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Orange-Ginger Marmalade

oranges-ready-for-chopping

I’ve never been much for marmalade. It wasn’t a condiment we kept around the house while I was growing up. When it came to peanut butter sandwiches, my sister and I preferred the strawberry jam that came in a blue plastic tub with white lid and handle, like a little bucket. My mom always had a stash of something homemade tucked in the back of the fridge for her toast, while my dad typically gravitated towards the squeeze bottle of honey.

Chopping in progress

The only person I knew who kept marmalade on her grocery list was my grandmother Bunny. She would often spread a fine layer on a piece of morning toast, or use a bit as a pork chop glaze. On occasion, she’d offer me a bite, and I always found it displeasingly puckery and not nearly sugary enough for my young taste buds.

Bubbling Marmalade

Several years ago, I watched the movie Gosford Park. There’s one scene, in the final third of the movie, in which Maggie Smith’s character is breakfasting in her room with her lady’s maid. She lifts a cut glass lid from a preserves jar and complains bitterly when she discovers that the marmalade it contains was bought, as opposed to being house-made. That scene settled into the depths of my brain and took root, sending out shoots that carried the message “homemade marmalade is always preferable to mass-produced.”

Filling the jars

Last week, that dormant message finally bloomed and I headed to the kitchen to make a batch of Orange-Ginger Marmalade. I did some research prior to applying knife to orange and discovered a wide array of marmalade recipes. Each was a bit different from the one before. Some recommended removing the zest from the fruit with a vegetable peeler, peeling the remaining pith off and then chopping, while other recipes instructed you to chop the whole fruit. After reading seven different recipes, I decided to wing it, basing my method on my previous jam-making experience.

Filling a jar

I chopped eleven medium, organic oranges into tiny bits (they yielded a bit over eight cups of orange) and combined them with four cups of sugar, two inches of grated ginger (next time, I’d use far more, as the flavor is very faint) and the juice of two lemons. I ended up using one packet of liquid pectin to get things to jell a bit, but if you happened to have some cheesecloth in the house, you could bundle up all the seeds and orange membrane and cook it along with the fruit, as there’s a lot of natural pectin in the seeds. I didn’t have any cheesecloth (I used up the last of mine on a yogurt cheese experiment a few weeks ago), so in went the pectin.

Jars in hot water bath

The resulting marmalade is sweet, but not cloyingly so. The chunks of orange peel are a bit more toothsome than I find to be ideal, but they add good flavor and texture, so I don’t regret their inclusion (in the future, I’ll try for an even finer dice). I do wish the ginger flavor was more aggressive, next time I make this, I’m going to mince it instead of grating it, and will use a generous three or four-inch length. However, all in all, I’ve produced a really delicious spread that is perfect on toast, scones or stirred into a dish of cottage cheese.

Sealed jars

For those of you who want to taste my marmalade, I’m giving away a half-pint. Leave a comment below if you want a chance at it. I’ll pick a random winner out on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12 noon. For those of you who don’t win, the recipe is after the jump. This contest is now closed.

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Note to Self – Remember the Okra

Fried Okra

I’ve been in Austin, TX for the SXSW Interactive conference over the last few days, so I’ve been running hither and yon, attending sessions about things like Misogyny on the Internet and Is Online Privacy Broken. It’s been a fascinating whirlwind, although I’m looking forward to getting back to home and routine tomorrow night.

Last week, I made a batch of Orange-Ginger Marmalade, but I’m finding that I can’t quite muster the mental organization to write about it, especially when my meals have been consisting of things like barbecue ribs at Iron Works and an amazing Tex-Mex dip that consists of queso (melted Velveeta and Rotel tomatoes*) poured over a mound of guacamole.

However, I did want to mention the fried okra I ate last night, at a lovely restaurant on 6th Street called Parkside. Everything I tasted there was absolutely delicious, but the fried okra continues to linger on my palate-brain and it has me convinced that I need to incorporate okra into the canned vegetable rotation in the coming season. I’ve always been one of those who shied away from okra, fearful of it’s mucus-like reputation, but after Parkside’s okra, I am converted. I know that Rick’s Picks makes a pickled okra (and it’s a product with a loyal following), but now I’m going to be on the prowl for a recipe to do it at home. Anyone have any suggestions?

*It is one of my goals to can a batch of homemade tomatoes in the Rotel style (chopped with roasted jalepenos) over the summer/fall canning season. Hold me to it!

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Waiting and planning

doughnut-peaches

Last year, my approach to food preservation was totally haphazard. I made blueberry and blackberry jam, because those are the things I like to eat or give as gifts. I froze several pints of grape tomatoes on cookie sheets, because they were threatening to become over-ripe before I had a chance to eat them. I intended to do more with peaches, nectarines and the spinach from a local farmer, but each time, I turned my head for (what seemed like only) a moment and missed the season.

This year I hope to plan better, to can tomatoes for the winter and have slices of nectarines tucked away in the freezer for February smoothies. I’m preparing now, gathering jars (oh jars!) and lids, studying the charts that indicate seasonal ripeness from my favorite U-Pick and making arrangements to teach a few canning classes as Foster’s (because what better motivation is there for preparedness than the commitment to stand in front of strangers and talk?).

I’m looking forward to the coming weeks, when the asparagus begins to pop through the surface of the soil and offers its tender tips for steaming (and pickling). I’m dreaming of a small stash of green garlic pesto tucked away for a dark chilly night and of offering friends and family jars of sour cherry preserves for the holidays.

For now I’ll wait, make a batch of marmalade and imagine.

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Israeli salt from my sister

Israeli salt

Back in January, my younger sister Raina went off on one of those birthright trips to Israel. Before she left, she asked if there was anything she could bring back for me. Never having been to Israel and uncertain about the specialties of the country, I asked for the first thing that popped into my head. Salt. I’m not exactly sure why I thought Israel was a destination for good salt, but off she flew, determined to bring me back some salt.

Raina’s been on tour lately and pulled into Philly late Saturday night, with another musician named Rebecca, a car full of dirty laundry and a plastic take-out container filled with salt, tied up in a small plastic grocery bag. As she handed it over, she apologized, explaining that she didn’t think it was particularly good salt, but it was the best she had been able to find. On one of the last days of the trip, they had gone to an open air market. One man had a table, set with various containers of spices, herbs and finally, salt. The merchant hadn’t spoken any English, but a couple standing next to her helped with the bargaining and she ended up spending the equivalent of $3 American for the squat tub of salt.

israeli-market

Even before I opened it, I told her that more than anything, I appreciated the simple fact that she had kept me in mind while traveling and had added weight to her suitcase with my request. Then I pulled the lid off the container and encountered the most gorgeous, moist, perfect grey salt. I ran to the kitchen and pulled down the jar where I’ve kept my stash of precious grey salt, purchased in a 12 ounce bag for a ridiculous sum. Showing them to her side-by-side, I explained just how well she had done by her foodie sister. She grinned and gave me a hug. I love both my sister and my new supply of Israeli grey salt.

side-by-side-salts

I’ve done some internet searching, and haven’t been able to find out much about salt production in Israel. For all I know, this is French grey salt, imported to the Middle East and then repackaged for sale. If anyone knows more, I’d be happy to be informed!

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Beet and Onion Salad

beet-onion-salad

A two summers ago, I went through a major beet phase. I bought them constantly, and always had a jar of simply cooked beets marinating in a basic vinaigrette in the fridge. I used them to top salads and would toss them with pasta and shaved parmesan cheese for a quick dinner. Often, when there wasn’t much else around, I’d just eat them straight out of the jar.

When the season came around last summer, I wasn’t quite as hot for beets. I don’t know if I overdid it the year before or if I was just more enamored of other vegetables (I did go awfully crazy for string beans and artichokes). A number of beets did come my way through a CSA share Scott and I split with a friend and while I tried valiantly, I was never quite able to keep up with the flood. So sometime last November, I popped several beets into a gallon-sized storage bag and tucked them into the rear of the produce drawer, planning to get to them another day.

Well, that other day turned into last night. Recently, I’ve been focusing my mealtime energy into using what I have as opposed to buying ingredients on my walk home from work. Digging through the produce drawer, I came upon the beets. They were still firm, so I boiled a small pot of water and dropped them in. I know that lots of people prefer roasting beets, but when it comes to this preparation, I find that simmering them until they are fork tender is the most convenient, and I don’t notice any loss of flavor. Additionally, I like that they become so easy to peel when cooked like. All you have to do is let them cool to the point where you’re able to handle them and then briskly rub them until the skins loosen. A quick rinse and they are good to go.

While this isn’t a canning recipe exactly, beets that are prepped like this will last for about a week in the fridge (that is, if they last that long). And a nice, big canning jar is the perfect storage container.

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Loving jars

tea-in-a-ball-jar

I love jars. Now, when I say that to most people, they cock their heads and look at me as if I’ve got a couple of loose marbles upstairs, as jars aren’t something most people spend a whole lot of time thinking about. However, it’s an entirely true statement. I use canning jars to store leftovers and carry my lunchtime soup to work. I stash grains, teas, candies and condiments in them. I often turn to a wide mouth 16 ouncer when my water bottle is stinky and in the summer I carry that same size in case an iced coffee craving hits me (I hate using disposable containers, I can’t help but imagine them lasting forever in the landfill). There’s also something so satisfying and solid about drinking out of a jar as opposed to a flimsy paper cup.

My favorite jar in the world is the discontinued wide mouth 20 ounce glass freezer jar. I haven’t been able to track down when Ball stopped producing these babies, but they are a rare and precious commodity. About six months ago, I bought a dozen of them on eBay so as to bolster my stash. I gave several to my mother for Christmas. She was delighted to have them, as she was the one who originally turned me on to that particular size and understands just how hard they are to find.

I trace my minor jar obsession straight back to my mom. When I was in college, she slowly began ridding the house of the Rubbermaid and Tupperware containers that we’d used for food storage since I was born. She hated that they always became stained and liked to retain particularly stinky scents. Each time I came home for long weekends or holiday breaks, there were more food-filled jars in the fridge and fewer plastic containers. These days, save for a few ancient plastic containers that she’s had since the seventies, my parents’ house is a jar-only zone.

These days, my jar collection outstriped my ability to house it. I spend the summer making jams and pickles, and so throughout the winter, tuck the empties into closets and under beds until their time in a water bath comes again. Living in Center City Philadelphia makes finding jars a bit difficult, but I live just a short hour from Lancaster County, which is the self-proclaimed home canning capital of the world (those Amish sure to make a good homemade ketchup). And there’s always eBay.

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