February 17, 2011

first, last, best

Every time I make jam I think "THIS is my favorite kind of jam!" There's strawberry, I mean, strawberry, it's just, well, it's strawberry jam. And then blackberry which, if I get a chance to make some just tastes like summer to me. And even better than blackberry jam, there's apple-blackberry jelly which makes me swoon. Apple butter is a must, it just has to be made and lemon curd, well. I could just about live on lemon curd and scones alone. But marmalade? I think it might actually be my favorite preserve.

Depending on how you look at it, marmalade is either the last or first jam of the year. Last if you are talking the last thing you make before spring planting and first because it's the first after the new year. Either way, it's probably the most exciting to make for me. All of the other jams, with the exception of Lemon curd which follows right on the heels of marmalade, are made during gardening season, which means that they are done around the making of other garden producey things like tomato sauce and frozen corn and passata. So while I love them, they are sometimes just one more thing that needs to be squeezed into the week before things are overripe. But Marmalade is like being able to throw the doors open in February because of an unexpectedly sunny day(which, incidentally, I was able to do while making this batch). It's just what you need after a long, cold winter.

This year I made straight marmalade. No mixed fruit, nothing fancy, just oranges and sugar, and a little lemon juice for sweetness. It's probably the prettiest jam I've ever made, golden and light and almost sparkly. I went a little Dorian Grey on it and spent a lot of time just staring at a jar sitting in my kitchen window yesterday while the sun shone through it. And you don't even want to know how many photos I took. Ridiculous. But so pretty. And tasty.

We went through a lot of marmalade this year, more than I had expected. Partly because my friend Tara served breakfast sausages cooked with marmalade last spring and now I can't cook them any other way (you just stir a tablespoon or two in with the raw sausages before popping them in the oven and give them a shake every now and then while they are cooking). Delicious. But also, I just like marmalade, especially at breakfast, and especially with buttered bread. See, I didn't even make it to the office before taking a bite.

I used the recipe from The River Cottage Handbook No. 2 this year. This has, hands down, become my favorite preserving book. Every time I open it to look up one recipe, I'm reminded of three more I've been meaning to try. It's not a very big book but it is simply packed with goodness. If you don't have it and you even think you might want to make jam sometime in your life, go get it. And if you've never made jam, marmalade is actually a pretty easy place to start. It's a bit time consuming with all the slicing of peel, but there's no messing with pectin or skimming foam or any of that, so it's a decent first time jam. And if you are in Charlottesville I noticed that Retail Relay has some specials of citrus right now. While your at it, grab some lemons, because lemon curd is divine, in fact, it might just be my favorite jam...