Before I left France, I started a list of things I could send back to my homies at the center to share my America, or California, or just Home, with them. One of the first things to make the list, along with real peanut butter and microwaveable popcorn, was meyer lemon marmalade. For one thing, I had to offer something homemade to counteract all the absurdly delicious processed food I had in mind, and for another, meyer lemons mean home to me.
Santa Barbara was essentially one giant citrus grove for years; the evidence of that being the abundance of lemon and orange trees in everyone and their mother’s yard. In most places, meyer lemons are a fancy rarity you find in the specialty grocery store a few weeks out of the year. For me, they are the ever-present source of baked goods across the street.
Funnily enough, though I’ve made nearly infinite batches of lemon curd, New York cheesecake, and brasadella with these guys, I’ve never once made marmalade. While I like the stuff, and making it from meyers always sounded like a good idea, I’m not a huge marmalade eater. In France, however, toast with jam for breakfast is part of the national identity. Scrambled eggs don’t even make the list–they’re a dinner food. Weird, right? But it does give me the perfect opportunity to develop a marmalade recipe that I know will get put to good use.
So on Monday night, I toodled over to my neighbor’s with a canvas bag and made a plentiful harvest. Then, I juiced, and sliced, and blanched, and boiled. In between the steps, while I waited for the water to heat, I filled out and organized documents for my visa. Proof of insurance, proof of financial support, proof I have somewhere to live, proof that I’m not a criminal, etc. I’m not a criminal, and I make marmalade; please let me into your country.
On Tuesday, I drove to L.A., and on Wednesday I had my appointment at the consulate. I walked down the gravel alley. I read the multitude of signs taped to the interior of the glass door. I punched the intercom to announce my arrival. I waited to be called in. I took shallow breaths and tried not to play with my split ends. I got called in.
They took my papers. They took my picture. They fingerprinted me on an electric scanner (I managed to appreciate the coolness of this despite my anxiety). Then the lady behind the counter informed me that I would receive my passport in approximately two weeks, with a visa if I’d been approved, without a visa if not. “But you’ll get your passport back.” Oh good.
And now I wait. I hope. I fret. I remember things that scared me when I was a kid.
Calling the wrong telephone number, keys–related to the fear of being permanently locked out of my house but translated to a general trepidation toward doors and things that keep them shut, the dark, snakes coming up through the pipes into my toilet, and ordering food at restaurants. These are the things that stick out. A mix of the usual and exceedingly arbitrary. I heard a story about some snakes and an old lady’s bum when I was little, and it stuck with me, geeze.
I haven’t worried much about toilet snakes lately, I’m pretty cool with the dark, and I consider wrong numbers an opportunity to make temporary friends. I still find keys difficult and I really am absurdly bad at opening doors, but I can deal. I’ve accepted that when ordering food at a restaurant you inevitably wind up either cutting off your waiter mid-sentence by accident while he last-minute tells you the specials or finding him staring askance at you with his pen poised expectantly over his little pad. Timing is hard. It’s fine.
I could congratulate myself for growing up, but what I notice instead is that my fears haven’t changed. The things I used to be afraid of pretty much amount to this: fear of looking foolish, fear of being left alone, fear of things I don’t want that I can’t control.
Standing outside the visa section, straining to hear the intercom over the sound of street construction, I felt the same things. Love me, France, love me. Let me be part of your culture; let me connect with your people, people who feel like my people. Let me continue with the questions I am asking, the projects I am creating, and the places I am settling.
Fear is the fact that you don’t always get what you want, shoving its scruffy head into the palm of your hand. It’s a mangy cur. It’s an unloved stray. It needs to be taken care of. There’s nothing wrong with not getting what you want. It’s just not pleasant.
I dunno what will happen with my visa. Probably it will be fine. Possibly I will have to do some wrangling or readjusting. Whatever happens, it is good to be reminded to take care of my fear. If I forget it, it gnaws at me. But when I remember to pat its head and scratch its tummy, it curls into a ball and goes to sleep, at least for a little while. Hi fear; I see you; it’s cool. You do what you want. I’m just gonna label this marmalade, and send it to France, and, who knows, maybe I’ll be sending myself some time soon.
Recipe after the jump…
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
3 pounds (1.4 kilos) meyer lemons
3 1/2 cups (700 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (240 grams) water
4 1/2-pint (250 mL) canning jars
Cut the lemons in half and juice them. Reserve 2 cups (480 grams) of juice. Use the rest to make yourself a glass of lemonade or a batch of cheese.
If juicing the lemons does not remove the interior sections of pith, use a spoon to scrape out the remaining pith and seeds. Reserve 1/2 cup of pith and seeds. Wrap this in a square of cheesecloth and tie it closed. Chuck the rest or freeze it for later use. Lemon pith and seeds contain pectin, the gelling agent used to make jam. Rather than buying powdered pectin, you can use the cheesecloth ball method. The flavor from the pith and seeds is pretty neutral, so you can use it for pretty much any jam you want to make.
Slice the cleaned lemon peels as thin as possible. Put them in a large pot with cold water. Bring to a boil. Drain the hot water from the peels. Rinse, refill, and reboil. Drain and rinse again. This step softens the peels and leaches the bitterness from whatever pith remains.
In the same large pot, mix the peels, water, sugar, reserved lemon juice, and cheesecloth ball of pith and seeds. Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture reads 220˚ F (105˚ C) on a kitchen thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, stick a plate in the freezer to cool. When the plate is cold, you can drop a dollop of marmalade onto the plate to see if it gels properly.
When the marmalade is ready, pour it into jars and seal according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally, this involves boiling the jars in water for ten to fifteen minutes and allowing them to cool at room temperature.
Eat for breakfast or send to friends all over the world!