Thank goodness for easy, homemade holiday gift recipes! You’ve got some, right? Because this isn’t actually one of them. In fact, this is almost bizarrely time-consuming and fiddly. So why would you make it? Well. I’ll tell you. If you get in the right mood, it will actually be one of the loveliest couple of hours you’ve ever spent. You’ll get your kids in on the zesting of the fruit, for one thing, and your home will fill with the unutterably delightful fragrance of citrus. (It’s grapefruits, for heaven’s sake! It’s not like I’ve got you shucking clams or stuffing cabbage.) Plus, you’ll put some holiday music on (Try the Christmas station on Pandora!) and you’ll feel relaxed and happy knowing that, at the end of this afternoon of peeling and cutting and measuring and boiling, you will have jars and jars of gorgeous, glowing marmalade. And if it’s not on the top of everyone’s wish list this year—well, next year it will be, so I hope you enjoy making it. Because you’ll be making it again, I guarantee it. (When I threatened not to make it this year, my father sighed and said, “But what will we eat with our New Year’s Eve paté?” Okay, okay.)
Note: If you have never canned anything before, don’t feel pressured to start now. Do this instead: make sure your jars and lids are scrupulously clean by running them through the dishwasher and filling them while they’re still hot. And then you can simply refrigerate the marmalade until you’re ready to give it. It’s not crazy-perishable or anything: it would definitely do fine in the car on the way to, say, Buffalo.
Yield: 8 (or so) half-pint jars
2 large grapefruits (about 2 pounds total) organic ideally, and scrubbed well and dried
4 large lemons, organic ideally, and scrubbed well and dried
7 ½ cups water
5 cups sugar
¾ cup honey
A cutting board that doesn’t smell like onions
Clean cheesecloth and kitchen twine
8 half-pint canning jars with lids
1. Start by laying a large square of cheesecloth on your work surface. Everything you would typically toss in the trash or compost is going to go on the cheesecloth. Make sure your jars are clean; get them boiling if you’re doing the full-on canning. Put a clean saucer in the freezer. Put a pompom in the cat’s water bowl. (You can skip the last step: he’s already done it himself!)
2. Supreme the grapefruit. Do you know what that means? It means slice off the top and bottom, then lay it on a now-flat end, and cut down all around the outside of the grapefruit to remove the peel and expose the flesh. Deal with the flesh first: cut the segments free from the membranes, chop them roughly, and put them in a large, non-reactive pot. Squeeze the juice from the membranes over the pot, then add the membranes to the cheese cloth, along with any seeds you may have come upon. Now deal with the peel (along with the top and bottom you cut off): cut and scrape as much of the pith (the white part) from the rind (the colored part) as you can. Add the pith—you guessed it!—to the cheesecloth and use a sharp knife to shred the peel finely (I stack it up and cut across it to make super-skinny shreds). Add the peel to the pot.
3. Onto the lemons. Use a very sharp peeler to removed the rind (a great job for a child who won’t peel his fingers in the process!) then stack and sliver the rind with a sharp knife. Add it to the pot. Now supreme the lemon like you did the grapefruits, adding the roughly chopped flesh to the pot and adding the pith, seeds, and membranes to the cheesecloth.
4. Pour yourself a glass of wine, because the hardest part is behind you now.
5. Pull the corners of the cheesecloth together, and tie this bag up with a length of twine. Add the bag to the pot, along with the water, bring it to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to low, and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally just to check in on it, until the peel is tender and there’s about half of what you started with left in the pot. Remove the cheesecloth bag to a strainer, and use a wooden spoon to press and mash it and extract all the juice you can back into the pot. Discard the bag, or compost its contents. If you need to, you can cover the pot and stop now for a couple of hours, then resume a bit later.
6. Over low heat, stir the sugar and the honey into the marmalade until it’s dissolved, then turn the heat to high and bring the marmalade to a boil. Boil hard for 10-20 minutes until the setting point is reached. This means that when you pour a spoonful of it on the frozen plate and return it to the freezer for a moment, it will seem a little gelled and wrinkly when you push it with your finger, rather than running right off the tilted plate in a liquidy way. If it’s not done when you first check it, check it every five minutes until it is. But don’t wait for it to seem completely set, or it will set up too thick when it cools. A little loose is fine.
7. Turn the heat off and use a large metal spoon to skim any scum that’s formed. (“Throw away” the scum, by which I mean eat it when nobody’s looking.) Let the marmalade stand, off the heat, for 15 minutes, then ladle it into the prepared jars and seal them. If you are actually canning it, and are new to canning, consult a site like the Ball one: www.freshpreserving.com.
8. Allow the marmalade to cool overnight. Then prepare to be adored.