When my husband and I moved from Brooklyn back to Oakland in 2005 there were three things that I desperately wanted for our next home: a car, a dog, and a garden. The car came quickly, the dog is still on-hold at the mercy of our landlords, and the garden has changed my life. Not even an overstatement--it has changed our lives to have small urban gardens where we can grow our own food and dig our hands into the soil. (You can read more about my gardening story over on FarmMade.)
From the interest in gardening we became interested in canning. Strawberry jam started our love affair and in hindsight--strawberry jam is the perfect place to begin because it's relatively quick, easy, and forgiving. We moved through several more jams: strawberry-rhubarb, strawberry-raspberry, strawberry-olallieberry, cherry, cherry-plum, plum-vanilla, fig-ginger, and the list continues to grow. At some point, I decided that I didn't just want to make the jam but I wanted to grow, harvest, or gather most of the ingredients too. (No, I have not tried to grow vanilla or ginger. Not yet!)
A few weeks ago a neighbor offered up all her lemons. All her lemons. The good-sized tree in her backyard was producing faster than she could harvest. Of course, we accepted. And within just a few minutes we had nearly three dozen lemons. What does one do with three dozen lemons after giving some away, juicing some, and adding rind to anything imaginable? Marmalade. You finally make marmalade after years of wondering if you were ready. Such a big commitment but the time had come.
We were ready. We chose a pink grapefruit- lemon marmalade recipe from the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook and committed to the three-day process required. Wow. I was certainly relieved we had started our jamming love affair with strawberries instead of lemons. I would have been totally overwhelmed if I'd started jamming with a three-day recipe. (Beginning jammers--start with strawberries or cherries!) Our kitchen was consumed with citrus and sugar and several bowls of rinds, piths, and juices. I admit, it smelled like winter citrus heaven.
We're lucky to have the Blue Chair Fruit booth at our local farmer's market so we have the benefit of asking them all sorts of questions. (Like, "Why do you use so much sugar in your jams and never use all-fruit pectin? And why are your jams so unbelievably good?".) We also have the benefit of tasting their delicious jams on a regular basis--the Bergamot Marmalade nearly sent me into a food catharsis. Amazing. (If you're a fan of Earl Grey tea and a fan of marmalade you should probably treat yourself to this magical combination. And, don't worry, they did not pay me to say that.)
Once our three-day marmalade fest was over I decided it was time to make my own labels. Something I'd been meaning to do for--oh, I don't know, maybe 7--years since we first started with strawberry jam when we moved back to Oakland. I drew up a simple garland design, took a photo, edited the image in Photoshop, and made these jam labels. Of course, as soon as the labels were stuck to the tops of the jars I wished I'd made them sooner--kind of like the packaging on a handmade gift that took hours of crafting. It's worth the extra time after all that hand-making.
So, dearest marmalade, I'm here to tell the world that I am sold on your citrus goodness. You are fussy and time consuming and demanding... but, my goodness, you are certainly worth it. But don't worry, sweet strawberry-rhubarb, you will always be my first true love and always a favorite. And thankfully, you only take a few hours from fruit-to-jam.