Category Archives: Preserving

Candied Sunshine #fijchallenge

Two years ago, I started the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, a yearlong challenge to broaden and improve my preservation skills.  For no obvious reason, I only made it through March.  When I saw that Marisa was running another challenge this year, I decided to jump on board again.  I have no idea how long I’ll last, but, for the moment, I have good intentions.

January’s challenge is to play with preserving citrus.  The technique is open-ended.  I’ve always wanted to candy my own citrus rind.  Candied orange rind is a confection I love to use in baking all year long added to scones, shortbread, and baseler leckerli at the holidays.  I’ve always bought it commercially made, but when I’ve seen recipes, it seems like an achievable DIY kitchen project.

I also love repurposing kitchen scraps into delicious things to eat.  This time of year, Howard eats a lot of oranges, and we both eat grapefruit for breakfast every morning.  I asked Howard to set aside some of his orange rinds plus I saved grapefruit rinds for a few days to support a parallel experiment.

In the meantime, I researched recipes.  Some recipes only used the outer peel, discarding the pith, while others used the whole rind.  The candied peel I buy uses the whole thing which is also much less work and less waste so that’s the approach I chose.

There were many different methods for preparing the rind for candying.  Some cut the rind into strips first. Others started with halves of rinds – in some cases with any membranes to be scraped off later and others already “clean”.  I was concerned the strips would get overcooked, so decided to start with the larger pieces and cut them into strips afterwards.  The orange rinds were already cleaned and the grapefruits were not, so I decided to try both ways to compare.

There were also many different approaches for boiling the rind.  In all cases, the purpose is to remove bitterness.  The variety came in the timing:  how long and how many times?  In some recipes, you simply bring the peel and water to a boil then immediately draining and repeating.  Other recipes, the rind is boiled for 2 minutes, 3 minutes, anywhere up to 15 minutes before repeating.  And how many times?  I saw recommendations between 2 and 5 times.

The strength of the simple syrup was also variable, but most frequently it was 1:1 (water to sugar).

Armed with these ideas, I set out to make one batch of candied orange peel and another of candied grapefruit peel.  The only difference between my chosen method for the different batches was that the grapefruit still had all the membranes attached.

If you are making candied peel from fruit you’ve juiced and you’re trying to keep things as simple as possible, doing the boiling step with those membranes still attached seems like the path of least resistance.  However, I found that after the rinds were softened from the cooking, it was difficult to get down to the pith.  I used the serrated edge of a grapefruit spoon to scrape, but it never seemed like I got all the membrane off.  In retrospect, I wish I’d cleaned the rinds at the start.

Everything else was simple enough.  Time consuming, but manageable if you’re hanging around the kitchen anyway.

The candied orange peel is amazing.  It’s far superior to anything I’ve bought.  I might be making more before the winter citrus season is over.

On the other hand, the candied grapefruit peel has a bitter finish.  In an attempt to counter the bitterness, I coated the grapefruit peel with sugar.  The coating gives the peel an attractive look and cuts the stickiness when handling it.  However, the bitterness persisted.  Maybe grapefruit, being naturally more bitter than orange, needed more rounds of boiling to mellow?  I’m hoping that I can still use it in baking so it won’t be wasted.  I’ll try some of my recipes that use candied orange or lemon peel to see.

 

Candied Citrus Peel

  • Rinds from 2 oranges, quartered
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1½ cups sugar

For coating candied rind, 1 cup sugar (optional)

If any of the membrane from the fruit remains, scrape or pull it away from the inside of the rind.

Place the rind in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil.  Let boil for 3 minutes.  Drain.  Repeat 2 more times.  This reduces the bitterness of the rind’s pith.

After the final (3rd) boil/drain cycle, let the rind cool until it’s comfortable to handle.  This will take 10-20 minutes.  Slice rind into ¼ inch strips, no longer than 3 inches.

Wash the pot to reuse for making simple syrup.  Bring the water to a boil.  Add the sugar to the pot.  Turn off the heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.

Note: If you think your fruit is especially small or large or you are scaling this recipe up or down, at this point, do a rough measure of the strips of rind in a liquid measuring cup.  Calculate 75% of the volume of rind (round up to the closest ¼ cup so it’s easy to measure).  Make a simple syrup from the calculated amount of water and the same amount of sugar.  My 2 orange rinds (from average-sized fruit) yielded 2 cups of rind strips, so I made simple syrup from 1½ cups water and 1½ cups sugar.

Add the rind strips to the simple syrup and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the peel is soft and translucent, 45 minutes to an hour.  The rind will absorb most of the syrup, and water will evaporate from the syrup so it will thicken as it cooks.  Towards the end, you can turn up the heat slightly to accelerate evaporation.  Don’t let it burn.

Place a cooling rack over a baking sheet.  Using forks, transfer the candied strips to the rack to cool and dry.  Separate the strips so they aren’t clumped.  (You can save the concentrated syrup to add to seltzer or to sweeten your tea.)

Once the rind is cool, cover it lightly with a clean tea towel or paper towels to keep it clean (it’s sticky).  Let it sit for 1-2 days to dry, though it will remain a little tacky.

Optionally, after drying overnight (8 hours), toss the rind in white sugar.  Do this in small batches to avoid clumping.  Transfer the coated rind to a rack set over a baking sheet (don’t use the original one without wiping it clean – it’s sticky!) and let it dry further for another day.

Transfer candied rind to an airtight container.  It should last 3 to 6 months.

Yield:     Filled a 1-quart glass jar

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Extending the Tomato Season

It’s been almost a week and fall is officially here!  I don’t know how the weather knows, but as soon as the calendar hits the first day of fall, a chill arrives in the air.  Apples, squash, a multitude of root vegetables are on their way.  It’s your last chance to put up some tomatoes for a burst of summer in the colder season.

I’m an active volunteer at Lexington Community Farm.  At their Harvest Festival last weekend, I put together an informational table on preserving vegetables and did a demo on canning salsa.  Prior to preparing for the demo, I’d never canned tomatoes before.  They have a reputation of being risky to can but this is undeserved.  Tomatoes can be canned safely and easily.

Canning

Tomatoes can be canned in many forms:  whole tomatoes (or halved or quartered), salsa, tomato sauce, tomato soup.

Anything canned in a water batch canner must have a pH of 4.5 or lower (high acid) to be safely canned.  Because tomatoes are considered “low acid”, it is very important to include enough acid in the jars to prevent food-borne illnesses like botulism.

Most sources discourage using fresh lemon or lime juice.  Vinegar, bottled lemon or lime juice, or citric acid are the recommended choices because they have a known, predictable acidity.  When canning tomatoes, you should only use recipes that have been tested for the proper acidity.  This isn’t the time to wing it.

Recipe: Tomato Salsa

Yield: About 3 pints

1 cup distilled white vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp kosher salt
3 pounds tomatoes (whatever kind you have), seeded and diced (no need to peel)
½ pound onions, diced
1-2 jalapeños, finely diced
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Sterilize jars for 10 minutes in a water bath.  Wash the lids and place in a heatproof bowl.  Pour boiling water over them and let them sit.

In the meantime, in a large saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Add chopped vegetables and return the mixture to a boil.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Add cilantro and remove from heat.

Ladle the hot salsa into hot jars, leaving ½-inch of headspace.  Run a chopstick or small spatula around the side of the jar to release any air bubbles.  With a damp paper towel, wipe the rims of the jars to remove any salsa that landed there.  You need a clean surface for a good seal.  Place a lid on top of each jar and then screw a jar band onto each jar.

Place jars back into the canner and return the water to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, process the jars for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat, remove the lid from the canner and let the jars sit for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars to a rack or a baking sheet lined with a dish towel.  Let them cool undisturbed for 24 hours.

Check the seals.  The lids should no longer be popped up.  If a jar did not seal, store it in the refrigerator and use it first.  Label jars with the date.  Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for about a year.

Basic Canning Equipment:

Canner Any pot, with a lid, that is tall enough to cover your jars by 2-3 inches.
Rack You want the water to circulate around the jars, so the jars should not sit directly on the bottom of the pot.  If you don’t have some sort of rack, you can make one by lining the bottom of the pot with extra rims from the traditional two-part lids used in canning.
Canning Jar Lifter When canning, the jars are hot.  Canning tongs are essential for safety.  They are shaped to hold the jars firmly when moving hot jars in and out of boiling hot water.
Wide-Mouth Funnel This reduces the mess when transferring jar contents to the jar.  This has become one of my most used kitchen tools.  I use it when transferring any food to a jar for storage, such as flour, sugar, rice, and grains.
Lid Lifter (Optional) A magnetic wand that picks up lids without having to touch them with your hands.
Bubble Remover/Headspace Tool (Optional) One end is notched in quarter-inch increments for measuring headspace. The other end is used to release air bubbles from filled jars (a chopstick can be used for this purpose).

You can buy a “starter kit” of canning tools which typically includes the jar lifter, funnel, lid lifter, and bubble remover/headspace tool.

General Canning Tips

Always sterilize the jars before canning.  Place clean jars on a rack and fill the pot with enough water to cover the jars by 2-3 inches.  Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.  Once boiling, start the timer.  Continue boiling the water and the jars for 10 minutes.  At this point, you can turn off the heat.  Leave the jars immersed in the water.

Never reuse the lid of a two-part lid.  It won’t seal reliably after its first use.  Rims can be reused.

You will want your tools super clean too.  I do not sterilize my tools, but I do slip them into the pot of boiled water to sit while I get ready to fill the jars.

You will want to fill hot jars with the hot product.  After sterilizing, the jars can sit in the hot water while you finish up cooking what you are going to can.  Don’t let the jars cool; they should stay warm.  If the temperature differential between the jars, contents and water in the canner is too much, the glass jars might break from thermal shock.

After processing, turn off the heat, uncover the pot, and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  This helps prevent thermal shock on removal from the pot.

Freezing

Freezing is another option, without any hassle.  In late summer, I make my batches of favorite tomato sauces to freeze for winter pasta dinners.  Nothing special is required for safe preservation.  You just need containers and space in the freezer.

Whole tomatoes can be frozen in freezer bags or other well-sealed containers.  You don’t have to peel them first.  Remove the stem scar, wash well, and dry, then pop them in a freezer bag. You can start a bag and add more tomatoes to it as you pick extras.  When using frozen tomatoes, the skin should slip right off when you rinse them in warm water.  You will want to use frozen tomatoes in cooked dishes because the texture will be mushy.

Using the Scraps

When seeding the tomatoes, collect the seeds, surrounding gel and any juice in a bowl.  Stir in some salt, dried Italian herbs, and optionally red pepper flakes.  Transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and allow the liquid to drain back into the bowl, stirring occasionally to maximize the liquid extracted.  Use this juice to make a very light and delicious Bloody Mary.

When you peel tomatoes, you can save the peels and make Tomato Skin Salt.  All you need are the peel, coarse salt, and some time to dehydrate the combination.  This seasoned salt will extend summer’s flavors beyond the last frost.

Resources

Websites:

Ball/Kerr Canning Jars:   https://www.freshpreserving.com/home
Food in Jars blog:             http://foodinjars.com/
Well Preserved blog:      http://www.wellpreserved.ca/
Northwest Edible Life blog: https://nwedible.com/food-preservation-index/

Books:

Ball Blue Book (a classic)
Books by Marisa McLellan (blogger behind Food in Jars) have recipes for smaller batches.  My favorites: