"It is a slow-everything movement in need of a manifesto that would explain what vinyl records and homemade bread have in common. We won’t overthrow corporations by knitting — but understanding the pleasures of knitting or weeding or making pickles might articulate the value of that world outside electronic chatter and distraction, and inside a more stately sense of time. […] It’s an attempt to put the world back together again, in its materials but also its time and labor. It’s both laughably small and heroically ambitious."
— Rebecca Solnit
It's not popular to admit, but I don't like Christmas. The excess consumerism, the cutting down a tree, the family politics, the expectations and disappointments. Not to mention the historical inaccuracy of it all. I am the grinch, the Kranks and scrooge.
Every year, I try to get assent from my family to quit christmas. Since my younger sister loves gift giving like nothing else, inevitably my efforts fail.
So, rather than buying presents, I tend to make them. With mixed success. One year, I made a t-shirt for said sister, ironing on a decal photo of her and the cat. She hated it. In hindsight, I can see why—I am not a budding clothing artisan. Another year, I made batches of chocolate truffles. They were time consuming, and unstable, melting as you rolled them up in your hands. We ran out of time and cut the list of recipients in half. Once I made DIY teabags, putting loose leaves in bags and making my own labels. I probably appreciated my dorky art more than my extended family members.
I once read in a microeconomics textbook that christmas leads to a net welfare loss because most people don't want or need most of the presents. The economist author advocated we all just buy shit for ourselves. And despite my dislike for economics, the argument rang true: I'm not quite sure 'it's the thought that counts.'
There's a freedom in being an adult. You can decide which traditions you'd like to keep, and which you'd like to toss. This year, our first year alone, we're not celebrating christmas. Instead, we're celebrating the winter solstice on December 21, the shortest day of the year.
What said celebration entails? I'm not quite sure. So far, we've gone on a hike in the woods and dragged back a fallen tree branch for our living room. I've adorned it with LED lights. We'll probably have a big fire on the 21st, and burn the log. Make some fresh pasta. And yes, there will be some presents. Some will be donations, others will be homemade. There will be books and boardgames. A manageable amount of presents.
It's quite magical that right when the skies are darkest, bright sunlit lemons, oranges and grapefruits ripen. The citrus season. Before moving to California, I couldn't fathom what this was like. Now, with two full grown orange trees, producing at such a pace we can barely keep up, I get it. Rather than cutting down a fir tree to stick indoors, I can wander out to see the bright globes hanging like ornaments. They are my solstice trees.
When I told my grandfather we had orange trees in our backyard, he didn't believe me. Couldn't fathom it. He had never heard of a meyer lemon, let alone tasted one. He grew up in Winnipeg, Canada. It's was so cold there, you had to plug in your car when you went shopping.
My grandparents left that frigid city behind, moving to Toronto more than 60 years ago. I joke now, he stopped too soon: should have kept driving. The air got warmer across the border. He could have had citrus trees.
So I made meyer lemon marmalade, to send to my grandparents — so they could try a meyer lemon, at least one preserved in a jar. It's the closest I can come to mailing some sunshine home at this darkest this time of the year.
These little glowing jars of light.
Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Lightly adapted from Hitchhiking to Heaven, which has excellent photos on how to slice and dice those lemons, which I describe below. If you don’t want to use the pectin, there is also an excellent recipe there that doesn’t require it.
Pro tip #1: I recommend a steam canner because it uses way less water/energy and is easier.
Pro Tip: #2 The cardinal sin of jamming is walking away from the stove. Somehow I ignored this fact, burning a giant batch of marmalade and nearly ruining an antique pot with its black, sticky goo. If you end up with a horribly burned cast iron pan, cover all the burnt parts with a 1/4 inch of baking soda. Set aside. The corners of the burnt material should start to curl, allowing you to slip a wooden/plastic spoon underneath. Repeat as necessary until all burnt bits are removed.
Makes around 7 half pint jars
2 1/2 pounds Meyer lemons (around 13)
7 cups water
4 + 3/4 cups sugar
1 Pomona’s pectin box: 1 + 1/2 teaspoons pectin; 2 teaspoons calcium powder
1. Wash and chill lemons in fridge.
2. Cut each lemon in half from tip to tip. Cut a notch from tip to tip in each half, to remove the pith.
3. Hold each lemon half over a bowl and use your thumb, running it along the notches, to remove the seeds. Some juice will also fall out. (You can see the lemons halves with notches cut out in a photo above.)
4. Thinly slice each lemon half. Put them into a large bowl. Add the 7 cups of water.
5. Strain the extra juice into the bowl. Put the seeds into a metal tea ball or another tea strainer. Put this in the bowl as well. Put the bowl in the fridge overnight.
1. Put the lemons in a wide pot on the stove. Add the seeds in their strainer.
2. Cook on medium heat, simmering until lemons are soft enough to break with a wooden spatula.
3. Sterilize your jars while the lemons are simmering.
3. Add 4+1/4 cups of sugar. Add 2 teaspoons of calcium water (to make, follow Pomona’s box instructions.) Bring to boil. Cook until 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer, 20-30 minutes. This happens when enough water cooks off (remember: water boils at 212 F). Stir occasionally to keep from burning.
4. Once at 220 F, hold for 2 mins, then add the last 1/2 cup sugar with the 1+1/2 teaspoons of pectin mixed in. Stir to combine. Cook for 2 more mins then turn off heat. Take out seeds.
5. Fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 5 minutes.