The focus of the next few posts, however, will be the numerous notable culinary events that led up to the Big Violet Event (we wear purple gowns: though sometimes a very tough-looking bobcat parades around our [scarce] sporting events, our official mascot is a violet). My parents came to visit and begat opportunities for blogging about marmalade, a cooking spree, and several restaurants.
First things first: The Marmalade. Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade, to be exact.
There are several important components of my Marmalade Experience. They are:
1. The inspiration. I will now issue a warning: this marmalade is contagious. I caught it from Tea (although I had first caught the lemon bug from Cream Puff), who caught it from Messy Cucina. You can read about our various results.
2. My previous jamming experiences. There is a place in my heart for homemade jams and jellies; growing up part-time in the North Georgia Mountains, I spent summers concocting wild blackberry jam with my mom (along with canning applesauce and the various fruits of our vegetable garden). I will never think about homemade jams/jellies/marmalades without remembering coming in - scratched, bleeding, twigs in our hair - bearing buckets of blackberries, ripe for jamming.
3. My new gourmet market discovery: Garden of Eden, on 14th St. near 5th Ave. After hunting for Meyer lemons in various markets for a couple of weeks, I found them quite by accident while shopping for sofa cushions (to adorn my new, premium sidewalk-find pullout) in this specialty market - which also carries red corn (which we grilled on the roof) and fiddleheads (which you'll read about presently), among many other things. The lemons were so beautiful: gold and soft with leaves and stems still green and pliable.
4. Buying a vanilla bean. I had immediate success finding one at the specialty food imports store around the corner, Truffette (aka. S.O.S. Chefs), which is a truly unique shop that carries a zillion different mushrooms (including black truffles), a dozen oak drawers full of flavored salts...they carried four different varieties of vanilla beans! I got one of the "regular" ones ($6). So exciting! Embarrassingly, I wasn't really sure what to expect inside a vanilla bean...when the recipe tells you to scrape out the seeds, I guess I assumed there would be big seeds, like peas. Imagine my surprise when I opened up the priceless pod to find the fragrant paste inside!
5. The pectin problem. In the South, your average gas station probably carries pectin - because canning jams and jellies is a normal household activity. In New York, however, you're lucky if a grocery attendant knows what pectin is. (I've had similar problems finding frozen pie-crusts here...not that I use those...) I thought I had solved all my problems when I thought to ask the importers at Truffette if they carried pectin and they said yes, and that it was even pure citrus pectin (perfect for marmalade!). I came to discover, however, that they only sold it by the kilo - meaning I would be making marmalade every day for the rest of my life. After visiting several local stores, I was about to give in and buy a freakin' kilo of pectin when I found out that a kilo of pectin goes for the bargain price of $75. Now, I wanted Meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade badly, but not that badly. Thankfully, the sympathetic Truffette employee made some calls and found a market that carries organic pectin nearby: Commodities Natural Market.
6. The party. You know, I cook because I really, really enjoy it. In fact, under the right circumstances, cooking really cool, involved things like Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade can make me slightly euphoric. Friday evening began this way, with me gently slicing the beautiful, juicy lemons with my bad-ass new knife (thanks, mom!), when parades of semi-drunk college brats began falling up and down the stairs to the roof, where a party was in full swing. By the time the lemons were simmering in a saucepan, the party-goers had progressed from semi-drunk to completely wasted, and their escalating inebriation was accompanied by escalating numbers, volume, and glass breaking. There is only one other apartment of students in the building besides mine (and they only moved in recently), so I knew who the hosts were, and though I found the burgeoning revelry somewhat disrespectful toward the building's other occupants, I also felt like a crabby old lady and tried to concentrate on my marmalade-in-progress and rejuvenate my euphoria.
That was until - right as I was euphorically scraping seeds out of my six-dollar vanilla bean - they started peeing off the roof.
Onto my fire escape.
Where my plants are.
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.
To spare you the gory details, I'll say simply that verbal abuse was projected at the perpetrators and nasty letters written to the (ir)responsible hosts. Administering said abuse nearly caused my marmalade to overcook. Then I really would have had to show them what's what.
So. A lot of ire went into my marmalade. And I think it made it taste even better.
Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
1 1/4 pounds whole Meyer lemons
5 cups water
1 box fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 to 8 one-cup canning jars with lids and bands
Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.
Work on a large plate to catch juice and cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds.
To soften fruit: In a large non-reactive pot (such as stainless steal), bring fruit, juices, and water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes.
Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. (If desired, in food processor or small grinder, grind empty vanilla pod and add to pot as well.)
Add pectin and bring to full rolling boil, stirring constantly on high heat. Add sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 min., stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.
Immediately ladle into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with two-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil.
Process 5 min. Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middles of lids with finger. (If lids spring back, lids are not sealed and you'll need to keep them in the fridge).
Let rest in a cook dark place for two weeks before enjoying.
I didn't bother with that last part.
(Recipe courtesy of Messy Cucina)