marmalade, i love you, but you're bringing me down
#30 act one
Welcome to A Newsletter #30, I can’t believe we’ve come this far. If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
Did you know I used to have a jam business? I did. It was small, it lasted less than a year and the jam was very very good. This story will be longer one day but today I will try and make it short: About ten years ago I was working at Momofuku Milk Bar where I met one of my close friends, Eva. Milk Bar had just started selling at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg and (Christina) Tosi had generously offered to let anyone who worked there sell anything they made at their table.
Eva and I decided to start this business for no real reason other than it sounded like a fun thing to do that would also allow us to flirt with the hot vendors. Business plan? We didn’t know her! But that was fine, as long as we made enough money to buy fruit and the jars to put the fruit in. It was a good scene at that table, prescient, even. Lisa Ludwinski from Sister Pie in Detroit made various baked goods, Jena Derman of Solid Wiggles sold gorgeous plum cakes, NYC’s favorite baker Zoe Kanan had dreams of selling chewing gum made with mastic and calling it Smakin Kraken. Were we ever so young?
It was less of a jam company and more of a marmalade company because being from California, the entire citrus family lives rent-free in my body and soul all day, every day, 365 days a year. We called our lil business Maiden Preserves (our friend Anoop came up with that) and Eva and I ran it out of the Milk Bar commissary kitchen in Williamsburg where we stayed after our shifts to slice, soak, cook and jar fruit until at least midnight, a few days a week. We canned the marmalade in thimble-sized Weck jars which cost too much money and every label was hand-written until we got custom stamps made by Casey Rubber Stamps in the East Village, then every label was hand-stamped. This was Williamsburg in 2011, so the labels were, of course, tied with twine. We always had at least three types of marmalade: grapefruit-hibiscus, lemon-vanilla, orange-bourbon, or blood orange-Campari with one or two rotating other jams: blueberry-ginger, strawberry-verbena, raspberry-rose, etc. Each jar cost $8.
I would consider this my New York “Act One”.
I prefer to keep this newsletter focused on the present without too much navel-gazing at the past, so I’m not entirely sure why I brought this up. I’m guessing it doesn’t have much to do with marmalade.
I just celebrated eleven years in New York and the whole “anniversary of it all” has me feeling an entire newsletter’s worth of emotion, but I’ll spare you. I’ve heard “ten years makes you a New Yorker,” but it took me eleven to truly get my ass kicked (always been a late bloomer), and now I feel like I can really celebrate. Celebrate everything I’ve seen and done and felt and accomplished in those eleven years, but also, of course, because I’m me, spiral about what it means to have a second and third and fourth act, wonder if you’re in your Flop Era, concerned you’re ebbing when everyone else is flowing. Eleven years to not be where you thought you would be is a long time to stick it out, but never once have I considered going anywhere else or doing anything else. Always been a late bloomer.
Anyway, marmalade. Marmalade takes for-fucking-ever to make. There’s the slicing of the fruit for which there are no shortcuts, then an optional but recommended 24 hour soaking period before you even start cooking. The fruit gets boiled for at least two hours before sugar gets added, at which point it cooks for another 60-90 minutes, at least. Then the intense babysitting of the pot as the marmalade gets close, careful not to let the sugars scortch or caramelize. Once it’s ready you’re dealing with the painstakingly careful distribution of hot marmalade into sterile jars and then, the whole canning process (if you’re canning). After that, you’re spending more time than you’d like cleaning up the sticky bits of fruit and sugar that ended up all over the place: your clothes, your forearms, the walls of your kitchen. It’s a full day and a half of your life.
On top of it being time consuming, making marmalade can be unpredictable and a little bit fussy. Each batch is delightfully yet annoyingly unique, depending on the acidity, sweetness, and pectin content of your particular citrus, the size of your pot, the ferocity of your boil. It’s never exact and there are no two batches that behave just the same. Oh, also, I regret to inform you: You will almost certainly burn yourself on the spits and spurts of hot, syrupy citrus juice as the marmalade enters its final stages of cooking, causing you to wonder if the marmalade is, in fact, trying to kill you. It’s technique and science, coupled with a hope and a prayer. All that time and effort for something that’s not even a sure bet?
But damn, spread onto thick, nearly burnt toast with a smear of salted butter, sprinkled with more bits of flaky salt and maybe even some pepper because it’s good that way, you feel so refined and elegant for eating marmalade that way that you forget everything. Spoon it on top of vanilla ice cream or stirred into something else rich and creamy like ricotta or full-fat greek yogurt and as you dip your spoon into it for the eighth time, think: “Wow, I can’t believe I made something so wonderful. Was this really so much work? I can’t wait to do it again.” You forget it all. How much damn time it took, how annoying it was, how it almost tried to kill you.
Marmalade, New York, I love you, you’re worth it.
Tomorrow, I’ll send out the full marmalade recipe with a perhaps overly descriptive how-to, available only to paid subscribers. If you’d like to become a paid subscriber, you can do so here:
PLEASE NOTE: If you are a paid subscriber and haven’t received a “paid subscriber only” email in some time: there is nothing wrong with your subscription, there is something wrong with ME. I am in the process of fixing that, so please stay tuned for more things *just for you* on a regular basis. If you have further questions, please email QCC@alisoneroman.com. Thank you for your patience and your patronage 😇
Accidentally hear Post Malone’s cover of Only Wanna Be with You and immediately Google “how to unhear a song”. Lose your wallet in a snow bank, decide that it’s a “sign from the universe” to start over. Throw away all your mismatchign measuring cups, purchase a new set and think “this is me starting over.” Wonder when you’ll grow out of losing your wallet? Have your friend change your Twitter password to lock you out of the account because it was causing you to need professional help. Listen to the new song by Japanese Breakfast on repeat, then order Michelle’s new book, Crying in H Mart. Join me next Monday, 3/8, for a Q+A about books, writing, words, thoughts, feelings, publishing, etc. These classes are much more intimate than the cooking, so come with your Q’s and be prepared to be SPOTLIGHTED.