When you walk into the kitchen during marmalade season, you’ll hear the “Marmaladies,” as we affectionately call our highly skilled kitchen crew, singing at the top of their lungs. They’re cutting, measuring, and stirring–taking cases upon cases of strawberries and blood oranges and turning them into something magical.
L: Our marmalade-making crew ; R: Cutting blood orange rinds by hand
Like we said back in January, marmalade-making is delicate chemistry. We can only make it with fresh citrus, not frozen, so we make as much as we can January through April to last us until the following citrus season. Marmalade, like conserves, is all about the balance of flavor, sugar, and pectin. The flavor comes from the fruit (or combination of fruits) and the zesty bits of peel we sprinkle throughout the mix. The minimal amount of sugar we add balances the acidity. We use far less sugar than the average fruit spread contains, since the fruit we use has such high Brix levels (or natural sugar content) to begin with. And lastly, the pectin thickens the mixture. We don’t add any artificial pectin. Instead, with our Meyer Lemon Marmalade, we get natural pectin from the “pith” or the white part under the rind. We don’t toss it into the mix though, we essentially squeeze the pectin out in liquid form. For the Navel Orange Marmalade, the natural pectin is also found in the pith. But for this recipe we put the pith in a bag and suspend it in the boiling-hot mixture. Lucy keeps a close eye and removes the bag when the thickness is just right. For the Strawberry Blood Orange Marmalade, we don’t rely on the pith for the pectin. It comes from the strawberries! All of our marmalades require different ratios of each element, which all depends on the natural chemistry of the fruit at the center of it all. You can imagine how delicate these balances are.
The art of marmalade-making requires careful hands, watchful eyes, and intuition. Every step is done painstakingly by hand and moves fast. Sometimes a machine goes down in the middle of it all and we just have to deal. The best thing about the Marmaladies is that they’re adaptable. They go with it, they never complain, and they have fun. “We only sing happy songs,” says Lucy. So if you ever need a pick-me-up, just put your ear to the door of the Farm Kitchen.