My Uncle Bob always sends my family a generous box of Indian River citrus at Christmastime. I immediately scarf down the fist sized navel oranges, and share the mandarins only with people I really like. The kids and I casually munch through the cara caras, the clementines, and the tangerines, which may or may not find their way into the toes of stockings Christmas eve. Santa, by way of Uncle Bob. But the grapefruits? They languish. One or two of them get tossed into a salad with mustard vinaigrette and cubed avocado. I usually eat one, halved and painstakingly sectioned, for breakfast, before deciding that they are too much work to face before caffeine. And then it is February, and they aren’t looking so hot.
So grapefruit jam. I was going to make grapefruit marmalade, but Marisa McClellan, of the gloriously aspirational Food in Jars blog, convinced me to go the jam route because I wasn’t sure whether the grapefruit skins had been sprayed with pesticides or waxed, and also because my husband doesn’t like marmalade. She was very firm on this second point.
I began by suprêming 4 grapefruits. Supreming is one of the fussier kitchen chores out there, but once you get into a rhythm, it can be quite soothing, like kneading dough or chopping lots and lots of onions. Take a grapefruit, slice about a quarter inch off the top and bottom, enough to get down to through the pith to the flesh. Then set the grapefruit down on a cutting board, and with a curving cut from the top down, take the peel and pith off the sides in strips. You will be left with a naked grapefruit.
Next, holding the denuded fruit over a bowl in your non-dominant hand, slide a knife right next to one of the segment membranes, then again next to the membrane on the other side of the segment, which should release the segment into the bowl. Cut down on the opposite side of them membrane to release it from the next segment, and push it aside, like turning the page of a book. Slice alongside the next membrane to release the second segment, and repeat. Times 4 grapefruits. Hopefully you put on some music when you started.
Once this is done, you’ve done the hard work of making the jam. You’ll want to pick out the pits as you come across them (mine weren’t too seedy) but otherwise, it is just fruit, sugar, flavorings, 220 degrees. I just poured mine into a jar to keep in the fridge, where it will keep for a month or two, if it isn’t spread on English muffins and dolloped on top of goat cheese crostini.
While I was cooking the jam I started a teeny little fire by letting the end of the dishtowel in which I wrapped my flavorings get too close to the flame. I put it right out, but a tidal wave of a memory flooded over me as I did so: my friend Thalia, sitting at my kitchen counter, admonishing me for leaving dishtowels too close to the burners. Thalia was a friend and mentor, professionally. We shared a book club and worked down the hall from each other at my old law firm. We had many things in common, among them a life changing cancer diagnosis over the same weekend in February of 2008. But I recovered, eventually, and Thalia didn’t. She died in January of 2009.
So I stood over the stove, scorched towel now sensibly tucked away, with my mind cranking far faster than my wrist was stirring. I really don’t like the current language that we use to talk about people who have had cancer. Survivors. Heros. Role Models. The words are nice, and positive, and well-meaning, but what if you aren’t a survivor? Did you not try hard enough?
My experience with fighting cancer was very passive. I showed up. The surgeries, the medicines, the radiation all made me feel like crap, but it didn’t take heroic strength to get through it. I just checked out of my day to day life. So when people say that I’m a hero when learning about my multiple rounds of cancer combat, my thoughts go to Thalia. I don’t know if she’s a hero either. The facts are just that we both showed up, and my treatments worked, and hers didn’t.
That’s what I was thinking about while I stirred my bubbling jam. Which is delicious.
Ginger Grapefruit Jam
adapted from Marisa McClellan
Makes a pretty jarful….1 ½ pints?
4 large grapefruits, red or yellow
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 half-inch slice of fresh ginger
Supreme the grapefruits over a large bowl to catch the juice and segments together. As pits appear, fish them out and set them aside. You should have roughly 3 cups of membrane-free grapefruit and juice when you are done.
Transfer the fruit and juice to a heavy-bottomed saucepan (hey! Who you callin’ heavy bottomed?) and add the sugar and salt. Take the pits you carefully collected, and the slice of ginger, and bundle them in a piece of cheesecloth or a loose-weave dishtowel and nestle among the grapefruit*
Bring the jam up to boil, stirring occasionally, and stick in a candy thermometer. Continue to cook at a steady boil until the thermometer reads 220 degrees.
Transfer to a clean glass jar and cool on the countertop. Refrigerate for up to 2 months.
*Or toss the pits, and chuck the ginger in to the simmering jam, then fish it out again. However, if you do this, consider bringing the jam up to 225 or higher, since the pits won’t be giving up their copious pectin and the jam might not gel as firmly. Cooking it to a higher temp with evaporate more water, hedging your bets.