Saturday, May 5, 2012
Spring Preserving, Part 1: Marmalade!
Way back in February I mentioned that citrus was in season and on sale. I also happened to mention that I was obsessed with the thought of preserving in-season foods. What I didn't mention was what I planned to do with it. That's because I had no clue what to do with it! Other than eating grapefruit for breakfast (and still being hungry) and juicing or zesting the lemons for cooking, I had very little experience with citrus fruits. See, that's the funny part about preserving foods. Unless you know how to use the stuff in your everyday meals, you could end up with entire basements of pretty jars that serve you no purpose. I try to come up with several ways to use a given end product before deciding to go through the effort and expense of making it, and even then I only make a small batch to see how I like it. I can always make a bigger batch next year, when I will be fully prepared for the season's bounty.
It was really tough to settle on a recipe for the citrus. The vast majority of preserves were in the form of marmalade, which I have never eaten and heard mixed opinions of. Marmalade is like a jam except that it is usually made with sour citrus and often contains the bits of zest and pulp. After an exhaustive search, I finally decided to throw caution to the wind and make two different kinds of marmalade. (I did end up making two other recipes with the citrus, which I'll talk about in Part 2!)
The first recipe I tried was Pink Grapefruit & Cranberry Marmalade from italianfoodforever.com (you can find the recipe HERE). During the holidays I had compulsively purchased a bag of fresh cranberries without a single idea on what to do with them. This recipe ended up being the perfect way to clean out the freezer! The recipe calls for 5 cups of fresh cranberries, but my little bag only contained about 3. I wish I had made notes, because I can't remember if I halved the recipe or not. I'm pretty sure I did. I do remember that it was WAY too tart for me, and I added an extra cup of sugar. After tasting the final product I wish I had added even more sugar. One of the benefits to this recipe is that it didn't require any pectin to set up into a firm jam consistency. Cranberries have oodles of natural pectin, and the long boiling puts nature to work for you. A tip on prepping the grapefruit: it's incredibly easy to zest them with a vegetable peeler and then dice the large strips into fine pieces. They don't break down while cooking, so the smaller/thinner the better! Be sure to dice the grapefruit flesh small because it also doesn't break down. I almost considered fishing out all the grapefruit chunks and dicing them smaller, but by then I was tired and ready to be done!
I had some extra marmalade that didn't fill a canning jar, so I poured it into an old jelly jar and popped it in the fridge. The final verdict? Not bad! It's still way too tart for me to enjoy it as a sweet condiment, but I could see myself using this as a filling in a chocolate layer cake or on pork. I have a much-loved recipe for Cranberry Mustard Pork Chops that I will have to try with the marmalade. All said, I'm not sure I'll make it again. It will all depend on how I use this batch through the year.
Also, when chopping up buckets of citrus, for the love of all that's good and holy, do NOT cut your finger or get a paper cut. Trust me. It's just bad.
Next up was Honey Lemon Marmalade, from foodinjars.com (you can find the recipe HERE). I followed the recipe exactly, except that I zested the lemons and removed most of the white pith, in the same way I did the grapefruit. I used Ball brand liquid pectin because it was significantly cheaper than Certo, but it caused about 48 hours of misery and worry because I thought it wasn't going to set up. After a few days though, it set up nice and firm. This stuff tastes AMAZING. I was most exited to try this recipe, and it did not disappoint! It would be incredible over a dessert, a morning scone, or even pancakes. Very bright and lemony, with the soft taste of honey in the background. When I make it again, I think I'm going to try straining a batch right before adding the pectin. I think this would be fabulous in a cup of tea, but the bits of rind and pulp would annoy me. A smooth jelly would be divine for tea!
This was also my first try at canning food. Everything went surprisingly well, but I have to admit to being absolutely terrified to open my jars and taste them. This is very weird for me. I am generally a laid back, germs-are-good-for-ya kinda gal, but the threat of botulism keeps scaring me away. I can't shake the nagging concern that I might have overlooked something. I have tasted my canned asparagus that I made the same day, but for some reason I'm afraid of my marmalade! Ah well, I still have plenty of both flavors in my fridge. Maybe by time those are gone I will have conquered my fear.
Stay tuned for Spring Preserving Part 2!