My dad is officially impossible to shop for. He has plenty of interests that require plenty of stuff, but he outfits himself as needed. And for all his love of golf and skiing and fishing and duck and pheasant hunting and bridge, he isn’t someone who wants objects branded with those interests. No funny t-shirts. No door knockers or doo-dads with fish or golf clubs or what have you on them. He does not want a tie with playing cards on it. A widely used default gift for the man is a good bottle of Scotch or other booze – I go for small batch stuff he wouldn’t already know about.
Another default gift, at least from me, is marmalade. Homemade marmalade.
Many moons ago I made my dad a dozen quarts of marmalade for Christmas. A dozen quarts. Forty-eight cups of candied jellied citrus peel. If you think that is crazy wait for the kicker: he had eaten it all by August. See, my dad likes breakfast. He often eats what you and I would see as two breakfasts. A cinnamon roll or piece of coffee cake with his first cup of coffee, then he might do something like go fishing or take a bike ride, and then he’ll settle into his bacon and eggs or, more commonly, a session with the toaster. I’ve seen the man eat half a loaf of bread in toast in a single sitting. And that toast needs things on it. Butter and peanut butter, butter and jam, butter and honey, marmalade. Just sit back and imagine the amount of toast a person would need to consume to go through forty-eight cups of marmalade in eight months. That is more than a cup of marmalade a week.
As much as I would love to keep my dad in homemade marmalade — and I do hate to think of him at his breakfast table staring into a jar and lamenting, like the Countess of Tretham in Gosford Park, “Oh dear, bought marmalade, dear me I call that very feeble” — making a dozen quarts of the stuff is an endeavor I can no longer even wrap my mind around, much less work into my schedule. The process, while not particularly difficult, does take a certain amount of time what with the zest peeling and the section cutting and membranes-in-cheesecloth tying and the never ending boiling (see how in this simple 17-step guide). Of course, one is rewarded with a house that smells absolutely fabulous for hours and jars that look like you’ve somehow filled them with precious jewels. Still, along with the haunting aroma of cooked marmalade is a thin layer of sugary citrus juice stickiness that manages to work its way over everything in the kitchen, and those jars of precious jewels must be processed if you don’t want to have to refrigerate them.
So I am done with the work – and pleasure – of making marmalade for this season, anyway. And all I had to show for it was the single batch, three pint jars, I wrapped up and gave my dad for Christmas. I’m sure he’s eaten all of it already.