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Stir up a quick batch of marmalade

Ripe limes, lemons become breakfast treat -- no canning required

Lime marmalade is a delicious topping for a toasted crumpet or any breakfast bread. (Yes, that's a ripe lime in the background.)

Lime marmalade is a delicious topping for a toasted crumpet or any breakfast bread. (Yes, that's a ripe lime in the background.) Kathy Morrison

Lime halves, several slices and a measuring cup with more
Slice and measure the citrus fruit.

When the fruit starts picking itself, it's time to harvest -- and use -- the rest of the crop.

My little lime tree had been shedding the rest of its very ripe fruit this past week, and I had to figure out how to preserve it quickly. I didn't want to juice all the limes -- no telling when I'd get around to using that.

Then I remembered a small-batch marmalade recipe I'd made several years ago. It called for Meyer lemons and blood oranges. Surely it would work for my ripe (yellow) limes.

The beauty of this recipe is that it's strictly refrigerator preserving. No water-bath canning required. I'm an experienced tomato canner, but that's a huge, several-day event in summer. I had nowhere near enough limes for that kind of production.

I've also had little success canning jam in the past. I didn't trust it to gel so I overcooked it, turning it into a sugary glob that could rival gumdrops in texture.  I finally decided to leave the jam canning to others: I have a couple good friends (including Debbie) who are excellent jam and jelly makers.

This recipe, adapted from Melissa Clark's in the New York Times, makes about 2-1/2 cups of lovely, just-tart-enough marmalade. To the second batch I added one Meyer lemon, which gave it a slightly more complex flavor. So use what you have.

Lime and lemon slices in a pot of water
The slices boil in water first.

Citrus contains natural pectin, so water and sugar are the only other ingredients you need. Employ a heavy, non-stick pan and a good spatula, and use the plate test. (More on that below.)

Small-batch refrigerator lime marmalade

Makes 2-1/2 cups

Ingredients:

5 medium limes, or 4 limes and 1 Meyer lemon (or whatever citrus you have)

1-1/4 cups or less granulated sugar (superfine works well if you have it)

1-1/4 cups or less turbinado (raw) sugar

2-1/2 cups or less water

Instructions:

Place a few saucers or small plates in the freezer. Wash the citrus fruit well, and trim off the very ends. Cut each fruit in half, and cut each half into 1/8-inch slices, removing the center membrane.

Measure the fruit: This is crucial. If you have 2-1/2 cups, you're set. If not, add another lime or lemon to make 2-1/2, OR just use what you have, but adjust the amount of water and sugar to match. Example: 2 cups fruit, 2 cups water, 1 cup each of the sugars.

white plate with blob of sugary liquid
Plate test: Still too runny.

Put the fruit in a heavy-bottom pot and add the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rinds are soft and fully cooked.

Then stir in the sugar and bring the mixture back to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium or less (depending on your stovetop) to achieve a consistent simmer.

Let the mixture simmer at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, before you start testing it. To test, remove one of those plates from the freezer and drop a half-spoonful or so of the hot liquid onto the plate. Let it sit for a few seconds, then tilt the plate up. If it runs, it's not ready.

Keep cooking and testing the mixture as it starts to thicken, stirring fairly often, and scraping down the sides of the pot. The marmalade could take anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes more to "set," in other words, to become soft and spreadable but not runny. The pot is hot, so the marmalade will be more liquidy there than on the plate -- trust the test. (Another tip: Look at your spatula out of the pot. If it's starting to set there, the marmalade's close to ready.) If you use a candy thermometer to test, the hot mixture should reach 222 degrees.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the marmalade to cool to almost room

2 glass jars and 1 plastic one with marmalade
Two full jars for the freezer, one half for the frig.

temperature before transferring it to clean jars or freezer-safe containers.

It will keep in the refrigerator about a month and at least 3 months in the freezer.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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