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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

There goes two days of my life I'll never get back

This stuff is worth its weight in gold.

I am a rule follower. If there is a form due on a certain day, I turn it in on or before that day. I don't ask if I can have an extension. If there are certain requirements for a project, I don't stop until I have completed all of the requirements. I don't pick and choose. I don't opt to skip part of it. I don't talk on my cell phone while I drive, and I always press the button on the crosswalk.

So imagine my disappointment when I followed all of the directions for a new recipe, and it just didn't work out. Not just any recipe, mind you. One that took two. days. to. cook.

Don't worry... there is a happy ending here. But I am not going to let you hear it just yet. Come, suffer with me!

As I have mentioned, my weekly box of produce comes with a newsletter. In addition to some information about being green and sustaining the earth, there is usually some hints as how to use the less common items in the box (how else would I have known that I have to eat the beet greens and not just throw them out?). Also, every week, there is a recipe or two.

I hadn't used any of the recipes until this week, since they haven't quite worked out with my needs. However, this time the recipe for orange marmalade struck me as sounding kind of fun.

I have been wanting to try canning some of the fruits and veggies. I wonder if it is at all possible that I may actually miss some of the things that are overwhelming me right now, once they are out of season. It could be that I will wish I had them back!

This week, the newsletter contained a recipe for collared greens (Which, ironically are not in the box this week), and a recipe for orange marmalade. I happen to love orange marmalade, so making it seemed like a great way to use up some of the many oranges, try out canning for the first time, and perhaps even have a gift for a friend.

I followed the rules. Both the recipe instructions, and the instructions printed on the box of brand-spanking-new mason jars I bought just for this project.

I chose 5 oranges and 2 lemons. I sliced them in half, cut them into thin strips, and placed them in a pot with water.

why oh why won't these pictures line up nicely?

Then I began to cook them...  According to this recipe, you bring it all to a boil, add sugar, and then let it sit overnight. On day two, you bring it back to a boil, simmer for two hours, and then boil again for a half an hour.

I did all that. I boiled, then simmered, then boiled. I stood by the stove for almost three hours, stirring, watching, scraping foam from the top.

Then, it was time to do the canning. First, I boiled the empty jars to sanitize them. Then, I carefully filled each jar up to 1/4 inch from the top. I put the lid on,  just so tight, and stood by the stove some more, so I could boil it again. 

These jars of marmalade came out beautiful! 

And not at all like marmalade! The dang stuff didn't set. It stayed like runny orange and lemon slices floating in sugary water. Which, it just so happens, is exactly what it is! 

I was ready to give up and rename it "Orange ice cream topping" ... or "Orange pancake syrup"... or "Garbage."

However, I decided to consult my friend Google. He told me that the recipe I used was more or less the same as every other marmalade recipe. He also told me that it needed to boil about half an hour... until it reaches 220 degrees. Well, that little piece of info made all the difference. That little piece of information and a couple more hours in the kitchen.

I unsealed my perfectly preserved jars, poured the stuff back in the pot, stood and stirred and scraped and boiled it for much longer than half an hour, until 220 degrees,  and then did the little refrigerator-plate-test that was suggested in one recipe. Voila! Marmalade! Finally!

Okay, ready, set go: Rewash jars. Put jars back in the boiling water to sanitize. Fill jars back up, tighten the lid just so, put them back in the boiling water to preserve. Boil 15 more minutes, check the lids again, and we're done ... just as soon as I wash all these pots, pans, spoons, ladles, thermometer, knives, etc. And wipe sticky orange goo off of every surface in a 20 foot radius.

Good night!

Here is the recipe that actually works:
Orange marmalade

4 large oranges
2 lemons
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless-steel pot. Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.
The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F. If you want to be doubly sure it's ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it's cool but not cold. If it's firm -- neither runny nor too hard -- it's done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it's too hard, add more water.)
Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars. if you plan to store it, be sure to seal it in boiling water.