I have a confession to make: I had a serious case of the jam jitters.
Don’t get me wrong. I love jam. In fact, I enjoy it almost every morning, spread thickly on sourdough toast or an English muffin.
But I had never made jam.
You see, I was a can-o-phobe. There are some notable culinary life passages we all face: Cooking that first Thanksgiving turkey. Baking something with yeast for the first time. Shucking that first oyster. Add to that list, jam-making for me. I’d conquered those other rites long ago. It was high time to tackle this one, too.
When I won a load of homegrown Meyer lemons from 5 Second Rule’s recent raffle, I wanted to put them to good use. So, Meyer Lemon Marmalade with Vanilla Bean seemed like a most fitting tribute.
Jam-making veterans had told me how easy it was to do. They took such pleasure in doing something so old-fashioned and nuturing, and not to mention cost-effective in this horrific economy.
For years, I had put off trying my hand at jam. Well, I’d have to buy a water bath canner, for one thing. I’d heard horror stories of jams that didn’t gel. And I worried I’d end up poisoning friends and family members alike if I screwed it up.
Can-o-phobia, I tell ya.
So, this recipe was perfect for a neophyte like me. It required no water bath canner or any pectin. It consisted of only lemons, sugar, salt, water, and a vanilla bean. I could store the jam in jars in the refrigerator after I’d sterilized them in the dishwasher. It was as easy as can be.
I used a mandolin to slice the Meyers thinly, and then removed all the seeds. As the lemons simmered in a big pot on the stove with the other ingredients, the house smelled incredible. Meyer Lemon #5, anyone? The natural, fresh, floral, citrusy fragrance was as intoxicating as any expensive perfume.
My only hitch was that I couldn’t get the boiling mixture up to 230 degrees. I came up 10 degrees short, no matter how long I simmered it or at how high of a heat. No matter, the jam set up perfectly once it was refrigerated for a few hours.
As I stared at my jars, looking for all the world like they were imbued with pure sunshine, I admit that I felt proud. And when I spread my marmalade on toast each morning, I smile at its sweet-tart taste, and its thick, rind-laden, pulpy texture.
Forget about it.
Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade
(Makes about 4 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 pounds Meyer lemons
5 cups water
5 1/2 cups (about) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch of salt
Working on a large plate to catch juice, cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds. Pack enough lemons and any juice to measure 2 1/2 cups. Transfer to a large nonreactive pot. Add 5 cups water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand uncovered overnight.
Measure lemon mixture (there should be about 5 1/2 cups). Return to same pot. Add equal amount of sugar (about 5 1/2 cups). Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Add pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Attach clip-on candy thermometer. Maintaining an active boil and adjusting heat to prevent boiling over, cook until temperature reaches 230 degrees, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to jars. Cover and chill. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.)
Note: If you have trouble getting the mixture up to 230 degrees, use a trick I learned from cookbook writers Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein. When boiling the marmalade mixture, add the peels from one apple, wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with twine. The natural pectin from the apple skins will help thicken the marmalade to the perfect consistency even if you can’t get the mixture heated to 230 degrees. Just remove the cheesecloth-wrapped peels before transferring the marmalade to jars.
Adapted From Bon Appetit magazine, February 2005