Bittersweet Grapefruit Marmalade

{Two Ingredient Tuesday}

Catherine McClelland - Bittersweet marmalade

My birthday this year came during a very bittersweet week: My parents and brother are in the process of moving to Phoenix; I’m staying here. My birthday dinner was the last time we would ever sit down together for a meal in that house.

Helping to pack up and sell off the contents of my childhood house over the past few months has been full of sad pangs and heart-wrenches. We picked through all my childhood books, tore up the vegetable garden where my dad and I had spent happy summer hours, bid farewell to the woods where I played as a child. Nostalgia strikes in strange moments. We held a yard sale and I was nearly moved to tears over the little footstool from our bathroom, a permanent fixture in my daily routine now looking oddly out of place in the hands of a stranger who was bargaining over the one-dollar price tag.

I dearly love this house. I love the things in it. I love the memories I have of it. It’s been so hard to say goodbye.

I’m thankful, because my sadness is a reminder of how deeply I’m connected with my family and the friends who have invested so much of their love in me. My life is sweet and full and special because of the people in it.

In honour of that, today I’m sharing a food memory from one of my oldest family recipes.

Catherine McClelland - Bittersweet Marmalade

It hadn’t occurred to me until I started writing the recipe, but marmalade itself is bittersweet. Without delving too deeply into poetic metaphor, I’ll just say that I think it’s apt. As much as the human palate is wired to crave sweet foods, a little bitterness fulfills a need in a way that pure sugar doesn’t, and keeps my palate in balance and grounded. I find that bitter flavours taste especially good to me in early winter and late fall.

My father made marmalade from the earliest ages. Along with the bread and scones, marmalade was on the list of foods that the South just didn’t get the way my parents liked it. Sweet orange marmalade was available everywhere, but no one sold complex, silky, bitingly bitter grapefruit marmalade that my family was used to.

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It’s a simple recipe, two ingredients: fruit and sugar. The sugar acts as the thickener here, so there’s no need to use pectin, since the grapefruits have plenty. For that reason, don’t reduce the sugar by much. Use good grapefruits, preferably white ones. Use them whole. Most of the bitterness comes not from the pulp of the grapefruits, but from the white pith.

If you want to tone the bitterness way down, cut the grapefruits a vif (that is, section them with a knife over a bowl so that only the juice and flesh remain) and then scrape the white pith off the peel before tossing it in. But in my opinion, you lose the soul of the marmalade.

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After all the sweetness of summer, and before the richness (and more sugar) of the holidays sets in, take a quick respite and enjoy some bitter with your sweet. It’s utterly perfect with a dab of butter on brown bread toast.

Recipe Notes: As mentioned above, the amount of pith dictates the bitterness. I strongly recommend using at least one whole grapefruit, pith and all. I use all the pith. Pink grapefruits can be substituted, but white lends a nicer flavour for jam, in my opinion. You can also substitute in a few oranges and lemons. The recipe halves well, but keep a careful eye on the stove with smaller batches, as the temperature fluctuates more. You may have seen 30-minute grapefruit marmalade recipes online; many use commercial pectin. Here, the natural pectin and the sugar work together to thicken the jam. The flavours are softer as a result, and are more complex than the “fresh-squeezed” taste of quick marmalades.

Two-Ingredient Tuesday Rules: I place no limitations on the complexity of the recipe itself, but the entire dish from start to finish must contain two ingredients. However, there are four freebies that don’t count as ingredients: water, oil, salt, and pepper. I don’t count these because they act as integral seasonings and vehicles for common cooking methods, rather than acting as ingredients, and besides, everyone has them in their kitchen.

Bittersweet White Grapefruit Marmalade
Makes about 8 pint jars or 4 quart jars

10 white grapefruits (choose heavy, smooth fruit)
5 lbs. granulated sugar
4 cups water

  1. Wash the grapefruits thoroughly, since you’ll be eating the peel. Halve each grapefruit and slice into 1/8″ thin half-moon slices. Pick out the seeds.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed stockpot, stir together fruit and water and let sit at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently, with the pot uncovered, for 40 minutes. Add the sugar and stir with a large wooden spoon until dissolved. Simmer another 1 hour, skimming off any seeds that rise to the surface.
  4. Drip a bit of marmalade onto a chilled saucer and nudge it with a spoon. If it wrinkles, the marmalade is ready to set.
  5. Ladle marmalade into sterilised glass jars and allow to cool. Marmalade can be stored at room temperature up to 1 year unopened.

Recipe by Catherine McClelland.


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