Saturday, January 10, 2009

Preserving the Seasons: January, Week 2

One of the traditions My Wonderful Parents have carried down through the years is that of Christmas citrus.

See, when they were growing up, citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit were expensive, rare treats. That made them all the more appreciated, then, when a plump round fruit ended up padding the bottom of their Christmas stockings.

Once they retired and starting spending their winters down south, My Wonderful Parents made the effort to ship me a box of Florida (or, one year, California) oranges so that I could enjoy some of their local bounty. Now that they've moved back north, they order a box for themselves and share it with me.

And so at this time of year, I indulge in freshly squeezed orange juice and the occasional Pie in the Sky, just to savor those oranges to the fullest.

Since citrus fruits are specialty items for us here in northern Ohio, it's worth talking about them separately in terms of preservation. Storing citrus is easy: I keep mine in the bottom of the refrigerator, knowing that I'll use them fairly quickly, but I discovered in reading A Slice of Organic Life that they can also be packed in boxes lined with sand and stored for longer periods.

Once you use the fruit, though, you're often left with a mostly-overlooked peel. In the interest of reducing kitchen waste (something I try to do often), I'll offer two suggestions for preserving and using the peel itself.

Section the peel into manageable sections, and scrape out the remains of the pulp (if any) and especially the white pith. I usually scrape them out with my thumbnail, but after one or two oranges, that can get painful. I haven't tried using a knife, but if you do, scrape carefully!

If you want, you can stop here and allow the scraped peels to air-dry on a baking sheet. Once they are dry, pack them in airtight containers. I like to use small wedges of dried peel in mulling cider, but I also throw a couple pieces into my coffee grinder and grind them fine for using in baking. Fresh grated peel is best, but dried peel will last longer.

The other thing you can do with citrus peels is to candy them. Start by slicing the scraped peels into thin strips. Dump the strips of peel into a saucepan and fill with water. Bring to a boil, then allow the peels to simmer for 30 minutes. Drain off the water, and repeat the process once more for oranges, lemons, and limes (twice more for grapefruit).

You'll notice that the peels appear a little plumper and definitely softer. While they drain, prepare a simple syrup of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water (2 c sugar and 1 c water for the peel of 3 oranges). Bring the syrup to the boil before adding the peel, then simmer the peel, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes.

I decided to try something a little different and used honey in my syrup. This gave me a thicker syrup and far more sticky peel pieces, so I'm not sure I would recommend it to you. Sure tastes good, though! I usually drain the peel pieces over the saucepan of syrup and set the syrup aside -- but I'll get to that in a moment.

Roll the pieces of cooked peel in sugar and lay on a wax-paper-covered surface to dry. Once these have dried and hardened, you can pack them in glass jars with airtight lids. They can be good for a quick sugar fix -- chewy and citrusy -- or can be added to baked goods.

As for the syrup leftover from the cooking, I like to pour it into a jar, refrigerate it, and use it on my pancakes. Since this honey-based syrup is thicker than the usual syrup, I may leave it out on the counter and even use it to spread on fresh biscuits.

So there you have it! Not only can you enjoy eating your winter citrus fruits, you can also preserve a little of the flavor for later.

Doesn't that sound ap-peel-ing?

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At 1/11/2009 11:59 AM, Anonymous Janet said...

Sounds wonderful, but I have a couple of questions:
--With the candied peel, did you dry it first?
--Many oranges (and probably other citrus), and i think that includes organic, have some kind of coating applied to extend shelf life. Any way to tell whether your fruit has a coating? If it does, do you need to remove it before drying or making the candied version?

At 1/11/2009 1:08 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Good questions, Janet. I did NOT dry the peel first -- just scraped it, simmered it, added it to syrup. Drying actually comes last.

I have never done anything about the coating (I'd forgotten, honestly) and am not sure how you might counteract that. Perhaps the coating is released or boiled off in the simmering process, because the peel does become softer. I don't know. Does anyone have any ideas about that?

At 1/12/2009 11:11 AM, Blogger Sara said...

No idea about that. But wanted to say thanks for posting this! I'd heard about doing the candied orange peels, but never knew how to do them. I'm going to try canning up some clementines (to use as mandarin oranges) in the coming weeks, so I might have to candy the peels when I do them! Thanks again!


At 1/12/2009 11:22 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Good luck with that, Sara! I've never tried using clementines or tangerines, but I bet those would be good, too. (And I had never ever thought about canning clementines to use like mandarin oranges -- great idea!)


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