My neighbor Joanne got three new hens: Cairo, Dubai, and Pauline. Joanne is getting ready to move and had sworn off new chickens, but when she saw these three babies getting trampled in an enclosure of bigger pullets, she scooped them right up. They’re curious about everything, especially Dubai, pictured above: What’s in that basket? Can I eat it?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: Can I eat that? Now that we’re heading into the fullness of fruit season and I’m having to refrain from making traditional jam, I’m more aware than ever of the ways in which giving up sugar (not to mention gluten, lactose, and caffeine) is changing my life. Mostly, the changes are good. I’m extra aware of this because, after more than three months of going without refined sugar, I recently experimented with adding a bit of it back into my diet. That turned out to be a big, flailing fail.
I discovered that sugar sets me off on mood swings from elation to irritation. It makes me whirly, and not in a good way. My heart pounds, I don’t sleep well, and I’m lethargic the next day. After all that, I wouldn’t expect to want any more sugar, but the kicker is that eating sugar clearly causes me to crave more sugar. In the past, I’d read plenty of reports and articles pointing to these and other sugar-induced problems, but it seems that until I was forced to give it up, I’d had such a steady infusion of the stuff that I never noticed what a potent drug it is. I thought I was immune. Guess not.
Do you think Dubai looks a little suspicious in that photo? Maybe she doesn’t quite trust me to take home all those lemons and not use ten pounds of sugar to make marmalade out of them. (Those links go to five different Meyer lemon marmalade recipes on this blog.) I need to find another way.
I’ll juice some of the lemons for the freezer and probably try a Meyer lemon aigre-doux with honey — and then there’s this tiny batch of improvised jam with honey and mint.
When I make jam with citrus, the whole fruit goes into it, rind and all. I do cut away the pithy core and discard the seeds, but the rest of the fruit goes into the pot. (For me what makes it a jam is the method of preparation; it’s not rind suspended in jelly, like a marmalade.) It’s a simple technique: simmer the fruit until it’s soft enough to pierce with a skewer, strain it, break it down in a food processor, and add sweetener — sugar if you like or, in this case, honey. The details are explained below, but sometimes I think the details make things seem more complicated than they really are. This is easy. It would be great on a scone or with a lot of other baked goods that I’m not eating right now. I’ll enjoy it on my almond-flour pancakes in the morning or as a mix-in with yogurt for dessert.
Meyer Lemon Jam with Mint and Honey
Makes about 2 cups
1 1/2 pounds Meyer lemons
1 bunch fresh spearmint
1 cup wildflower honey
1. Wash the lemons, then prep as follows: Slice each lemon lengthwise along the stem. Notch out the pith from the centers of the fruit, retaining those pithy cores so you can squeeze juice from them later. Then, using a small bowl with a strainer suspended over it, run your thumbs along the insides of the notched fruit to remove any seeds while collecting the juice in the bowl. Squeeze the lemon cores over the strainer also. The goal is to collect as much juice as you can at the same time as you are preparing the lemon halves for cooking. Set the bowl of juice aside. (There’s a photo in my post on Rangpur Lime Jam that illustrates these steps, if you want a visual guide.)
2. Place the prepared lemon halves in a large, nonreactive pot or skillet, and cover with cold water so they float freely. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the lemons are soft, about 20 minutes. (When they are ready, it should be easy to pierce them with a skewer or fork.)
3. While the lemons are cooking, prepare a mint infusion. To do this, I loosely packed a pint jar with muddled spearmint leaves and covered the leaves with boiling water. I intended to let the leaves steep for 10 minutes but they went for about 30. No problem. After steeping, strain out the leaves and set aside 1/2 cup of the mint tea. (You’ll have extra tea. I mixed mine with some honey and lemon juice to make a bonus lemonade.)
4. Drain the lemons and combine them with the set-aside lemon juice and 1/2 cup mint tea in a food processor or VitaMix. Pulse the mixture until it is coarse; don’t liquefy it. You’ll want chunks of rind in the mixture so your jam doesn’t have the look and texture of baby food.
5. Transfer the fruit mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in the honey. I covered mine tightly and let it rest in the fridge overnight, but I don’t think that’s strictly necessary. You should be able to go right ahead and cook the mixture if you prefer.
6. When you’re ready to cook the jam, put it into a 6-8 quart pot (not too big) and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for about ten minutes. Add two sprigs of fresh spearmint and cook about ten minutes more. You’ll know the jam is done when the mixture has thickened and your spoon leaves a clear track across the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent sticking or scorching near the end of the cooking process. When the jam is done, remove the spent spearmint leaves.
7. Process the jam as you like. This is such a small batch that you may want to simply store it in the fridge — or you might water-bath process it in little 4-ounce jars. If you do the latter, leave 1/4-inch head space and process for 1o minutes, adding time for your elevation if necessary.