Raised in a Barn: Marmalade

Square jar filled with orange marmalade
Photo: WikiMedia Commons

I swear I’ve told this story before, but can find no evidence of it anywhere. So.

When I was in my 20s, the daughter of an old family friend asked me if she could get married at my parents’ house. She asked me before she asked my parents 1) because it was a virtual certainty that my father, who loved parties, would say yes, and 2) she wanted to make sure that this would not put my nose out of joint, me being the Household Daughter and at that point unmarried and sans prospects. I appreciated her thoughtfulness, but said of course she could. The Barn was a terrific place for parties, and a wedding seemed like an all-around good use of the place. 

The wedding was catered, and it was my father’s first time having Others–not family or guests under supervision–take over the kitchen (my mother had pretty much ceded the kitchen to my father at this point). So there was a wedding, with many people bustling about in the kitchen, and there was much rejoicing. At the end of the rejoicing bride, groom, and guests decamped, the caterers cleaned up, and the Barn was much as usual.

It was at that point–about 6pm–that I discovered a 30-gallon plastic trash bag, half filled with sliced mixed citrus fruit, tucked under the kitchen island. There had been a plan for sangria, apparently, which got forgotten in the scrum. My father, peering into the depths of the plastic bag, lamented the waste of all that fruit. “There must be something we could do with it.”

I should have known better, but offhandedly said that we could make marmalade with some of it (it was an awful lot of fruit). “Great!” my father said. Thus I found myself, at 6:30 on a Saturday evening, driving in to town to pick up 10 pounds of sugar.

Once returned, I did a quick sugar-to-fruit calculation, and we filled our largest Dutch oven to the brim with fruit and sugar and water. It was probably 7:30 when we turned the heat on under the pot. Then we waited. And waited. My father, not the most patient of humans when dealing with a process with which he was unfamiliar, began to get antsy. And tired. And grumpy. Around 9pm, when we were still waiting for the pot to boil, he announced that he was going to bed. And he did, leaving me with a vast pot of stubbornly un-boiling citrus and sugar. By the time the stuff began to boil it was midnight; by the time the fruit had softened and the juice begun to thicken toward jamminess it was 1am.  

At which point I realized I had not thought about containers, let alone about sterilizing jars and tops. I began, frantically and not too quietly, to search for every spare jar and container in the house. A note about the kitchen at the Barn: my parents’ rooms were above it, and one side of the kitchen was open to the hallway. Noise in the kitchen inevitably would be heard upstairs. So while I was rattling around finding containers and filling the next largest pot with water in which to sterilize them, my father shuffled out to the landing and demanded to know what the Hell was going on downstairs.

“I’m finding jars to put the marmalade in,” I said, between clenched teeth. (I was, at this point nursing a fine sense of abandonment.)

“Well, don’t make so much goddamned noise!” Dad shuffled back to his bed. I put more jars into the pot to sterilize. 

Eventually, all the jars were filled with marmalade, sealed with a lid or paraffin, and, because I was by then truly irritated at having been left do all the actual work, I washed all the pots and gear, and put everything away. The finished ranks of mis-matched jars–about two dozen of them, if I recall correctly–I arranged on the kitchen counter, and made my way upstairs at about 4am.

My father, creature of habit, woke at 6am. Out of my slumber I woke enough to hear him shuffling downstairs to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I could tell the moment when he saw the jars of marmalade because I heard him mutter “Jesus Christ.”

We did not discuss the process subsequently. We gave the largest pot of marmalade to the bride and groom, as a souvenir. The rest went to good homes–many good homes. Years later when I told this story within my father’s hearing he got the most peculiar, abashed grin, as one who realizes he was not the hero of this particular saga. By then he had become a quite proficient maker of jalapeño jelly and other canned goods. To my knowledge he never again attempted marmalade, even as sous chef.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *