I’m about to do something totally unbecoming. I’m warning you so that you can skip ahead, or stop reading entirely.
I know it’s awful to be all braggadocio about your weather, especially when you are from the Midwest, and the weather in the Midwest in February is the last thing anyone has ever bragged about. The thing is, though, that I’ve questioned my move to Seattle enough times, publicly and privately, that I need to set the record straight.
Yesterday, it was 55 degrees and the sun settled on everything: warm, intimate, embracing. Kiva all but pranced. I think I did prance. On the bus, the windows were open and there was a breeze and I was reading a book that didn’t, as my classmate Cynthia says, “feel like reading sandpaper.” This is why I moved here, for days like this, slivers of February that feel like April. I know the rain will be back, but right now, and for the next few days, we have sun and warm-ish breeze.
After getting home last night, and in celebration of the sun, I made marmalade. I have to confess I’m becoming kind of giddy about making jam. It’s strange because I prefer my toast only with butter, if even that, and find most store-bought jam too sweet. Yet, there’s something nourishing to me about a cupboard full of squat glass jars, each holding some preserved essence of a particular time and place. I started buying farmers’ market and small-batch jams to get that cupboard-full feeling, and found them to be a bit less sweet and a bit thinner than supermarket ones, which lends well to stirring into oatmeal or yogurt and granola, the hippie breakfast of champions. But, of course, because I am over the top, I bought way too many jams that I wasn’t eating. So many flavors that I’d never heard of, I had to try them all. Except they just sat in the cupboard, because I also liked just looking at them there, picturing their vibrant colors and textures behind the glass.
Now, I make jam. I am not allowed to buy jam that I think I can make at home. And citrus marmalade, which I love for its bitter and its sweet, seemed fitting for a warm day in February.
I decided to use Meyer lemons, which I’m guessing you can get in the Midwest somewhere, but which seem to be everywhere here since we’re so close to California. I just discovered them this year and I adore them. Their skins are thin, their juice is almost sweet, and they smell floral and almost unreal. I’ve been keeping a bowl on the counter so that I can smell them every time I’m on my way through the kitchen. Breathing them in, I picture living in a house with a Meyer lemon tree outside my bedroom window. And people accuse me of not being romantic!
Anyway, the marmalade splattered wildly and gave me a blistery burn on my knuckles. Not romantic at all. It started out a gloopy mess of water and sugar and rind and seeds tied in a bundle that I thought would never, ever reach its set point. Jam-making is like baking bread in that way. When I first started playing with dough, and even sometimes now, several years later, I can’t believe my first few minutes of kneading will produce anything resembling bread. The dough is too dry, too sticky, too craggy, sometimes, somehow, all of the above. Then, things somehow start working, despite or in spite of my uncertainty. Same with jam. I stare at the pot of fruit bits suspended in syrup. I stir it. It is wet and sticky and unappetizing. It does nothing for twenty minutes. I’m worried my jam will need to be renamed: “fruit bits in syrup.” And then, somehow, without much input from me, it sets up. It clings to the sides of the pot like it’s supposed to. It sustains its temperature, even after I stir it down. I can hardly pat myself on the back, because all I did was worry it wouldn’t come out right.
So it was with the marmalade, and yet, it gelled nicely, after about 45 tedious minutes. It remained wickedly bitter and retained its texture, which I like. And now, I have two pints of marmalade to tuck away for a rainy day, when toast and tea and a sunny yellow preserve is in order. I’m certain there will still be many of those before spring.