cafe mama's kitchen

inconvenient eating

peel, slice, jar: nectarine lemon marmalade

It is Sunday, and I am holding church at my kitchen sink. I have scrubbed the ceremonial ceramic-on-steel with baking soda and sea salt; my fingers are pink and near-raw from hours in the hot water, washing plates and water glasses and stainless steel pots. I have brought to this aged font these orbs, licentious and bawdy, pink and blush-red and saffron and crimson, possessed of a scent so sensuous I gasp, open-mouthed, slurping, lip-licking, hungry to my very bones.

The faucet is on, again, this time cold and pure, sent kitchen-ward from mountains far and high, near and smoldering. Hood, Tabor, I have visited these stately reserves on my gasping summer runs, I have seen from whence this water flows. I wash the nectarines and grasp, hold, sharpening my knife before slipping the tip into the base of each fruit. X, stigma or signet, cauterization.

nectarines in the sink, with xes

I turn to the vat of bubbling water and, fingers gentle, final, plunge into the surging well. A minute. Just.

The blanch, this boiling water bath, softens the fruits not just to the touch -- and I lift them out with slotted spoon, gently, gently -- but to the light; the colors meld and flush, as the final burst of orange-pink before the sun's light disappears at night, seaward.

nectarines in running water

I bathe the nectarines again, the faucet still running cold, and lift the knife once more.

Each fruit, in turn, is slowly turned and peeled with the very edge of the paring knife, lifting the corners made by my "x" with blade and thumb, leaving fruit intact, as much as can be, behind. These pieces will be stirred and smashed and cooked for hours, but still, I do not care to waste a half-bite of these August treasures. Once naked, I set the fruit in the palm of my left hand and turn on its axis, slicing my knife surely into the nectarine's heart, removing wedges one by one. Finished with the most of it, I set the knife down a moment to eat, greedy, lusty, the flesh my blade missed.

I am making marmalade. I do not care for Blue Ribbon preparations. My nectarine lemon vanilla marmalade is bitter and tangy and heady-sweet in the back of one's tongue. Here is my process:

one. Blanch if necessary, peel and slice nectarines; five pounds, or so. Put flesh in large, wide, heavy-bottomed pot.

two. With a paring knife, very carefully remove just the zest from three organic lemons; chop roughly; add to the pot. With three or four more organic lemons (and, if you like, an orange or two) cut in half so you can remove the pith down the middle, and cut into thin small wedges, as if you are making iced tea garnishes for a low-budget cafe. Scraping aside the pith and seeds, push the lemon wedges into your pot, as well.

three. Cut one or two vanilla beans in half lengthwise and crosswise. Add to the pot, along with about a cup of honey. Good mild honey, that you have bought from a beekeeper who loves her bees.

four. Cook, stirring very often and with care (to avoid scorching, but please, mush at will), until it is very thick and will scorch if you cook it any more, two or three hours. Taste, adding more honey if it is too bitter, or a little sugar if you wish for it to last longer once you open the jars.

five. Put in jars, half-pint if you will eat it yourself and four-ounce if it must be gifts, leaving about 1/2" headspace. Process for 20 to 25 minutes in a hot water bath that is at least 190 degrees.

august 13. 2010 . comments

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