We have this kumquat tree in a tub, out on the deck at our Los Angeles home. It produced a spectacular crop of those delicious little citrus fruits this year--tart on the outside, bittersweet within. I like to eat them from the tree, or slice them up and add them to the fruit in my cereal. But a whole crop...? What to do with so many of them?
Well, marmalade, of course. After more than fifty years in the United States, I cling obstinately to two old English habits: a cup of tea in bed in the morning, and marmalade with the breakfast toast. Nothing else will do--especially not the orange jam that too often masquerades as marmalade in this ill-informed country. It's as bad as what passes for a cup of tea--a pathetic limp teabag immersed in tepid water. To make tea, the water must be boiling, for heaven's sake. And it's made in a pot. The pot should be warmed before you pour the boiling water on the tea--and preferably the cups, too--or the tea will be cold before it can reach your lips. And don't forget the milk and sugar.
Forgive my rant. As for marmalade, it must be made with Seville oranges, the tart kind, and you can't buy them in your grocery store here. Otherwise, made with regular oranges, you get the orange jam that I unabashedly despise. Sweet stuff. No tart edge to it, as marmalade requires. So normally I buy imported marmalade: Keillor's or Dundee. Or Robertson's, with the, ahem... golliwog logo. (Is that still allowed in the UK?) I prefer the thick cut variety, but Robertson's Golden Shred, though thin cut, is decent enough. Silver Shred, I believe, is the marmalade Robertson's makes with lemons.
Anyway, kumquats. Nice and tart. Surely they'd make good marmalade, and I had a tree full of them. Never having made marmalade before--nor jam, for that matter--I looked up the recipe online. It looked intimidating, particularly the part about sterilizing the jars and sealing them. Still, I set myself the task. I had to borrow from my friends the Joneses a pot big enough to do the sterilization part, and yesterday did the cutting and slicing of the kumquats--plus, as the recipe had it, a couple of oranges. I was careful with those; and, fearful of their sweetness, substituted half a lemon for some of the orange. Put the whole lot in a pot with the requisite amount of water--it seemed like an awful lot--and set the mixture aside to settle overnight.
This morning, I was up early. Expecting a business call at 9:30, I thought to get the job easily finished and still leave time for breakfast. Not so. I was still munching hastily on my toast when the telephone rang... Still, following the separate instructions for the sterilization and the cooking of the fruit, I got a good start. Steeped in boiling water, the jars and their lids proved simple enough to prepare; and aside from a couple of minor scalds to hands and arms, I was ready to get them filled.
Trouble was, at this critical point, the fruit mixture was supposed to be gelling, and could see no sign of it. I stirred and skimmed, and skimmed and stirred, but even after a half hour, the liquid seemed as watery as ever. Was it supposed to take this long? Was I simply being my usual impatient self? I called Brian Jones for help, and he made reassuring sounds. I noticed, soon, that the mixture was in fact gelling pretty nicely around the stirring spoon, where I set it down, so I decided it was time to go for broke, and started ladling the marmalade into the glass jars; and sealed them up, I thought, quite successfully with the metal rings.
I made five small jars; there was still some left over, so I put it in a spare jar that remained unsealed. It gelled into a perfect marmalade-y texture, and Ellie and I tried some of it on toast for breakfast. Delicious! I was still enjoying it when the phone rang with my business call. We'll see how well I managed to seal the other jars, and how well they'll be preserved. All in all, I felt pretty pleased with my first experiment in marmalade-making. Best of all, it does taste like marmalade, not jam!