Can Jam January Challenge: Citrus

As mentioned here, I am participating in the Tigress Can Jam–January challenge, citrus!  I hadn’t thought I’d be hauling out the big ol’ canner until around six months from now, when the snow that is visible from every window in our house has melted away and the winter boots are safely stashed in the closet.  But as much as any fruit is in “season” in winter, citrus is currently at its peak.  (Nevermind that any kind of citrus tree would never stand a chance in Massachusetts–remember the Christmas luxury that oranges were for the March family in the most recent film adaptation of Little Women?)

While citrus was just the sort of sunny ingredient to bring a little warmth into the relative dark of winter, when I started to think through my options, I had to admit to myself that my enthusiasm waned a bit:  I am not the biggest fan of marmalades.  Despite using copious amounts of sugar (of which I recently became aware reading through a number of recipes), the cutting bitter taste is far too overwhelming and has meant that I have studiously avoided marmalades of all sorts.

But a challenge is a challenge!  I decided on the three citrus marmalade from Eugenia Bone’s Well Preserved.  Not only because I have a signed copy of the book, but because of one of the great features of her cookbook–each recipe comes with several ideas as to how to use it.  Since as I admitted above I’m not a marmalade maniac, I thought having some ideas as to how to use my upcoming stash of marmalade would be quite helpful.

Tigress says that one of the reasons for starting a canning challenge in the midst of winter is to work out all the kinks and be ready to go when summer’s bounty is coming in by the bushel.  I don’t know what other’s participants’ experiences with this are, but it was definitely the case for me.  This challenge took far more time than I expected–but not because of the recipe itself but due to my rusty preserving skill set (in my defense–I’ve really only canned three times before this so I can’t quite say I had it all down).  More specifically, it’s time for an equipment upgrade!

This recipe calls for one grapefruit, and three oranges and lemons.  The peels of one orange and two lemons are reserved for use in the marmalade as well.  Funnily enough, this marmalade recipe actually takes much less time than most.  The majority seem to require that the peel steeps overnight, while this one shortens the process by having you boil the peels with sugar and then steep for two hours.  Still, peeling the fruit, followed by scraping as much of the pith that remains from the peel is a bit tricky.  Or maybe my knives are too dull.  In any event, I learned I could be a bit less delicate with the peeling process and trust my knife to follow the curve of the rind so as remove the spongy white bits.  I probably could have done a bit better, but was satisfied with the following pile of rinds:

The prepared rinds are cut into matchstick sized pieces and set to cook, and then I continued removing pith–this time from the fruit itself–grapefruit, orange (I used cara cara) and lemons (regular, because I wanted to use organic).  Grapefruit in particular was the toughest to pick clean (and at the same time the fruit I was most concerned about getting clean to avoid lending too much of a bitter flavor).  Once I had gone through this process, all the fruit went into the food processor.  I snapped a photo before whirring the flavors together–isn’t the mix of pink, orange, and yellow just like something out of a candy shop?

I ended up with four cups of puree–the recipe estimates five, but requires you to measure so that you know how much sugar to add:  a 1:1 ratio.  I figured that, as usual, I was going to end up with less preserves than the recipe was expected to yield.  So I didn’t bother to heat that extra jar just in case (as is advisable…)

Here is where I really learn that my canning equipment needs a little tune-up.  A watched pot never boils was perhaps never more true.  After about an HOUR I think we hit a low simmer.  At this point I started to wonder (hey, I had a lot of time to think)–even though I bought the ‘beginner’ size canning kit last year, perhaps there was some other SMALLER option.  After all, my canner has always had FAR more space than I have ever needed (in my, um, long canning career).  Meanwhile I slowly brought the pulp to 220F, the temperature required for it to gel (thanks mom for the candy thermometer!)

Cutting ahead, yes, it did eventually boil and I was, at about 10:45 PM….at least the water was hot enough at that point to quickly come back up to a  boil (hearing the rattling of the jars in the bubbling water is a great sound!)   Notice the color change–from soft pastels to jewel-tone:

Not only did I easily fill four jars, I had enough leftover to fill another jar and a half!  Surprise, surprise…As you can imagine I was in no mood to sterilize, and then process, another jar so I just poured the extra jam into a spare, cleaned-in-the-sink, jar and popped that in the fridge.  So it’s not exactly “preserved” in the pantry, but will be good for quite some time in the fridge, so no waste there

As for the taste–it’s a bit bitter, but not in the way of marmalade–to me it is much like a “ruby red” grapefruit juice — clearly the grapefruit note dominates, but it’s just sweet enough to not leave you with a permanently puckered mouth.  (OK, so clearly I am not a fan of grapefruit juice here).  But it’s good. I do understand why the bitterness is necessary–I think without it you’d have a remarkably cloying product, but I suppose for me the balance is often off.  Here I think the flavors balance each other well, so I am quite pleased with this marmalade and it certainly exceeded expectations.  As further proof, my son loves it, and I don’t think you find too many toddlers with a fondness for grapefruit…I believe it might fall into the category of an “acquired taste.”

Oh, and I have solved, prospectively, the issue of the pot that never boils.  Immediately after finishing (late) I went on amazon trying to see if there was some other size canner I could buy, or even just a pot big enough to can a few jars in (and make my own rack out of lids).  Success!  I found an 11 1/2 quart canner that can process up to 7 pint jars (and likely more half-pints, which is what I’ve mainly used).  Now that I understand a bit more about canning, even that sounds like a huge capacity to me.  But it turns out I have a medium size 22 quart canner (as I later related to my shocked husband)–you can go up to a 33 quart monster that can process 9 quart-sized jars.  That’s a serious canner (and one that is impossible for me to imagine transporting from my sink to stove, much less finding a burner to handle it).

Also, if you are on a citrus kick, as if by magic, Eugenia Bone posted a recipe for meyer lemon marmalade.  I almost made that this weekend but after a bit of a leg injury it got postponed.*  I guess the Can Jam is releasing a bit of pent-up canning fever in me!

*(Yes, just what is called for in the third trimester of pregnancy, but after two days I am able to walk again so no complaints!  The pain is just getting me prepped for the big day I suppose…).

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12 thoughts on “Can Jam January Challenge: Citrus

  1. Pingback: Tigress’ Can Jam #1: “Citrus” – Citrus Marmalade « Family & Food

  2. Looks delicious, but the recipe seems…fussy. I’d take the pith off the grapefruit and ignore the rest. Also, FYI, if you haven’t bought that “smaller” canning pot yet, a regular stock/soup pot is plenty big enough for half-pint and even pint size jars!

  3. Hi, Sara! I’m also participating in Tigress’ Can Jam, and I made a multi-fruit marmalade, too, as well as a ruby red grapefruit marm. This is the very first time I’ve ever canned anything, and I’m just admiring your handiwork – and completely impressed that you’ve started this in your third trimester!

  4. I also thought my fruit mixture looked like something really artificial from the candy store because of the bright pink, green and orange ;-). Have you ordered that smaller canning pot? That candy thermometer looks cool? Is there a difference between thermometers for bread baking and a candy thermometer?

  5. Yum! That does sound good.
    I actually just can in my large stock pot, I use a wire canning insert, which I assume you have. You can also buy them online or at the store.

  6. I got a set of stainless pots for my husband a few years ago, and was blessed with a ginormous stock pot, in addition to a a couple of other sizes that work perfect for canning.

    I agree, less drama is very good 🙂

  7. Mmmm! Love the color of your marmalade!
    I was just laughing a bit to myself, because I have that GIANT canner. It comes in handy in the summer and builds muscles. LOL Although I usually start it boiling a “few” hours before I want to use it. 🙂

  8. I skip a knife for the rind and just use a good vegetable peeler–you get hardly any pith, then you just trim off all of the outside till you’ve got your jewel-toned naked pulp, quarter and toss into the processor (sans seeds, if you have those). I use all of the rinds for my jams.

  9. Pingback: Butterscotch Scones « Three Clever Sisters

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