Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 9 – What the heck am I doing and cookbook porn

942000_10201384548321558_1113451416_nOkay, so today I woke up and wondered what the heck am I doing with 6 acres of land covered with fruit trees and vegetables and other stuff. How am I going to do something with the bounty? The avocados hanging on the trees mock me. We can’t sell them at a Farmer’s Market unless we get a producer’s certificate. Which I want to do, but that is in between the rest of life as if I don’t have enough to do. And while I can give away the bounty, I can’t really give it away fast enough. I can do food swaps, but then again, I will end up taking stuff home. And I can donate it to local food banks, which we are doing some but some of the fruits just don’t travel very well, like loquats and mulberries, and cannot be easily or effectively donated.

Instead of doing anything productive to solve that problem, I spent Day 9 of my journey lusting after cookbooks. Of course, Day 9 was the last official day of the book fair at my kids’ school, so I started off by looking at the cookbooks there. And then poked around Amazon. My wish list now has the following books.

First, I love Nigel Slater’s cookbooks. I started with Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard because it seemed appropriate to have a cookbook subtitled “A cook in the orchard” and fell in love. I bought it at Rolling Greens in Costa Mesa (a wonderful store if you haven’t been) and the woman helping me recommended another book by Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen with Nigel Slater. That I absolutely loved. Loved. Sent it to my mom (who loves English mysteries) for Mother’s Day, and lusted after some of his others:

Given Amazon’s helpful recommendations, I then fell in love with several other cookbooks.

 

My husband is going to be out of town for an important upcoming holiday so he may just end up purchasing some cookbooks for me . . . . .

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 8 – Sweet Marmalade

DSC01395I’m still trying to use the oranges that are hanging on – the end of the season’s crop. I’ve got fresh blooms and new fruit starting, but we haven’t harvested all of this year’s crop. Mostly because it is all just a little too overwhelming here on our farm. I mean really, I’m a suburban mom with 2 kids and a full time job. How am I supposed to also be a modern pioneer woman?

In any event, having picked 2 more baskets of oranges in my efforts to tame an unruly orange tree (meaning I was attempting to give it a much needed pruning), I had to figure out what to do with them. My previous marmalade efforts were not much liked by my children or my husband. They didn’t like the bitterness, although I thought the marmalade tasted pretty darn good and very English.

If you didn’t know, marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits. The presence of the fruit peel is what makes it a marmalade, and the white pith and membranes impart the traditional bitter flavor. So, I wanted to make a marmalade with less bitterness than the traditional marmalade – a sweet marmalade.

The problem is that reducing the pith, seeds and membranes means that you are eliminating the parts of the orange that contain pectin – which causes the set (or the gel). You can make up for this by adding store bought pectin. So, I decided to try a sweet marmalade recipe, and found one in 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and Other Soft Spreads by Linda J. Amendt which seemed pretty easy.

The recipe calls for 12 to 14 medium Valencia oranges. Now, I don’t know what kind of oranges I have. I know I don’t have navel – navels get their name from the fact that the bloom end looks a lot like a human belly button. The book states that you should not use navel oranges for making marmalade because they become tough when cooked and contain an enzyme that will cause the fruit to turn bitter during storage. However, a couple of recipes I found online say that you can use navel oranges.  I don’t know – but I do know I did NOT use navel oranges.  Although I don’t know what kind of oranges we have, I do know that they taste pretty darn good – and the first rule of preserving is to use good fruit to get good preserves.

So I had 14 oranges. First, I prepared the canning jars and lids. The recipe didn’t say how much it would make, so I prepared 6 1/2 pint jars. If you need a refresher on prepping the jars and water bath, read this post. Then I prepped the fruit, which involved removing only the colored portion of the peel from 6 of the oranges. I used a microzester to do it. Once you do that, you peel all of the oranges, removing the outer with pith. You then cut the fruit sections away from the membrane (remember, we don’t want any bitterness) and also remove any seeds. Discard the pitch, membrane and seeds.

Finely chop the fruit and measure 2 and 2/3 cups.

In your jam pot, put in the chopped fruit, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 1/8 tsp baking soda. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 8 minutes. Stir in the orange zest, cover and simmer 3 more minutes.

Slowly add and stir in 5 cups of granulated sugar and 1/2 tsp of unsalted butter (butter is optional – it is supposed to reduce foaming). Increase heat to medium-high and, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in 1 pouch of liquid pectin (3 oz). Return to full rolling boil while stirring constantly, and boil 1 minute.

Remove pot from heat and let cool 5 minutes. Remove any foam if necessary. Ladle into prepped jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims. Add lids and then screw bands (finger tighten). Place jars in water bath, leaving covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to boil. Process 4 or 8 ounce jars for 10 minutes and process 1 pint jars for 15 minutes.

Remove jars from water bath and place on wire rack or cloth towel. Let sit without disturbing for 24 hours. Check for a good seal. Remove screw tops and store in cool, dry location.

 

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Day 6 – Loquat Jelly

Three glass mason jars on an isolated backgroundAs I explained in my prior post, I had tons of loquats and wanted to use them for something, anything really. I stumbled across a recipe for loquat jelly, and was determined to make it. The day before (Day 5 if you are keeping track), I made loquat juice by de-seeding the loquats, boiling them in a pot just covered with water, and then straining the pulp and skin out. I ended up with 12 cups of juice.

The approved recipe calls for 4 cups loquat juice and says to “cook juice down until thick and cherry colored” but it isn’t clear whether that 4 cups of juice is before or after cooking it down until it is thick and cherry colored. It does say to cook down and then measure into a saucepot so I have to assume it meant to cook down and then measure 4 cups.  Also, since I didn’t know, I looked at some other recipes available on the web, and they all seemed to call for 4 cups of juice for 4 cups of sugar. Therefore, I tried to cook my juice down until it was thick and cherry colored. I cooked my juice for a long time, and while it got thicker and deeper colored, it never really got thick or cherry colored. I may have just had too much juice, or perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough. I ended up with about 4 and 1/2 cups, so I decided to make the jelly.

The recipe calls for 4 cups loquat juice and 4 cups sugar. You measure juice into a saucepot, add the sugar and still. Boil over high heat until it reaches the gel point, or 200 degrees F.  Of course, make sure your canning jars are ready and your lids are ready.  Pour or ladle jelly into warmed jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Put lids and finger tighten screw caps (after wiping rims as needed).  The process time called for is 5 minutes.

Of course, we had to try the jelly right away, and scooped it out of the saucepot upon cooling. My son absolutely loved it. I think it has too much sugar and overwhelms the relatively delicate taste of the loquats. But it was very satisfying to do something with the fruit.

 

 

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Preserving the Harvest – Day 5 – Loquats & Loquat Jelly

bigstock-Loquats-7718853It is May 6, 2013, and loquat trees hang heavy with fruit in Southern California. Driving home from picking up my kids from after school care, we pass 6 or 7 trees in our relatively short drive just covered with fruit – trees that are in the area between a house and the sidewalk. It would be wonderful if all that fruit could be picked and used.

However, I have found that loquats bruise very quickly and spoil – I’ve had loquats spoil overnight. And we’ve got at least 3 loquat trees at the Land of Fruits and Nuts so I really don’t need any more loquats. I hope the birds and other animals enjoy the loquats . . . .

What to do with loquats? They are wonderful eaten fresh, although the season is relatively short.  I like loquats. Ripe loquats are juicy and delicious. The taste is a bit like an apricot, with some citrus zing. We have two types of loquats – small ones, about the size of a large grape, and big ones, about the size of a small apricot. I’m not sure whether these are two different types of loquats or not.

But I could never eat 3 trees worth of loquats before the fruit goes bad.  So, I tried turning the loquats into jelly, having stumbled upon an approved recipe at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I also understand that loquats are used for medicinal purposes, particularly in China. If I have time, I’m going to research making loquat cough drops or a syrup.

The loquat jelly recipe calls for 4 cups of loquat juice. To get the juice, you have to remove the seeds from the fruit and also the blossom end, then boil them in water and strain. Removing seeds from loquats is a time-consuming process. Cutting them is difficult, because there are usually 2 to 3 seeds inside, and you end up wasting a lot of flesh. I found the easiest thing to do was to stick my thumb in the process end and pull the seeds out, discarding the seeds and the blossom end. Then I put the remaining portion in a pot.

This takes forever, particularly with a large pile of fruit. I did it while I watched television, but I would recommend having a canning party and inviting some friends over. You will be covered with pieces of pale orange flesh, and the loquats will be jammed under your nails.

After de-seeding and removing the blossom end from the large pile of fruit I had picked, I covered the fruit with water and brought to a simmer on the stove to soften the pulp and flesh. This took about 30 minutes. I then strained, pressing the flesh to get all of the juice.

I found I had 12 cups of juice left. At this point, I was exhausted, this process having taken me almost 3 hours. So, instead of moving on to making the jelly, I refrigerated the juice and cleaned up before going to bed. Day 6 will be about making (and tasting) the loquat jelly.

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Preserving the Harvest – Day 3 – Elder

fresh elder flowers against a white backgroundSo, my third day of preserving the harvest at the Land of Fruits and Nuts found me too exhausted to think of canning. For the record, for the past two days, I’d been canning after the kiddos went to sleep, which meant that I was up pretty late.  Plus, I had to tend to the garden in the morning. After that, I had to coach volleyball practice. Then I wandered about the property checking out what was blooming, what was about to bloom, etc. Also had to figure out if we were going to meet the fire clearance requirements or if we had more brush clearing to do.

So, instead of tackling a new canning project, I decided to take stock and look through my cookbooks to discover some new recipes. I also want to prep for a class I was taking the following day on Elderflowers as part of the Wildcrafted Medicine series launched by the fabulous Rebecca Altman and Emily Ho.

So first, checking out my cookbooks led to shopping on Amazon for new books on canning and preservation. I picked out several for Mother’s Day (as a hint to my husband) and will post as I try some of the recipes.

After that, I started reading the information on the Elderflowers class and making sure I was prepared. As I was researching proper identification, it dawned on me that we may have Elder trees at the Land of Fruits and Nuts. The flowers looked vaguely familiar, as if I had just walked by them. But I, quite mistakenly, thought that Elder trees (and flowers and berries) were limited to England, Scotland and the like. I associate Elder with Celtic traditions, priestesses, the Lady of the Lake and, of course, Harry Potter. The thought that I might have Elder trees had never even crossed my mind. And I was off and running down the hill to check it out.

Lo and behold, the Land of Fruits and Nuts has at least 7 mature Elder trees. Apparently, we have Mexican or Blue Elder, although looking at references there is some dispute as to the taxonomy. Oh well. Doesn’t matter much to me – we have loads of the flowers (which smell like summer and magic to me).

Elderflowers can be used to make herbal effusions, elder cordial and a host of other products. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to find so many mature trees present at the Land of Fruits and Nuts. Elderflowers are mysterious and magical to me – growing my own, harvesting them and making a medicinal elixir is an act of defiance against conventional medicine. Off to do some more research!

 

Land of Fruits and Nuts – Preserving the Harvest – Day 2 – Orange & Whiskey Marmalade

Calamondin Citrus OrangesSo, having successfully made and canned strawberry jam (see my blog post on Day 1), I was ready to move on and try something to preserve the actual harvest. And boy do we have oranges. There are many mature orange trees on the Land of Fruits and Nuts. I don’t know what kind of oranges, but we have tons. And I was told you must remove all the fruit from the tree each spring so I figured I would tackle one tree, harvest the fruit and do some pruning. And then can the harvest.

Well, the harvest netted bags and bags of oranges – most of which were taken by a friend to be donated to a food bank. But I kept some of the oranges to try my hand at making marmalade.

I really wanted to make a whiskey marmalade. I have quite a fondness for whiskey – American whiskey to be frank. My current favorite is Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach Whiskey (YUM!) (although I am also stuck on Apple Pie Moonshine). I wanted to mellow out the marmalade with whiskey but I couldn’t find a recipe designed for whiskey until I hit upon one in Preserve It!.  The recipe was for “Clementine and Whiskey Marmalade” and while I don’t know whether or not I had clementines, I just used the oranges I had picked. I am pretty sure that they were NOT clementines.

It came out okay, but I found the recipe instructions to be a bit confusing and incomplete. For example, if you read the recipe literally, it doesn’t tell you to put the lids on until after you have processed the jars in the water bath. That would be a complete and utter disaster! Also, you are supposed to juice the oranges before cutting the peel, and then use water to cover the orange pieces. Seems to me you should use the juice and I’m going to try that. In any event, here is the recipe:

  • 2 lbs (900 g) organic clementines, scrubbed, rinsed, halved, seeds removed
  • juice of 2 large lemons
  • 4 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 to 2 tbsp whiskey (I used Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach)
  1. Prepare your jars for water bath canning. I made 4 1/2 pint jars with this recipe. The recipe says it makes about 3 medium jars or 2 and 1/4 pounds. If you need help on prepping, see my Day 1 post.
  2. Either juice the clementines and then shred the skins with a sharp knife or put in food processor and chop until shredded but not mush. I started by juicing and making nice slivers with my sharp knife, but quickly gave up and stuck in the food processor.
  3. Place chopped fruit in a preserving pan and add 3 cups of water, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook gently until rind has softened (30 minutes or more). Next time I am going to use any juice (assuming I juice first as opposed to using the food processor).
  4. Add lemon juice and sugar. Cook over low heat, continuously stirring, until sugar is dissolved.
  5. Turn the heat up to bring to a boil. Keep at rolling boil, stirring constantly, until gel point is reached. This took my stovetop FOREVER – really, 40 minutes I think.
  6. Take off of heat and stir in whiskey. I added 2 to 3 tbsp, but hey, that’s me!
  7. Place into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Add lids (that have been properly warmed) and screw tops (finger tighten). Place and process in water bath for 5 minutes. Remove and place on towel. Let sit for 24 hours and check seal.

This is a more traditional marmalade as my mom says, with the bitterness of the orange present. I am going to try adding whiskey to a sweet marmalade for my next batch of oranges. I only have 6 more trees at least to depopulate of fruit – lots of opportunities for experimenting.