Like I said the other day, it’s definitely winter. The really cold weather held off until January here in New York for the most part, we were lucky. It was around 45°-50° F throughout most of November & December, with quite a few days in the high 60’s sprinkled in. But seeing how we had snow before Halloween, I think Mother Nature was just playing some little tricks. ‘Cause now there’s no doubt- winter is in full swing. Winter, with it’s 18° nights & -5° wind chills, has definitely made it’s entrance this week. I mean, seriously, look at this shit:
Ugh. That sucked. Needless to say, weather like that makes it hard to even get out of bed. Thankfully temps rose back up to the high 40’s again, but I know that won’t last forever. And so sometimes in the winter, you need a burst of sunshine. That can come from many sources, but in this particular instance… I’m talkin’ citrus. In particular, I’m talkin’ citrus marmalade. Lemon-orange, to be exact.
Nifty jar decorations, right? More about that later…
However… another little burst of sunshine whose sure to warm you up on a cold day is Remi. Remi is a sweet little miracle dog that my friend Ariana (& her man Elliott) saved off the street. Poor Remi is less than a year old, has terrible mange & is pretty underweight. He was found a few days before Christmas & taken to get some medical care that Ari used her Christmas bonus to pay for. Ari & Elliott made the decision that they’d stop at nothing to help this dog, even if they weren’t going to keep him. Remi has his own blog now, where they’ll be posting updates. If you’d like to help out with medical expenses, etc. then by all means feel free to contact her. I’m sure it’d feel great for you to start the new year off by helping someone else. What better on a freezing cold winter day than the story of a dog who was thrown away, who had a sad life on the streets, being given a bright future?
And not only that, but how about some bright, zesty, citrusy shots of marmalade to make you think of sunshine? Yep, they’re both pretty great ways to remind you that all is not cold & dreary this time of year. I’ve certainly made marmalade before, but those had extras added in. This is a true citrus marmalade: just lemons, an orange, sugar & water.
The principle behind marmalade is stupid easy. It boils down to a math equation, really, which I suck at… but luckily there are all sorts of iPhone/iPad apps & Internet web pages that can steer you in the right direction. Not to mention the good ol’ calculator. Thanks to this webpage, I now have a perfect marmalade-equation ready to be scaled down or up at a moment’s notice depending on who it’s for or how many/what size jars I have. I happened to make 3-4oz. jars of this lemon-orange marmalade using their method & this base recipe (except I used one large orange as well as a few lemons). You can add limes, grapefruit, clementines, etc. I got a shipment of Meyer lemons from the awesome Molly last week & I am totally psyched to marmalade the shit out of them. But that’s another post…
‘Cause see, truth be told I made this back before Christmas, and I just now opened it. The color & texture of this marmalade is just gorgeous. And the smell! Fuhgeddaboudit. It seems now that the little 4oz. jars I used were barely enough. I sorta wish I’d made more. Oh well.
Anywho, the concept is so easy it’s practically silly to cry over not making enough when I can make it in a snap any time. Here’s the basic idea just as it is, directly from Evil Mad Scientist:
The peels need to be cut into little slivers for the appropriate texture in the marmalade. If you stack up the pieces, you can cut a bunch at once.
Many recipes recommend removing the white pith because it is bitter. Other recipes recommend removing the pith and reserving it, cooking it along with the fruit in a cheesecloth bundle and removing it at the end, presumably to allow extraction of the pectin. Many jam and jelly recipes call for pectin to be added, but it isn’t needed for marmalade because of the amount of pectin already present in the skin and pith of the citrus fruit.
Some recipes call for a blanching or soaking stage. The primary purpose of blanching is to remove the bitterness from the pith and peel. We like bitter marmalade, so we left in most of the pith and didn’t soak or blanch the peels or fruit. That also keeps the recipe simple– just slice up the fruit and throw it in the pot with the peel pieces.
The fruit and peel are cooked in water until they’re good and soft. It takes a while (about an hour), but once you’ve got a nice simmer going, you can ignore it pretty well.
The sugar goes in. Lots of sugar. The original recipe calls for 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar (with ten lemons). The 4 cups of water barely covered the raw fruit (in a saucepan with roughly equal depth and diameter). For scaling the recipe up or down, you can use that as a rough guide: pour in water a cup at a time until the fruit is almost covered, then once everything’s soft add as much sugar as you did water. Stir in the sugar, and bring it up to a boil, stirring regularly.
You can add things too, of course. Star anise, cloves, a cinnamon stick, a tablespoon or two of whiskey or Grand Marnier, maybe even a little brandy, etc. You can 100% personalize the basic marmalade recipe to do amazing things. Anyway at this point, after it boils, using a candy thermometer you make sure it reaches 220° degrees (if you’re planning on making jellies & marmalades a lot, or if you’d like to venture into candy making at all, a thermometer is a must have item). Then let it boil it at 220° for a full minute. When the minute is up, test the set (there are numerous ways of doing this). If it hasn’t set, keep boiling. Eventually it will achieve the set & you can proceed with canning it.* I’d recommend processing for 10 minutes in a water bath canner, although many old fashioned marmalade recipes just require sterilizing, filling then sealing the jars. Better safe than sorry I guess, even with the high sugar content.
*Here I will state that I have read that sometimes marmalade can take up to 2 weeks to set. I never had such a problem, my marmalade has always set immediately.
If you’re wondering what exactly you can do with marmalade, besides using it on toast: you can use it to glaze a roast chicken or ham, melt it and use it to marinade shrimp, use it to make cupcakes or cake, use it as a glaze over warm pound cake, making muffins with it, whisk it into a vinaigrette to use as a salad dressing, etc. Once you use your imagination you can come up with tons of ways to use it! I ended up with a lot of jars of this since the summer, and of course I had to dress them up; using raffia & dried orange & lemon slices. I only show two jars because, well duh, I had to open one to eat it!
Winter outdoor shots are always fun. Especially when it’s freezing cold. But when you’re looking for a rustic look, you’ve gotta go the extra mile… or whatever. At least it wasn’t snowing! Although come to think of it, snow would’ve made a prettier backdrop. Anyway, the dried citrus fruit slices are incredibly easy to make, & make perfect decorations for anything: for decorating jars of marmalade, for tying on to a Christmas tree with ribbons, for decorating a gift (wrapped in brown Kraft paper with twine) or for hanging in a kitchen. Also they can be eaten, as any dried fruit can be, pulverized & the powder sprinkled on foods, or put into a jug of water for instant rehydration and flavoring. It takes a lot of time (unless you have a food dehydrator) but it’s worth it!
All you have to do is slice the fruit as thin as you can, preferably ¼” thick. Pat them dry with paper towels & gently press out as much juice as possible from each slice without ruining the shape. Either use a food dehydrator or put a cooling rack over a cookie sheet & bake them in the oven; 275° degrees F for the first two hours and then 250° degrees F for the next 2-4 hours. If they’re still not dry (test by “squishing” the pulpy part, if it’s moist or juice squirts out, they aren’t fully dried yet), then leave them on the rack in the oven & put the oven on the ‘warm’ setting (about 200-220°) for another 2+ hours. The least moisture left in there the better, especially if you’re using them for decorating. If you’re using them for food purposes, they can be less dry. Unless of course, you plan on storing them long term; then the less moisture the better. There are many different ways of doing it, mainly differences in time/oven temperature (Martha’s way differs from mine slightly, as do these directions) yet they all work equally well.
The best ones in my experience are limes & grapefruits. They both slice perfectly & never end up with holes or gaps when they’re finished drying. However, if you’re careful cutting them, they all look gorgeous once they’re finished. If you’re really nice, & after you used yours to decorate jars or gifts, & you’ve got a few left that aren’t looking that great or aren’t as perfect… try hanging them outside for the birds! I also heard that cats don’t like citrus fruit, so if you have a problem with strays marking your yard it might be worth a shot anyway (obviously on low-lying branches). My cat doesn’t seem to mind it at all, but she’s an anomaly. Tinfoil doesn’t frighten her either.
My next mission is to make some lime marmalade & tie a bunch of slices of dried limes to each jar, with green ribbon & instructions for using the slices long after the goods are gone. Sounds good, right? I haven’t made lime marmalade yet.
And in case you’re wondering- my pantry has exploded in the past 6 months. Actually, I’ve given away a lot… especially just recently at Christmas, but currently what’s there is plenty (yes, there was more than this): lemon-orange whiskey marmalade, c-lemon-tine marmalade (all clementine & just a bit of lemon), one lone jar of habanero pickles (the only pickles that seem to not be grabbed at too quickly, hence the fact they’re still here!), champagne jelly, gingerbread spice jelly, candy apple jelly, vanilla-brandy chestnut jam, basil jelly, habanero rosemary jelly, pickled red & green tomatoes, peppers in oil (& some in vinegar), Earl Grey’s nectarine preserves, Van Gogh’s strawberry jam with chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka cherry preserves, fresh tomato salsa, amaretto cranberry sauce, mint jelly, caramel apple syrup, canned peaches in syrup, one jar of Lady Grey’s lemon & tea marmalade and last but certainly not least- a few jars of Meyer lemon curd (recipe to come!). Whew. Sorry I don’t have recipes for all of them posted. But I think you’re smart… you can figure ’em out. Google is an amazing thing. Plus with amazing resources like Punk Domestics, Food in Jars & Hungry Tigress right at your fingertips, you’re golden.
If you’re thinking about getting into canning, I suggest you start off with a case of pint jars, the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, some vinegar & some cucumbers & start off making pickles, then graduate to giardiniera or other pickled veggies, then to easy fruit-based stuff like canned peaches or blueberry or raspberry jams. Save the more complex jellies made with homemade or commercial pectin, more difficult jams & marmalades for later. Work up to them. And, if you’re looking to buy jars but aren’t sure of what size(s) you want/need, Food in Jars made a handy guide to the available Ball & Kerr jars; but keep in mind there’s Weck too, if you like a fancier look (for a much more expensive price). I’ve also heard of Better Homes & Gardens brand jars but never seen them (they’re made in China, FYI). I’d prefer to stick with Ball® or Kerr® myself. They’re made in the U.S.A., readily available, have a long history of doing it right & they’re affordable (which is important regardless of how much canning you’re planning on doing).