When Life Gives You Lemons…Turn Them into Syrup

Ed. Note: While I sat all morning and ran cards through the ATM, Julia worked her ass off selling Richfield Farms’ fabulous produce at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers’ Market all summer. I sat; she fielded questions about zucchini. I sat; she made change in her head. I sat; she hulled boxes back on the truck. Of course, she loved every minute of it and has now turned her attention to canning. Here’s her dabble in marmalading.

Despite the ridicule from my friends—all of them Southern with canning-loving grandmothers—dropping mostly not-so-veiled references to me being an 80-year-old Southern grandmother, and my boyfriend just saying I was nuts, I decided to become a canner. Over the summer months I put up dozens of jars of preserves, whole fruit and tomato sauce. Then November hit, the market ended, and I got bored.

Several weeks ago, after a canning lull, I began to feel the itch.  Trader Joe’s had organic meyer lemons – bingo. Now normally I’m not a big freak about organic foods, but with citrus, it’s different. The toxins from any sprayed pesticides are stored in the peel, and so for something like marmalade, which uses the peel, it’s important to start with a non-tainted fruit. Who needs pesticides on top of the always present botulism threat?

Not wanting to squander my precious finds, I did quite a bit of pre-marmalading research on my favorite canning blogs (One Green Generation and Food in Jars) and ended up creating my own recipe based off a few I found. Normally with canning I stick to a specific recipe—again the threat of botulism is scary—but lemons are super acidic, and there’s a lot of sugar, so I felt pretty safe taking a few liberties.

My first marmalade attempt turned out more like a syrup and the taste is fabulous: sweet, tart and acidic with the chewy zest providing a good counter point to the runny liquid.  Next time I’ll trust my instinct and let it cook longer. But I’m loving the new things I can do because of the more liquid texture: a salad dressing with red wine vinegar and a little olive oil; with mustard to marinate chicken; topping for vanilla ice cream; glaze for a cake; and of course, a way to dress up plain yogurt.

Meyer Lemon Syrup

First, give all of your lemons a good scrub. Then carefully peel them, removing just the yellow zest, and leaving on all of the white pith.

Working with a few strips at a time, slice the zest into small slivers. Combine the zest slivers with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes until zest is soft and pliable.  Drain when done and reserve cooking liquid.

In the meantime, remove all of the white pith from each lemon with a pairing knife and carefully cut out each segment.  Reserve segments and juice in one bowl and all membranes and seeds in another. Tie all reserved membranes and seeds into a bundle using cheese cloth—this will act as your major source of pectin.

Combine lemon zest, segments, juice, 4 cups of reserved cooking liquid and sugar in a large non-reactive pot.  Toss in cheese cloth bundle. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and cook for about 30-45 minutes until marmalade reaches and sustains 220F and/or reaches the gel stage.

Carefully ladle marmalade into hot, sterilized jars and process in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. After five minutes, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Let jars sit for 5 minutes and then remove from the canner.  Let jars cool, undisturbed for 12-24 hours.


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  • belmontmedina@gmail.com March 3, 2011  

    If you’re at all new to canning, marmalade is a great place to start- it’s super easy, and pretty much idiot proof (I took a marmalade making class and spent 90% of it asking “but what if I screw it up this way? How do I save it?”). Don’t cook it long enough, you have a great syrup. Cook it too long (not to the point of burning though), and you have a darker, slightly more caramelized version of standard marmalade. Mmmmmm

  • erica March 3, 2011  

    I love Food In Jars, thanks for introducing me to One Green Generation.

  • Marisa March 3, 2011  

    Hooray for marmalade! I’m sorry to do this, but I have to make just one picky point (I just can’t help it). Botulism is never a risk when you’re working with high acid fruits like citrus. It just cannot grow in high acid environments like this one.

  • Julia March 3, 2011  

    Thanks for your comment, most of my canning inspiration comes from your blog! As a relatively new canner, my fears of botulism are probably quite overstated, so it’s good to know that no matter what, this marmalade isn’t going to kill anyone!

  • Borracho March 4, 2011  

    Great post and definitely a must try. Anyone else think of Paddington bear the second you think of marmalade?

  • Karen October 7, 2012  

    This looks lovely and I would like to try it with the Meyers I found this week. But I don’t know how many lemons you used! Did I miss that part??

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