scones, biscuits, bread, crackers, ice cream, warmed and drizzled over fruit or pancakes, or just straight from the jar with a spoon.

Stay tuned for the other preserves, and lots of other yummy treats!

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