Sometimes Mother Nature really irks me. This is one of those times. We finally tasted the beauty of the spring of 2011 only to be pulled straight into an unending succession of rainy, damp days. Then came heat and humidity the likes of August in the Midwest. Now we’re back to the cool, crisp days that we have come to expect during a New England spring. We may have survived The Rapture, but I’m not sure that I will survive another week of Mother Nature’s roulette wheel of spring weather.
This winter was a tough one. In fact, I’ve already labeled it as The Winter of My Discontent. It seemed as though it would never end. Even the chickens here at the farm seem visibly happy to see that spring actually exists. Given that they were hatched last fall, I can easily believe that they wondered if the existence of spring in New England was the chicken equivalent of Area 51.
Back to spring. Its presence allows me to happily dream of spending eight hours a day working in the summer vegetable garden. I know that there will be months of hard work before we eat our first tomato in spite of the fact that they are already planted. I know that some vegetables that I spend hours planting and tending will do their best to disappoint me. I have only to think about the Three Sisters Garden that I toiled over last year. I spent weeks preparing the planting bed and months tending to the beans, squash, and corn only to end up with nothing more than a handful of beans and a few corn husks to show for it.
It’s okay. I’m a gardener. I’ve made peace with last year’s disappointments and I’m ready to try again. I know that the rewards will far outweigh the frustration. In fact, it won’t be very long before we can start harvesting strawberries and making fresh jam. At least I hope that it won’t be long. We’ve been waiting rather impatiently since late December when we reluctantly finished the final jar from last summer’s garden.
While I can’t garden during the New England winter, canning has no season. I’ve been keeping my jam skills fresh by making clementine marmalade all winter. It helped me shake off the months of cold mornings in our farmhouse. It’s bright citrus flavor and surprisingly earthy vanilla undertones reminded me every day that I was one day closer to spring.
Like gardening, this recipe requires a few tools in order to do it correctly. A mandoline and a food scale will make the preparation easier. If you don’t have a mandoline, you could slice the clementines thinly with a very sharp knife. Without a food scale, you will be left to guess just how much sugar needs to be added to your fruit mixture. I’m an adventurous cook, but guessing on this one could translate to spending an hour preparing a mixture too thin to pass the gel test, so I prefer the scale.
I’m off to make my last batch of clementine marmalade for the season. I have to. I only have two jars left. I know that we have a few more weeks of unpredictable spring mornings looming ahead of us before I can sigh with relief that summer is here.
I’ll be thrilled to see summer when it finally arrives, but I will be sorry to see my marmalade season come to an end. Well, I’ll be sad until the first batch of strawberry jam is bubbling away on the stove and perfuming the kitchen with the aroma of summer. Until then, I’ll be happy to have a spoonful of sunshine on my breakfast plate.
Clementine Vanilla Marmalade
yields 5 half pint jars
I can’t take credit for this recipe. I found it by pure luck on the Seasons and Suppers site. It is perfectly written and yields me predictably delicious results.
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Place plates in the freezer for use in gel test. Wash clementines and place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Chilling the clementines will make it easier to slice them.
Using mandoline, slice seven of the clementines on the 1/8″ setting. Remove any seeds and place slices in large saucepan. Add cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for ten minutes. Drain clementines and discard the cooking liquid.
Once the simmered clementines are cool enough to handle, roughly chop them using a knife or food processor until they are the desired texture. Weigh the fruit and return the chopped clementines to the saucepan. Add sugar to the saucepan equal to the weight of the fruit. I like to mix white and brown sugar at a 50/50 ratio to achieve the total amount of sugar required.
Prepare the canning pot with a rack in the bottom by filling with water and bringing it to a boil. Sterilize the half pint canning jars and lids and keep warm until ready to use.
Juice the remaining three clementines. If necessary, add water to the juice in order to equal one half cup of liquid. Add this liquid to the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil until the mixture passes the gel test when allowed to cool on the chilled plates set aside in the freezer. This process will take between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the amount of liquid in your mixture.
Once the mixture has passed the gel test, remove the marmalade from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Ladle hot marmalade into sterilized half-pint jars. Remove air bubbles from the side of the jar. Using a clean cloth, remove any residue from the rim of the jar. Place a lid on the jar and tighten with band. Gently lower the filled jar into the boiling water canner. Repeat until all jars have been added to the pot. Place lid on canning pot. Return water to a boil.
Process half-pint jars of marmalade for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and remove lid from pot. Allow to sit for five minutes. Carefully remove jars to a towel lined baking sheet. Allow jars to cool up to 24 hours before checking the seals and labeling the jars for storage.
Properly sealed clementine marmalade can be stored up to one year.