three fruit marmalade, like sunshine in a jar

IMG_2432Winter has definitely arrived.  Frigid temperatures and dreary days are quite the norm and I am not thrilled.  Tasked with selling a house and packing to move 700 miles, I feel like I completely missed summer.  We arrived in our new home on the first official day of fall and I have been in a bit of a funk ever since.  Hard to believe but I truly missed the long days spent working out in the garden, shooing away insects, wiping the sweat off my face and nibbling on thick slices of freshly baked cake with friends…

Nothing has felt the same since we moved.  The stores are different and finding the ingredients I need is challenging and I often visit 3-4 stores just to buy most of what I seek.  Although, I can buy a bottle of pinot at 9am on a Sunday if I want because every grocery store in town sells wine.  But back at home, it sinks in, there is no garden full of cake nibbling friends here.  And then, before I even had a chance to blink, the holidays arrived and our girls came to visit.  Off to the stores I went in search of groceries to make it seem a little more like home for them as well as for us.

What most people do not realize is that citrus fruits come into peak season beginning in November.  Just walk into an Asian produce market and you will start to see the different varieties of fruits increase as the Chinese New Year approaches.  While this may seem like such a random thought to share, both of our girls were born in San Francisco and the city is home to the largest Chinese New Year Celebration in the world held outside of China each year.  Half a million people line the streets to watch the parade and it is an exciting experience.  The different fruits all have different meanings but the most important part, the stem with its leaves still attached which is a symbol of longevity and they are highly sought after for New Year Celebrations.

Years later, living in Tennessee, we missed this tradition and the ability to find a lot of the different fruits.  But over time, that slowly changed.  One thing that remained constant, our girls still love citrus fruits and a holiday season just isn’t right without a box of clementines on the counter.  While we do not have an Asian market close to our new home, clementines are so easy to find that I purchased a box on one of my trips to the store.  As always, there are a few that end up living on the counter for a while and this year was no exception.  The girls are not the only ones crazy for citrus fruits as my husband has a love for blood oranges.   On my last trip through Trader Joe’s I picked up a bag for him to snack on thus adding to the collection of fruit in the kitchen.  So that nothing would go to waste, I decided to try my hand at a batch of marmalade.


Since there were a dozen or so blood oranges in the bag, I decided to sacrifice a few and combine them with the clementines and a container of kumquats that was lurking in the fridge.  Yes, kumquats; a story for another day…  Then I began looking for a recipe.  Have you ever looked at marmalade recipes?  They are time-consuming and somewhat labor intensive.  Peel, dice the rind, simmer, drain and so on.  For a few minutes, I thought maybe not this time.  My desire to make just a few jars of marmalade was waning; I did not want to waste the entire day on this.  Then I picked up a small book from my shelf; Well Preserved, a jam-making hymnal by Joan Hassol.

Suddenly, the intimidating process of making marmalade seemed so simple, so easy, so hard not to make!  The recipe has basically four steps; chop the fruit in a food processor, mix all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 15 minutes, let it rest overnight and then simmer it again for 15 minutes.  Done.  Finished.  Finito.  No peeling, no slicing, no fuss.  Works for me!  Quickly, I cut 4 clementine and 4 blood oranges in half, removed the pits and cut them into chunks.  Then I cut the kumquats in half and pulled out the pits if they were large; this took about 10 minutes.  The food processor came out of the closet and I pulsed the fruit into a pulpy mess pretty quickly.  Sure, there were some large chunks but I didn’t give it a second thought.  Into the pot the fruit went a total of 4 cups of chopped fruit/juice with 3 1/2 cups of water, 8 cups of sugar and a box of pectin.   Once it had a gentle boil, I let it go for 15 minutes, turned it off and let it sit uncovered until it cooled.   Once it was cool, I covered it to keep it from collecting strays overnight.

The next afternoon, I brought it back to a gentle boil, let it go another 15 minutes and then put it into whatever jars I could find in the closet.  It was that simple, and honestly, I think I spent more time cleaning up than I did doing anything else.


Of course, homemade marmalade demands good bread and this is some we picked up from the Smithfield Bakery Cafe in Smithfield, VA, home to genuine Smithfield hams…yadda yadda.  No ham was consumed on our visit, just some really good sandwiches and salads and a loaf of the Honey Almond Bread.  A quaint little place, Smithfield was well worth the ferry ride across the river.

For the first time in a few days, the sunlight was streaming in through the kitchen windows and it made the bright orange marmalade glow.  Honestly, I expected more of a pink tint from the blood oranges but even so, I love the bright color.

IMG_2502Definitely sweet but so full of bright citrus flavor it really was like a little bit of sunshine to brighten my morning.


My favorite thing about the recipe was the use of a food processor and the whole fruit.  The irregular sizes of the rind make it look more homemade.  Now that I have finally found what I consider to be a foolproof method, I plan to make marmalade again.  The original recipe calls for the use of pineapple, lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit but allows for the pineapple to be left out.  It is all based on the amount of chopped fruit; for every 4 cups of chopped fruit, add 8-10 cups of sugar and 3-4 cups of water along with 1 box of pectin.  The amount of sugar depends on the sweetness of the fruit and the water depends on how thick you want it.  My fruits were a bit sweet so I used 8 cups of sugar and 3 1/2 cups of water.

The book is available on sites like amazon however, it is also available on googlebooks and I was able to view the complete recipe without having to purchase it.  Before you chastise me for that, my copy of the actual book is sitting right here next to me as I type, I merely did a search to see if it was online and it is.  As a published author, I respectfully ask that you consider purchasing the book ($12.80 on amazon, $14.99 from the publisher) or borrowing it from a library.  

gardening from the ground up; starting a new garden


When we moved from our home in Nashville, we had to leave our garden behind.  It was difficult to leave it; we had worked so hard to establish beds and more importantly, spent so much time nurturing plants of all kinds.  From herbs to fruit trees and perennials to attract beneficial insects and butterflies, our garden was a work in progress and we were sad to leave it behind and there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not miss that garden.

When we began the process of searching for a new home in Williamsburg, the layout of the yard was just as important to us as the house itself.  We knew it had to be a space where we could grow a garden that included honeybees and hens.  Luckily for us, we were able to find a home with what we think will be the place for a beautiful garden that will provide us with plenty of space to grow what we need to feed ourselves.  And yes, that is quite a lofty goal, to feed ourselves but  in the grand scheme of things, if all of us made the move to grow something to consume rather than purchasing it all, surely it would make a difference.  Of course, that is  providing it was done organically, but that is a conversation for another day.

For some time now, I have wanted to grow at least 50% of the produce my husband and I can eat.  As urban dwellers, we are restricted by laws that do not allow livestock and we are okay with that, we have no desire to raise animals for meat.  But fresh eggs and honey-those we can produce in our neighborhood and that is a great start. However, unless we get a garden growing, we are going to be purchasing everything from the grocery store.  

For the time being, I have put aside a serious search for employment in the hope of working from home.  Knowing that we would have a reduction in income, we made the decision to build our garden from free materials as much as possible.  Luckily, we have a lot of large trees in our yard and having trees means having lots of leaves!  We gathered up as many as we could and made piles all over the front yard so that they could begin the important process of breaking down into soil.  Gardening naturally and inexpensively doesn’t get any easier than the lasagna method.  Building the beds from the ground up, layer by layer makes beds full of natural humus teeming with beneficial micro-organisms.  The only down side; quantity.  Since everything breaks down over time, you need large quantities to fill beds.  For now, we have leaves and cardboard and a supply of coffee grinds and in time, our own compost.


Recently, I sat down and designed the layout for our garden.  We made the decision to use the front yard for our beds since it gets the most sun.  Our choice of the front yard seems odd to some but in all honesty, what purpose does a beautiful lawn serve?  It is time-consuming, it has to be mowed, chemicals come into play and in the end, you cannot eat it!  We have a dog and she too needs space to run, so the back yard is being reserved for things like a dog run, a chicken coop, a bee yard and whatever else we want to do out there-a barbecue pit comes to mind.


On a recent afternoon, we discovered a bunch of bricks laid out in the front lawn.  It seems that previous residents had a bed in the front yard and over time, the lawn grew over the bed.  We grabbed a couple of shovels and began digging them out of the lawn.


It was an oddly shaped bed built from a random selection of bricks that were most likely left from another project.  They circled a crepe myrtle and looped around a corner of the yard.  Since we were preparing to build our garden, finding free bricks was a happy surprise.  They definitely fit the budget and will come in handy for outlining a bed.


The bricks were in the lawn for some time, the grasses and weeds were well established over the tops of each brick and it was fairly easy to scrape it away.  The unhappy surprise, our soil is mostly clay.

IMG_2409 So what do we have here?  The cardboard serves as a compostable weed stop layer.  It will slowly breakdown and as the process takes place, the plants growing in the lawn underneath it will die.  We have been stopping by a Starbucks regularly for coffee grinds-did you know that they have a “Grounds For Your Garden” program? Not every store participates which is sad but if your local shop does, grab some!  We have been using them in our new beds by pouring some on top of the cardboard and then topping it off with the leaves.  The high nitrogen content of the grounds will help the leaves compost. Even with the discovery of clay soil, we are confident that we can be successful gardening out front.  The truth is, as the leaves, coffee and everything we layer into the beds breaks down, we will have a beautiful, black layer of compost that we can turn into the soil to amend the structure.  While the coffee grounds may not be organic, we are not using any synthetic fertilizers and that in my opinion, is a huge plus!

Be sure to visit here often to see how the garden progresses!