Having been inspired in 2012 by Diana Henry's book Salt Sugar Smoke, I'm ending this year on a preserving note. Though everyone has their sleeves rolled up and heads filled with Christmas dinner thoughts right now, don't miss the fantastic flow of continental citrus arriving over the next few weeks. Packed with vitamin C, citrus fruit is just what we need at this time of year.
With the Mediterranean citrus harvest well under way, it's time to get candying. Candied citrus peel is so versatile. It can be eaten simply sprinkled with caster sugar, dipped in chocolate, or added to cakes, breads, tarts, and ice-creams. Of course, you can buy candied peel in tubs from the supermarket, but if you're enjoying the gorgeous fresh fruits, don't throw away the peel. If you candy it properly, and keep it in the fridge, it will be good for months. Above all, it tastes far better than the supermarket version.
Despite their association with the Mediterranean, all members of the orange family originated in China and were brought to Europe by Arab traders. The present day citrus groves stretching from India across to Spain mark the path of conquering muslim armies in the sixth and seventh centuries. The first oranges grown were the bitter Citrus aurantium. Too bitter to eat from the tree, they were cultivated for the scent of their blossom, for perfumes, and for distilling into orange blossom water to flavour food. Sweet oranges, Citrus sinensis, arrived in the 17th century.
In North African countries, sour pickled citrus fruits are favoured and used for flavouring tanginess. The Italians like to candy fruits whole. In the hills around Genoa the rare Chinotti grows. The candying process transforms this rather bitter citrus fruit into the most exquisite Christmas treat rarely found outside Liguria.
Marmalade has long been a revered preserve in the UK and most families have their recipe. It's a particularly British taste that only the bitter Seville orange can meet. The peel, for me, has a certain bitter appeal when candied. They too will be arriving very soon but it's time to get candying the citrus fruits that are already here.
|Candied orange and lemon peel|
Candying whole fruit is something I leave to the experts, but preserving the peel is rather easier. Some people like to scrape away the white pith under the skin of the fruit before candying. It's not necessary so long as you boil the skins in fresh water several times to remove the bitterness and you get a much more luscious candied citrus. Just make sure you candy only one type of citrus peel at a time to ensure you retain its specific flavour. I like to candy some in quarters and some in thinner slices, but it's up to you.
500g (1lb) citrus peel (pith attached)
625g (1lb 5oz) caster sugar (keep 60g back to sprinkle on the cooked peel)
Cut the peel into the size, or sizes, you want. Place in a heavy-based pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain the peel and repeat this process twice more. After the final draining, return the peel to the pan. Add the water and all but 60g of the sugar. Melt over a low heat and, once the sugar has dissolved, bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer and cook until the peel is translucent. This will take from 30 minutes for thin slices to 2 hours for thick quarters of cedro.
If you're candying various sizes, use a slotted spoon to remove the citrus peel when translucent and place on greaseproof paper. I like to leave leave the largest pieces in the syrup for 30 minutes after turning off the heat and before placing them on the paper. Spread them out so the pieces don't touch and leave overnight. Next day sprinkle the peel with the reserved caster sugar. They'll keep in a plastic container in the fridge for several months.
This is my last post of 2012 so Happy Christmas and see you in 2013.