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A Gift of Meyer Lemons Yields the Latest Cooking Lesson

Every time I cook, I learn. Cooking is my life's most absorbing, fun, creative, rewarding work-and-play. Nearly every cooking episode takes me down paths and into lessons I do not expect when I walk into the kitchen. Add in all the imagined and remembered visits from the people who live in my head and heart, the blessed memories and teachings, and cooking entertains me completely. Although I began cooking when I was a young child, I'm still a learner, a beginner in the kitchen. I'm always wondering how and whether things will turn out well.

Today's lesson comes in the usual way: after intense planning and careful preparation. Like this. (I'm kidding about the planning and prep.) (You'll see.)

Butter muslin, seeds and flesh of Meyer lemons from a friend's sister's tree in New Orleans, shot in my Kentucky home kitchen. Thank you, KB!

Butter muslin, seeds and flesh of Meyer lemons from a friend's sister's tree in New Orleans, shot in my Kentucky home kitchen. Thank you, KB!

I am in the kitchen not for cooking but for tidying up. It's a weeks-long process, carried out in bursts and pauses, with occasional giddy joy and more than one close encounter with tears of regret or other weepy emotions. In the dust and—honestly—accumulated filth in a space behind a kitchen counter, a clipped recipe for a cornmeal tart with orange marmalade topping turns up. (Thank you, EM.)

Now begins the usual cascade of (not) careful planning:

Idea: The three New Orleans Meyer lemons! I've been waiting for special inspiration, and this is it. They will become marmalade for this tart.

Actions:

  • Stop tidying.
  • Search online for a Meyer lemon marmalade recipe.
  • Grab chopping board, lemons, nicely sharp knife, scale. Weigh the three lemons: Yep. 1 pound 9 ounces, just about exactly right for the recipe's specified 1.5 pounds, though it suggests six lemons. [Sidebar: thoughts of abundance—"What amazing lemons these are! What heavy, plump beauties."]
  • Oh, and what's this? Save the seeds? Put in cheesecloth?

Thoughts of a cook who has forgotten that jam and jelly making has never yet succeeded in her kitchen, not even once: "Ha! I can do better. I have plenty of butter muslin, a better alternative, from past years of making homemade feta and cottage cheeses."

Actions:

  • Take scissors into pantry.
  • Locate butter muslin.
  • Cut small corner.

Thoughts of a Meyer lemon novice: How many seeds can there be? And what is their magic? Guesses: flavor (maybe a bit of bitterness for contrast?) Something chemical about the jell, the consistency? I should research this. [Spoiler alert: No research and I still don't know. ]

Actions:

  • Halve lemons.
  • Dig out seeds. Most of them.
  • Cut halves of lemons into fourths, as the recipe advises.
  • Dig out more seeds.
  • Notice still more seeds, deeper into the lemony bodies. Postpone worrying about those seeds until they appear on their own.

Thoughts of an inexperienced marmaladian: "Hmmmm. The recipe thinks I'm using six lemons. These splendid fruits are so large I'm only using three. I bet this half a lemon needs to be cut smaller. What's marmalade supposed to be like? What's the shape of the bites and what's the texture?"

Actions:

  • Chop lemon halves into quarters.
  • Keep going. Divide into eights.
  • Pick out more seeds.
  • Slice the eighths, which are odd-sized wedges, into odd-sized slivers, awkwardly.
  • Rescue the last several seeds;  put them with their siblings and cousins.
  • Try cutting the now seeded wedges into slivers, starting at the soft, pointed, juicy top of the wedge. Squish wedge after wedge into juicy, messy pulp with a bit of external skin attached.

(No thought: hand smarts) "Ahhhhh - turn the wedges on their sides to get a flat surface. Knife skills 101." (A course I've yet to take.)

Actions:

  • Begin each cut against the skin of the wedges, now turned on their sides.
  • Make quick, sharp, happy work of chopping small wedges into smaller slivers.

Feeling: Like a real cook!

Bonus connection: A memory gift: Dad says to me "My girls like sharp knives." Meaning he liked keeping his kitchen knives superbly sharp with his sharpening stone, and he knew my sister Paula and I enjoyed those knives as one of us cooked for him a day each week. Good thoughts about Dad's good nature and skills and kindness. Thoughts edging toward feelings, bittersweet feelings of missing sweet Paula. In my kitchen travel these memories and the many others they evoke so often the path resembles Dad's whetstone, worn to a smooth dip by the repeated passage of metal against carborundum. The vivid pleasures of being with Dad in his kitchen warm and comfort me in memory, as they always do.

Actions:

  • Sweep all lemon slivers into a nice large pot.
  • Add four cups of water.
  • Tie all seeds into a little butter muslin bundle.
  • Swish together gently.
  • Put a lid on it.

More feelings: Victory! Happiness! Anticipation! I love cooking! Cooking things that start one night and are ready for more cooking the next day -- the best! Fun morning coming up!

Thoughts as the slivered lemon wedges, water, and little butter muslin bag of seeds settle in for a long night's rest: "I'm making marmalade. Meyer lemon marmalade. It's going to be GRRRRReaaaaat! This time I'll get it right! Marmalade is mine!" And a bit more reasonably, "I learned about seeds (sort of.) I used my smart butter muslin (whether smart or not.) I figured out a good cutting tactic.  Learning things in the kitchen always cheers me."

Actions:

  • Resume tidying up.

Bonus for making it to the end (which is actually only a middle, of course): What's Fresh As The New Year? Meyer Lemons. You'll like the recipe links, especially if you like Meyer lemons, and most particularly if you find happiness waiting for you when you go into your kitchen. 

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