Mary Beardslee spent many mornings as a kid sitting down to a breakfast of warm, crispy bread topped with grape jelly or sometimes strawberry jam.
But when she discovered the bright, sweet-tart flavor of marmalade years later, those other spreads were toast.
An IT professional from Lincoln, Beardslee enjoys marmalade slathered on buttered biscuits and glazed on oven-roasted chicken, among other uses. She makes it from scratch, using whatever citrus fruit catches her eye at the supermarket or pears picked from trees in her yard.
Marmalade, it seems, is having a moment. Its popularity is spreading among home cooks, professional chefs, food bloggers, people with a renewed interest in canning and others. Some bartenders use it in cocktails, Food & Wine magazine featured artisan marmalade on its blog last month and there's a new cookbook devoted to it.
In her book “Marmalade: Sweet and Savory Spreads for a Sophisticated Taste,” author Elizabeth Field offers dozens of recipes for making various kinds of marmalades, as well as meals that incorporate the spreads and baked goods that can be a vehicle for them.
Field, who loathed marmalade as a child, became fascinated with it after meeting a marmalade maker while working as a food writer for a newspaper in western Massachusetts. Once she tasted the homemade stuff, she developed a “strange passion” for it, Field said by phone from her home in New York.
She started making marmalade and traveled throughout the United Kingdom and Europe to research its roots. She wrote her dissertation for a master's degree in gastronomy on the history of marmalade. Field loves the look, taste and texture of marmalade and how personal each batch is. She's drawn to its versatility and likes that it uses citrus peel, part of the fruit that normally goes to waste.
Among the marmalades in her book: bitter orange with rose water and almond, quince-raspberry, yuzu (a lemony-tasting citrus fruit from Japan), tomatillo-chile, passion fruit and red onion.
Aside from eating it with toast, marmalade can be used in sauces; slathered on sandwiches, burgers, grilled or roasted meat, fish and poultry; and paired with cheese.
“It's very versatile,” Field said.
Originating 2,000 years ago as a solid cooked quince and honey paste, marmalade is a fruit preserve usually made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits, boiled with sugar and water. Marmalades come in all stripes, from bright, fragrant, zesty varieties made from oranges, grapefruit, lemon and lime to savory spreads featuring onions, tomatoes, eggplant and bacon.
Non-citrus fruit and additional ingredients, including nuts and fresh herbs, can be used, too. Field has even made marmalade with liquids other than water, including Earl Grey tea.
Though related, marmalade, jam and jelly are different.
The majority of marmalades are made from citrus and include chunks of the fruit's flesh as well as its peel.
The peel adds a touch of pleasant bitterness to the mix and counterbalances sweetness, said food editor Karen Berner of Taste of Home magazine.
“Jelly is made from fruit juice, so it stays clear. It has a more gelatinous texture than jam and marmalade and pretty much holds it shape until you spread with a knife,” Berner said by email. “Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit, which makes it a bit thicker but not necessarily chunky. It's softer than jelly and doesn't take much effort to spread.”
Several Omaha restaurants use marmalade in sauces, sandwiches and other menu items. A cheeseburger at Lot 2 Restaurant and Wine Bar at 62nd and Maple Streets features a layer of savory bacon-onion marmalade on the bun.
Jerico's Restaurant in west Omaha serves an orange marmalade dipping sauce with its coconut shrimp appetizer. The sauce starts with pre-made orange marmalade that the restaurant enhances with additional ingredients, including coconut liqueur.
The combination of sweet, savory and tangy flavors are a perfect complement to the sweetness of the coconut, said Fred Kurbis, Jerico's executive chef and general manager.
Beardslee, the Lincoln home cook, first discovered marmalade in college while reading James Michener's book “Iberia.” His descriptions of how Seville oranges grown in Spain are turned into marmalade in the U.K. intrigued her, prompting her to give it a try.
Marmalade, she said, always reminds her of her favorite aunt, a native of Great Britain, where it's as prevalent as ketchup is in America.
A longtime jam, fruit butter and jelly maker, Beardslee cooked her first batch of marmalade on a whim a few years ago.
“They had some nice-looking oranges at the store, and I thought I'd give it a shot,” she said.
Since then, she's made marmalade with many types of citrus and other fruits, including a bumper crop of homegrown pears this summer. One of her favorites is tangelo marmalade. The fruit, a cross between a grapefruit and tangerine, gives the spread a slightly sweet, slightly tart flavor.
Though many marmalade recipes call for pectin (sold in powdered form), cookbook author Field leaves it out, preferring to use natural ingredients. Citrus and other fruit contain ample amounts of the naturally occurring substance to produce a properly set marmalade, she said.
If you're unsure about the consistency, Field suggests the “wrinkle test.” Drop a spoonful of hot marmalade on a saucer, and put it in the freezer for a couple minutes. Take it out it and press your thumb in the marmalade. If the surface wrinkles, it's good to go.
If you're not getting the right set, let it boil a little longer.
“Keep stirring and cooking it and it will do it,” she said. “Fruit is always different. Sometimes it sets up in less time and sometimes more.”