I wrote most of this from a coffee shop space with a big window overlooking both the Boston Garden and the Common. It was easily the best seat in the house, which I suppose is one of the perks of being unable to sleep past 7 am on a Sunday. Picture this. I’m drinking an Americano. Motown is playing. The sun is up, but just barely.
Technically, I’m attempting to write about marmalade. But a good part of me is watching people place their pastry and coffee requests. I'm using their orders to make assumptions about their lives. So I'm not entirely focused. And, in the interest of full discloser, I have a date with some buttermilk buckwheat pancakes around 9 am. Let it be known, I am easily distracted by pancakes. And stories I've weaved out of lattes and banana nut loaf.
That said, breakfast has never been my favorite meal. I'm not a cereal fanatic. I love eggs, but I don’t find a poached egg mutually exclusive to breakfast. It slips on top of a nest of pasta or bed of greens as well as it does on toast, as far as I'm concerned.
For me, breakfast shines best when it functions as an encore for dessert. Cake batter morphs into a respectable morning option when you put it in a loaf pan and pair it with a cup of coffee. Or cut a hole out of it and sent it off to the fryer. And this is what saves breakfast for me. That, and marmalade. (See also, jams: here, here and here.)
This marmalade is not as bracing as many others. Both the Meyer lemons and the kumquats impart a good deal of sweetness, so its bitterness is only sensed on the back edges of your tongue for mere moments. It’s dangerously close to a jelly, possessing just the right amount of jiggle. And it spreads easily on warm toast, melting carelessly into it.
It’s sunshine in a jar on cold winter mornings. But it’s not chirpy. Its sturdy British associations prevent it from becoming too cheery. Which means those who are not morning people—and likely avoid getting up at 7 am for no reason—won't mime sticking a finger down their throats when they see its bright tangerine hue.
So it occurs to me on my second Americano, caffeine pulsing and “If I Were Your Woman” playing—both coursing through my veins—that I might just be a converted citizen for breakfast. Provided that I have the right music, a good cup of coffee, and the promise of marmalade. All that and perhaps some buckwheat pancakes. These things take the cake for me. Breakfast cake or otherwise.
Meyer Lemon Kumquat Marmalade
Adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
1 1/3 pounds Meyer lemons
½ pound kumquats, divided
Pinch of salt
6 cups sugar
2½ ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
Dash of orange blossom water
Cut each of your lemons into eighths lengthwise (wedges) and remove their seeds. Take ½ your kumquats and cut them in half, lengthwise. Remove any seeds you see, but it is okay if a few remain. Add your halved kumquats and your lemon eighths into a saucepan that is large enough to fit your fruit slices into a single layer. Add cold water until the fruit bobs freely; cover and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Take your remaining ¼ pound of kumquats and halve them crosswise and then cut each half lengthwise into small strips, removing the seeds. In a separate saucepan (this can be smaller in size), add enough water to cover the kumquat slices by 1 inch. Cover and let sit it overnight in the refrigerator.
Bring the saucepan with the kumquat halves and lemon wedges to a boil over high heat (uncovered), add a pinch of salt, then reduce the heat to medium and cook at a simmer for 2-3 hours; as the fruit cooks, press down on it with a wooden spoon every 30 minutes or so. During this process, the fruit should have enough water to remain submerged; add a little water if necessary. The fruit is done when it is very soft, with the liquid turning syrupy.
When the fruit is finished cooking, strain its juice through a strainer into a large bowl. At this point, do a quick rinse of your large saucepan and then put the juice back into it. Set the strainer over the saucepan, so that it is suspended, then add the separated fruit pulp back into the strainer; cover the pan and the strainer with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare the kumquat strips by bringing them to a boil over high heat and then decrease the heat to medium and cook at a simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender and the liquid has reduced. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Place a saucer with a few metal spoons in the freezer so that you can test your marmalade for doneness.
Discard the fruit pulp that has been resting over your liquid and strain the kumquat lemon juice once or twice to remove any remaining solids. Rinse your large saucepan again. Pour the liquid back into your large saucepan and add the sugar, fresh lemon juice, and kumquat strip mixture; stir well.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat; the mixture will begin to bubble gently: do not stir it during this time. Once the mixture starts to foam, stir it every few minutes. It will cook for about 40 minutes. The longer the mixture cooks, the more concentrated it will get and towards the end you may need to stir it every minute or so, so that the bottom doesn’t scorch; decrease the heat slightly, if necessary. You can start to test the marmalade for doneness when its color darkens and the bubbles become small. At this stage, add the orange blossom water and stir to combine.
To test the marmalade, put ½ a spoonful on one of your frozen spoons and stick the spoon back in the freezer for 3-4 minutes. (It is ready to be checked when the bottom of the spoon feels room temperature). Tilt the spoon vertically; the marmalade should not run off the spoon and should wrinkle slightly if pushed up the spoon. If the marmalade runs, continue to cook it for a few more minutes and continue to retest, using additional frozen spoons as necessary.
Once the marmalade is finished, turn off the heat and skim any foam off the top; do not stir it. Let the marmalade rest for about 10 minutes and then fill one jar. If you notice the kumquat strips migrating towards the top of the jar, wait 5 more minutes before filling the remaining jars. At this stage, you can process the jars according to canning jar manufacturer instructions. Or place one jar in your fridge and the remaining jars into your freezer (or into the hands of friends).
Makes about 4 pints
-Yes, this is 3 days of your life devoted to marmalade. But it doesn’t rob you of too much time on any given day. Also, yes, the directions read more like a book, but they help guide you during the process, assuring you along the way that things are, in fact, going smoothly. Take it day by day.
-Worried you will have marmalade coming at you from all corners? You might. Do you go through shameful amounts of jams and jellies? Do you keep company with other marmalade-loving souls? If so, this recipe is for you. And please take comfort in knowing that I halved, yes halved, the recipe.
-The marmalade is worth it. In case you were teetering. Also, it appears that a pint of jam on the Blue Chair Fruit website would cost about 25 dollars. I'm not saying I wouldn't pay this much for it. But it's nice not to have to.