When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Lavender Marmalade

Life has officially mellowed into a blithe, carefree July; the summer sun has a way of bleaching your worries away. It’s probably good practice to carry a breezy July attitude with you, through all of the seasons of your life. Reactions to any problem seem less severe; maybe it’s the heat.

I’ve started to think that pretty much anything life throws at you can be confronted with one of two statements: A) Oh well. B) We’ll see. Have you burnt the roast? Oh well. Afraid you’ll spend the rest of your life alone, spoon-feeding marmalade to the clowder of cats you swore you’d never acquire? We’ll see. Turns out, you can’t plan your life ‘perfect’: it will go exactly the opposite.

This reminds me of a great quote from a Chicago Tribune column, by Mary Schmich: “Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday." How true.

In sixth grade, I unintentionally made a wreath out of poison ivy; I had to take steroids for a week until my rashy, swollen face deflated and I had something that resembled a nose again. (It was terrifying to go from sixth grader to sumo wrestler look-alike.) Then there was the time I was brought flowers from a man I loved and was dumped after dinner. Life has a wicked sense of humor. You have to make some room for the unexpected: the pleasant and the icky.

And just last week two unexpected things made my day. To start, I—completely by random occurrence—picked the right ‘day of the week’ underwear from my lingerie drawer. (Tuesday!) The very same day, a man riding a unicycle (unicycle!) literally crossed my path on the way to the gym. You never can tell when life will send you a unicyclist or wreath made of poison ivy, you just have to roll with it.

Case in point: a few weeks ago I was on the Cape with my mom; we were not having very good beach weather. We had sucked it up on yet another overcast, drizzly day and headed out to the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. I had never seen so many intensely purple plants in one space. Walking around the farm felt like an impromptu aromatherapy treatment.

We would have never known such a place existed if it wasn't for the dreary weather. Inside an old wooden shed at the farm lavender soaps, lavender chocolates and lemon lavender marmalade were for sale. I flashed to a vision of me sitting out on my porch, spreading homemade lemon lavender marmalade on toast on a lazy Saturday morning, surrounded by bushy lavender plants.

Unfortunately, buying a lavender plant to transplant back home would have been cruel to the plant and, ultimately, an exercise in futility. My back patio just does not get enough sun. Oh well. Hopefully, some day I will have a sun-drenched back porch to plant my own mini lavender farm. We’ll see. In the meantime, all I can do is buy lemons, have the good fortune to score some flowering lavender from my mother, and get down to marmalade making; all the while, doing my best to turn life’s lemons into edible aromatherapy to have with toast.

So if you find the grind a little too intense, you really have quite a number of options. A) Say oh well and get on with it. B) Take a deep-bellied breath and repeat after me: we’ll see. C) Take matters into your own hands and make lemon marmalade ASAP or D) Strap on a helmet, make sure your underwear doesn’t say Monday if it’s actually Tuesday, and head out to face the world on your unicycle.

For best results: do all of the above.

Lemon Lavender Marmalade

2 pounds of lemons (about 6, preferably organic because you will be eating the peel)
5 cups sugar
5 cups water
Pinch of salt
1.5 tbsp lavender flowers (fresh)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Thinly slice your lemons and then cut them in half. Place them into a pot and add the sugar, water and salt; bring to a boil. Let the lemon mixture sit overnight. The next day, add half your lavender and let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Then, bring the marmalade up to a boil and stir frequently for about another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms. If you have a candy thermometer (you lucky person, you) you know the marmalade is done when it is around 220 degrees. You can also place a little marmalade on a plate and stick it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to see what the finished consistency will be: you want it to be firm, not too runny or too hard. Add the rest of the lavender and vanilla extract.

Makes about 5 cups.

As luck would have it, I gave myself a deadline to make this recipe that happened to fall during the heat wave, when temperatures reached 100 degrees; this was a true labor of love. Maybe it was the 2 plus hours I spent boiling lemons in a non-air conditioned studio apartment, but making this marmalade was oddly cathartic.

Recipes will say you can let the marmalade sit at room temperature overnight. I am fairly certain these proper marmalade-making souls are sane enough to have the modern luxury of air conditioning. All bets are off when it's over 90 degrees; I refrigerated the marmalade overnight.

Since I despise the process of canning (maybe it's the lack of air conditioning), I just froze the extras. I can neither confirm, nor deny, that the amount of sugar used is appropriate for canning.

If you don't want to go through the trouble, you can order this marmalade straight from the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. I was not going to shell out 8 dollars for a jar.


  1. Excellent post! This reminds me of a Buddhist parable that I once heard.

  2. Mmm. I've made lemon-lavender ice-cream, but I think marmalade might be too ambitious for me in this weather.

    ...oh, who am I kidding? I baked gooey butter cake on the day it hit a hundred degrees!

  3. Great! Lemons are basically my favorite ingredient- such an amazing flavor. I have never tried marmalade and yours is beautiful. My version last week of 'when life gives you lemons' was cured - a T. Keller surprisingly easy recipe :)

  4. M.K.O.R.: Buddhists, like marmalade, are near and dear to my heart.

    Adele: Lemon Lavender ice cream sounds delicious. I used to have a studio apartment on a 4th floor of an old building: it is WAY hotter up there than ground level (where I live now). I loved (and found comfort in) your post about baking cake while ... well ... baking!

    French: I HAVE to try your preserved lemons recipe. I admit, I've had some fear about making them that I need to get over. Will definitely be trying it. ;)

  5. I've never made marmalade or jam but this looks really delightful. I was working with red currants last night and I seriously wanted to make red currant jam!

  6. Thanks for the effort you took to expand upon this topic so thoroughly. I look forward to future post.
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  7. Never heard of lemon lavendar marmalade...But it sounds tasty!

  8. I just made it 2 days ago. I think this recipe should have called for zesting the lemons and peeling the rest from the fruit, throwing it in cheesecloth, and adding it to the boil. The pith (white stuff) shouldn't be added to the actual marmalade. It's a bit too bitter, without the nice tartness that the actual fruit contains. Also, I would use 1/4 less lavender than called for in this recipe. Lavender is extremely fragrant.

  9. Hi Kavie, I adapted the recipe from Ina Garten, in which she advises to simply slice the fruit very thinly. It does utilize the fruit of the lemon (essentially the entire lemon gets sliced and then each half gets cut in half). Sorry you've found it too bitter, but I appreciate the feedback. The lemons I used did not have very thick pith at all, so perhaps that factored in, as well? Cheers!

  10. HI, Just found your article by mistake.I am one of the actual makers of the Lavender Farm Lemon Lavender Marmalade.Your recipe is close but not quite there. We make the marmalade exclusively for the Cape Cod Lavender Farm. You should have shelled out the $8.00 to see what you are missing. Check out our web site to see our other flavors. www.cranberryharvest.com