“THERE HAD BEEN earlier drinking than usual in the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge… This had been the third morning in succession, on which there had been early drinking at the wine-shop of Monsieur Defarge.”
Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
It takes three days for Rachel Saunders’ Blue Chair Jam Cookbook recipe entitled Meyer Lemon Marmalade with Mandarins & Lavender. My only prior jam/jelly experience has been decidedly “small batch” compared to this undertaking, and the mystery of how to make the stuff gel has sometimes escaped me. This is a big recipe and I opted not to reduce it in the hopes that my gelling problem would be avoided. I ended up with about 8 cups. The success of this adventure remains a bit of a cliffhanger. I am not supposed to move the filled jars until tomorrow morning when they’re cooled. To move them before they cool overnight is to risk un-gelling.
I encountered problems.
The first problem was mandarins; specifically, there are none. I got fat California tangerines, not tiny Clementines, but orange-sized fruits a lovely golden red orange instead. All fruit, including the 4 ounces of Eureka lemon juice from lemons I picked myself, is organic. The sugar is not, regrettably. Since they are a bit more tart than oranges – one might even say bitter, if one was inclined to dramatic foreshadowing - I increased the sugar. So, I actually attempted to make Meyer Lemon with Tangerines & Lavender Jam. The tangerines are discarded after cooking down to a sticky broth and draining overnight, but their juice is a redder gold than oranges and imparts a deeper color to my final product.
The second problem was finding what Saunders optimistically calls “doneness.” She says that will take boiling the lovely ingredients “at least 30 minutes” but neglects to specify an outside time. She also has a doneness test more complex than learning to fly a B737 that involves taking a “representative half-spoonful” with pre-chilled spoons chilled and returning the sample to the freezer for a somewhat imprecise “three or four minutes”. She instructs you to freeze five spoons for this purpose. Two and a half hours of rapid cooking and about 12 spoons later, the gloop was still dripping off the spoon, albeit more slowly. Perhaps I’m unskilled in selecting a truly representative half spoon consisting of a jury of my peers; which is ironic because some of my best friends are slow drips.
Instead of using a lavender sprig, I put some culinary (French) lavender in a muslin bag and moistened it with about 4 drops of lavender extract. Then I put the bag in instead, as the recipe instructed, when the mix was removed from the heat.
By this time, my blood glucose level was probably in the low thousands from continued tasting of the delicious gloop drips. You don’t expect me to let the stuff drip off the spoon and down the sink do you? It’s delicious. And the payoff for risking a blood sugar spike that might leave me comatose, was that I learned something that, let’s say, justifies the tasting. The volume of my jam was reduced by more than ¼, and as water was lost in steam, the remaining liquid got heavier and sweeter. So while I offset the bitter tangerine taste by adding an extra half-pound of sugar to the 2.5 pounds of sugar specified in the recipe, I’m glad I didn’t add more because the mix gets much sweeter as it evaporates water and thickens.
In addition to the specific challenges enumerated above, and not even counting probably even more I’ve blissfully already forgotten, I overcame a number of general problems.
First of all, for some reason possibly related to all my bad karma coming home to roost, everybody called on the phone today – each call arriving at the perfectly awful time when I had sticky hands. Tech Support Guy was out shopping. He called. The cooking store has my new slow cooker, aka crock pot. They called. The furnace filter guy is going to be late, is that ok? Ok? I didn’t even know he was scheduled. But interruptions derail my train of thought, as well as my jam procedures and I had to wash my hands about 100 times because of interruptions. And this floor isn’t going to get itself sticky, you know.
Then there is the stipulation of the parties that I’m a klutz. I’m what you’d politely call “clumsy,” and working with sticky stuff in spoons being carried back and forth from stove to freezer to sink, was a Challenge that defeated my pathetic attempts at Poise with one hand tied behind it’s back. Turns out however, the floor took on a delicate non-skid sticky quality that actually steadied me. Finally, I used some delightfully shaped jars that hold 4 ounces, and filling them without a proper funnel is an exercise in making a sticky mess. The small sized jars enable me to give samples to friends – assuming I’m not ashamed of the final product tomorrow. Counter tops are also sticky enough that I believe my cat would be stuck like a fly to a flystrip had she attempted to traverse them. My stovetop is a mess worthy of the witches scene in Macbeth.
But there are rewards already, even though the final mission is yet to be accomplished. First, the house smells yummy with lemon and garlic. And no. I was roasting some garlic and onion to add to the fresh asparagus and broccoli and bok choy harvested from the Veggie Garden this morning. I was caramelizing the garlic and onion tossed in garlic olive oil and balsamic vinegar and roasting in the tiny toaster oven. The roasted onion garlic mix is now marinating with the green vegetables and will be returned to the toaster oven for dinner. Surprisingly, lemon and garlic work on an olfactory level.
And here’s the real payoff. Figuring my blood sugar was pretty much toast anyway from all the tasting, I found a way to use the leftover jam that wouldn’t fit in the jars I’d sterilized - about 1/3 of a cup: 3 parts vodka, 2 parts runny lemon lavender marmalade, and a dash of lavender bitters. I’m having the first martooni I’ve had in months. So, like that flyer I got in this afternoon’s mail, I may already be a winner.