Last of the Fresh Harvest – Start of the Baking Binge
December 1st, 6:00 PM: The candied grapefruit rind is bubbling in the syrup, almost done, so I’m sort of stuck in the kitchen when I notice it’s cold outside in the clear still night under the fat moon. So of course I get nervous about the lettuce and my pet baby radicchios.
Decide to put covers back on even though plants are already at that frozen stage where you shouldn’t touch them if you want them to thaw unharmed. Wilted tips better than wilted everything being my thinking on that.
Turn off the grapefruit (recipe follows)
Put on the headlamp, recruit Bill, who puts on his headlamp, and down we go to cover most but not all of what’s left.
What’s left: buttercrunch and romaine lettuce, rocket, Italian parsley, sorrel, scallions, Bright Lights chard, Lucullus chard, 4 kinds of endive (counting the radicchio), 3 kinds of beets but mostly Chioggia because we ate all but a few Touchstone Golds at Thanksgiving, quite a lot of Lacinato kale. And really a lot of broccoli raab
By and large it all came through fine, though the romaine did sustain minor damage
Forecast for the next couple of days is warm and rainy – supposedly going to the mid-60’s tomorrow which I will believe when I see it – so that’s the obvious harvest window for as much as we can store or share. After that it’s going to be in the mid 20’s more often than not, making the cover-uncover routine no longer worth it (except for the radicchios, of course).
But, the improvised hoop tunnels did such a good job that next year we’re going for the real deal: more rigid cross-supports, heavier, clearer plastic, and why we didn’t do it before is a mystery that I cannot explain.
CANDIED CITRUS PEEL ( ORANGE. GRAPEFRUIT OR LEMON)
Not only a vast improvement over commercial for all holiday baking needs, but also a lovely candy when crusted with sugar for easy handling.
This recipe is totally easy and very close to a no-brainer; it only has all those steps because most of it goes by look and feel, not fixed times and quantities.
Any thick-rinded* citrus will do, and it’s fine to use the outsides of breakfast grapefruit, orange juice or whatever. Keep the used shells in the freezer in a thick freezer bag until you have enough – at least a pound – to make the project worthwhile. All you need in addition is sugar and a candy thermometer, but I always add a little white corn syrup, aka glucose, as a hedge against toughness.
1. Scrape all flesh and membrane away, leaving the white pith, then cut the rind into thin strips.**
2. Put the strips in a kettle, cover generously with cold water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer briefly, around 3 minutes for fresh peel, just a minute or so for frozen. Drain.
3. Dip a piece of the peel in sugar and taste. It should be a little more bitter than is agreeable. If it is a lot more bitter, repeat step 2.
4. Measure the peel (by volume, not weight). Put it in a deep, heavy saucepan with an equal measure of cold water, bring just to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until it’s very tender. A toothpick should penetrate the peel side quite easily. This may take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or more and is essential for tenderness; if the sugar is added too soon it won’t be completely absorbed and the finished peel will be tough.
5. Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of white corn syrup for each cup of peel and stir until sugar is dissolved. Simmer slowly until peel is completely translucent, usually about an hour.
6. Remove peel with a slotted spoon. Raise heat to medium and boil until the syrup registers 220 degrees. Watch out for boiling over if the pan is any more than about a third full of syrup.
7. Return the peel and collected juices to the boiling syrup, lower the heat and cook a little bit more, until a – cooled! – test piece tastes like candied peel.
Which it is, if you’re using it where super-tender is an advantage, as in cheesecake, ice cream and cannoli filling. Just pack in sterilized jars, cover with syrup and keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks or the freezer indefinitely. Or can it, if you’ve made large quantities.
If you want firm peel for baking and candy, proceed to
8. Again remove peel with a slotted spoon and bring the syrup to a boil – no need to hit 220 this time. Return the peel to the boiling syrup, cook a minute or two , then shut off the heat. Allow to cool, then cover and let it sit overnight. Next day, reheat syrup to thin it out, drain the peel and dry it on racks until it’s barely tacky 12 – 24 hours, depending. Roll strips destined to be candy in sugar before drying. Store in airtight containers, in layers separated by plastic wrap. As long as the peel is dry when packed, it’ll last indefinitely in the fridge or anywhere reasonably cool.
Leftover Syrup is tasty in tea, on baked apples, pancakes …
* Fruit from California, Texas and other naturally dry areas tends to have thicker rind than fruit from Florida. I know of no thick-rinded limes but I wish I did so if you do please let me know.
** You can also cut it into fancy shapes, if you have truffle cutters or other mini-implements and something you want to decorate.