Saturday, December 17, 2011

handmade holidays: winter citrus gifts

I can't believe the holidays (the actual holidays themselves) are basically upon us! The lines at the post office were crazy today; I still have to get my brother's package out to him - and it's not even complete; the actual baked goodies/candies haven't been tucked in. I'll have to send some to my parents to hold for him.

I got back to an old favorite this year: candied orange peel. These are actually candied satsuma peels. Cass will eat 5-7 satsumas a day, and he saves the peels in a tupperware for me in the fridge.

It's quite easy to candy orange peels. It takes a bit of time, but most of that time you do not need to be watching the peels. First, simmer the peels in water over low heat for about 2 hours, until the white pith becomes waterlogged and can easily be removed by scraping a spoon over the inside of the peel. Drain all the peels and sit down and scrape the pith away, being careful not to tear the peels. Then cut the zest into strips or little bits or whatever shape you like, removing the thick "navel."

Combine equal parts water and sugar in a sauce pan and stir/whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the zest and simmer over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes. The zest can either be tossed in fine sugar and laid out to dry on aluminum foil (as with the pieces above), or you can skip the sugar-sanding and just lay the strips out to dry. The non-sugared pieces take several days to dry and remain a bit sticky, but I like the non-sugared ones better. A bit more bitter, a bit less sweet - and excellent additions to gingerbread, a must for true fruitcake, and I think I may look into making lebkuchen with mine.

Now on to the new recipe: I am trying out my first batch of preserved lemons. I bought two big bags of Meyer lemons at the grocery store (they're in season now - and for a limited time, if you don't live in Southern California. Pick some up and enjoy their sweetness for months to come!). I used the basic American/Moroccan style, which means you cut a lemon almost into quarters, not quite cutting all the way through the lemon so that the four pieces are attached together at the base of the fruit. Then pack about 1Tbl. kosher salt into the lemon - really mash it in. Place the lemon in a freshly-sterilized jar.

Now I have to pause for a brief digression about these jars! I only recently learned about these jars- they are German canning jars, brand name Weck, invented in 1900. Crate and Barrel just started carrying them for a very reasonable $4.00 - $4.50, depending on the size of the jar. The rubber rings need to be replaced each time you use the jar for canning/sealing, but that's it. The lids can be reused! - and if you are simply using the jars to store dry goods in your pantry or leftovers in the fridge, the rubber rings can be used over and over again. I like the idea of using these instead of tupperware: none of the danger of leaching chemicals if you want to reheat your food in a microwave!

back to lemons! So, you put your salt-encrusted lemon into the jar and kind of mash it down in there. Keep going. Every two or three lemons, sprinkle some spices in over the lemons. I used coriander seed, cardamom pods, and cloves. I decided not to add chilies, but that's pretty traditional, too. Keep smashing the salt-encrusted lemons in on top of each other - the juice will start to run from the lemons and fill the jar. When your jar is almost full, pour in some freshly-squeezed lemon juice to cover the last lemon (if your lemons haven't juiced enough to cover themselves already) and pop a lid on that sucker.

Now, most of the recipes I read say that this jar sits out for 30 days, and that you should shake it once a day to keep the salt evenly distributed. That means: no canning, no processing; these are not technically sealed. I'm not surprised. I've made the famous turnip pickles (recipes for which can be found in basically every arabian country, all basically the same) that are also a kind of fermented pickle; the salt and lemon juice are going to safely cure the fruits for you. However, a freshly sterilized jar is highly recommended (even though these were brand new, I boiled the lids and jars for 20 minutes and then let them dry for 2 hours in a low-heat oven, handling them only with freshly-washed tongs, not my hands). I actually put the rings on and put my jars in a water-bath and processed them (boiled them) for 10 minutes, just for added security. I also plan to store these in the fridge once they've been opened, though that is probably not necessary, either.

So there you have it: preserved lemons. Aren't they beautiful? And so tasty. I love to throw them into a rice pilaf or add chunks of them over mediterranean dish. They are so flavourful and bright! They would be lovely gifts, too, but since I only have the two full jars (and I'm not sure how well these Weck jars would hold up with the jostling of going through the US post??), I think these babies are staying at our house. Besides, they won't even be done for another three weeks!

1 comment:

safdar ali said...

super. so good idea of making such a beautiful winter gift. thanks for sharing.

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