They say when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. I beg to differ. Lemonade is great, but if you really want to show life, when it gives you lemons, you should make lemon curd... and if it gives you oranges, make marmalade!
So, one of the "staging" items I keep in the house now that it's on the market is a bowl of citrus fruit.
I'm not a big fan of fake fruit - real citrus smells better, is cheaper and can be used up. But since the house has been on the market for a month, and fresh fruit (even citrus) has a finite lifespan, we're always looking for things to do with the fruit when it becomes "not pretty" but is still edible. The first one was used for lemon bundt cake (which turned out awesome) and orange juice, but I was looking for something different to do with this one.
However, I had just bought salad and cooked chicken breast to get me through the next couple of days, and after that we are going to be gone for a week, so it had to be something we could eat up in a couple of days... or that would last until we got back.
I polled some friends online, and the most durable things that seemed to come up were lemon curd and marmalade. So, being a boggan, although I hadn't made either of them before, I decided to make both.
I did some digging for recipes, and found this wonderful site
that gave a fool-proof technique for preventing lemon curd from curdling when you made it. I'm all for fool-proof, so I decided to try it. And, since I LOVE lemon curd (and had enough lemons to do so), I decided to make a double batch.
First, I washed all the lemons and squeezed juice for the curd.
And, since I hate to see anything go to waste, I cut up the rinds (discarding only the tips and any icky pieces) and set it aside to use in the marmalade.
(Okay, I squeezed all but ONE lemon, which I saved for wedging to put in my rum and coke later tonight... A girl has to have priorities!)
Once I had enough juice (1 1/3 cups), I cut up 12 TBSPs of butter. The recipe said to use unsalted, but I didn't have any of that, so I just used the salted stuff I had in the fridge. (I'm lucky I had any real butter at all; we usually use a heart-healthy spread, but... the fates were smiling on me and my curd today!)
And, of course, the only thing that makes butter better is... sugar! 2 cups, to be exact.
Now, this is where the recipe I found differs from most traditional lemon curds. Rather than starting with this stuff on the heat already, you just cream the butter and sugar together like you would if you were making cookies or cake batter.
And then you add your eggs (still without heating). 4 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks, and cream together again. Because I live in Arizona, when I added the eggs, it turned out more like pancake batter than cookie dough, but your mileage may vary.
After the eggs, sugar and butter is all creamed together, add in the lemon juice, and mix well. THEN, and only then, do you put the mixture into a heavy-bottomed pan (you can use a double-boiler/bain marie, but I didn't have one) and begin to heat it.
LOW AND SLOW is the secret here. You don't want to bring it to a boil, you want to just coax it up to temperature, stirring constantly.
My mixture was creamy white on top and only below did it have the beginnings of the lemon-yellow that the whole mixture would eventually become. The creamy top was kind of frothy, so I switched from a whisk to a wooden spoon, in case I was incorporating too much air into it as I stirred.
As I heated it and stirred, it began to slowly thicken, and the creamy top incorporated into the lemon-yellow. It also became more glossy and translucent as it warmed up.
And, eventually it got to the proper thickness. The way to test is to pull the spoon out and drag your fingertip carefully through the coating. If the trail stays firmly in place, you're ready to go.
Then, I transferred it to a smaller bowl, put a sheet of plastic wrap over the top (to prevent it from forming a skin on top, and put it in the fridge to finish setting up.
Because I'm insane, I was also making the marmalade at the same time I was doing the curd. Basically, I chopped up the lemon rinds that were left over from the curd. (This gave me a great deal of consternation. I somehow felt like I was cooking "garbage", and really had to think about whether I was comfortable with doing this. In the end, however, I realized it was just like separating the eggs and saving the whites for my scramble the next morning rather than throwing them away. The marmalade called for citrus, rind and all, so it would have been silly to throw away perfectly good material that could be incorporated into the recipe.
So, moral conundrum pushed aside, I took the lemon rinds and sliced them thinly, then minced them into small pieces.
Then I sliced the navel and stem end off of the oranges (wow, they were really pretty!)
And then minced them, using the same sort of technique I would use for cutting an onion.
Some of the recipes I found suggested cutting the rind off the orange and either throwing it away or cooking it separately, but to be honest, I didn't have the patience for that. Although a couple of the oranges didn't have nice rinds, so I did pare the pith and rind off and just cut up the flesh into chunks, along with another lemon that had rolled away out of sight on the counter and so didn't get sacrificed to the curd.
I put the minced lemon peels and oranges into a big pot and added just enough water to allow me to stir it. I knew I was going to have to boil off the liquid, so I didn't go crazy with it. You're looking for "thick oatmeal/salsa fresca" texture, not "vegetable soup". Then I eyeballed about equal parts sugar to the amount of fruit I'd added, and put the whole thing on to boil.
Unlke the curd, I did want this to boil, so I put it at medium heat on my gas stove, and stirred it occasionally, rather than constantly.
Proof I really am crazy enough to be cooking two new recipes at the same time...
Eventually, the marmalade started to cook down. The peels got soft and began absorbing the sugar, so they were bitter-sweet, not just bitter.
It took a long time. Probably close to an hour (in which time I did everything from "cream the butter and sugar together" to "put it in the fridge" on the lemon curd.)
Some of the recipes I looked at called for pectin. I didn't have any. So, I didn't use it. Citrus pith and peel has a lot of natural pectin, so I was hoping it would be enough to firm up the marmalade. And if it didn't, well,then I'd have lemon/orange fruit syrup/ice cream topping/cake drizzle instead. Nothing that tastes this good ever would go to waste (just to "waist!")
However, it never did really start to firm, so I did some digging on other recipes (unlike the lemon curd, I was winging this from several different sources) and found a recipe that used gelatin rather than pectin for firming up... I happened to have two packets of flavorless gelatin in the cupboard, so I added those to the mixture and continued to cook it down for another 10-15 minutes.
Since I didn't have canning supplies, the marmalade is going to stay refrigerated, so I thought the gelatin was a good choice. I don't know yet if it has firmed up, but this is what they looked like when I got them ready for the fridge.