Where did 2013 go? It’s cold, and things are looking a little lonely around here. Hello again!
Unsurprisingly, not much has changed since I last wrote here. There are the same frets and fears over my post-graduate future. You meet people and sometimes they’re wonderful and sometimes they just disappoint you. Sometimes you disappoint yourself. Right now I’m just taking each day as it comes, getting through each day and its little pile of to-dos and things-to-be-accomplished. Essays, laundry, trains. There are wasted minutes that slip through the cracks between tasks, and entire hours that slide past when your mind wanders towards the black hole that is the Internet. And Instagram. Good lord. At first I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to strangle or kiss Queue for convincing me to sign up for an account. But since my camera’s in Japan being fixed (warranty, bah) any photo-taking I’ve indulged in has been entirely on my phone – which means all these are Instagram photos – something I never used to have a habit of.
Another habit I’ve never had is jam-making. I don’t eat the stuff regularly, preferring peanut butter or kaya and butter on my morning toast. (But the best breakfast is still last night’s dinner.) Prior to this there was maybe one instance where I made strawberry conserves, but got bored of having just one flavour of jam around. Still, there has always been something quite mysterious and magical about making jam. The idea that you can heat fruit and sugar on a stovetop and a few tablespoons and jugs of time later it’ll emerge from the pot all sticky and intensely, sweetly perfumed… and make a faint glop sound… well.
So when Lorenzo posted on Facebook that he was putting together an enterprise of sorts that would bring organic Sicilian oranges and lemons from small producers directly to consumers, I was kind of sold, even though the WNO website hadn’t even gone live at that point. I mean, citrus! Jam! Preserved lemons! Orange somethings! I don’t even like marmalade, goddamnit, and I wanted to make gallons of the stuff. There were oranges dancing around in my head like so many twinkling stars. I had lemon dreams spilling out of the corners of my eyelids. So okay – 10kg of oranges it was. And 5kg of lemons.
Let me say, for the record, that dragging 15kg of citrus fruit home from uni is not a problem when you have a suitcase. Using 15kg of citrus fruit up is, especially if you are not a chronic juice-drinker or jam-maker to begin with. But I am doing my best, and I suspect that by the time Christmas rolls around, I will have begun pickling myself in preserves. Besides the eating out of hand, this is what I’ve been doing with it so far.
I think I have had this just once in my entire life, and I don’t really remember how it actually tasted. But in my head there is this Platonic ideal of how limoncello will taste – like a sudden burst of sunshine on a winter’s day, a bracing shot of chilly citrus, sweet and lightly sour and sharp. It tastes like how I imagine Sicilian sunshine would taste if you could bottle it. So I have all my fingers crossed that this turns out to be another drink I might like.
Traditional limoncello only has the peels steeped in vodka. But if lemon peels make a lovely limoncello, the whole fruit plus its juice would make an amazing limoncello. Or so my reasoning goes, but I just didn’t want to spend ages zesting the fruit. In my defense, I picked all the seeds out with the tip of a knife and saved them for an added boost of pectin during jam-making the next day.
We’ll have to wait a month, in any case, to find out how this little experiment turns out.
Earl Grey Orange Conserves
I have always wanted to like marmalade and failed – perhaps I just haven’t had a good home-made one, but its intense bitterness with nary a hint of sweetness (to my tastebuds) has always been quite off-putting. So this is a lovely alternative: a soft-set conserve with orange and apple juice, infused with Earl Grey. Orange pairs beautifully with Earl Grey, which has bergamot notes, and stops the whole thing from tipping over into unadulterated orange-squash sweetness. A nice touch here is having orange pinwheels suspended in the jelly, though not having good knife skills of any kind means that my pinwheels are more like stage one of the Reinventing The Wheel. (Advertising spin: it’s “rustic,” okay?)
While it would ideally have been a perfectly clear, jewel-like conserve, both batches unfortunately turned out a little cloudy. No matter. It tastes lovely, even to someone like myself who doesn’t care that much for jam. Toast and tea becomes that much more special with these conserves, but I bet it would be lovely slathered on some kind of pound cake, or warmed gently and dribbled over ice cream.
(Recipe from Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures via Joycelyn’s blog, which I used to read for hours on end as a, well, teenager. It is rather painful realising that I’m no longer at that age where I can pretend I’m still on the tail-end of adolescence…)
Everyone loved these candied orange peels. One of my lecturers declared himself to be in sugar heaven. This may have been an exaggeration but it was kind of gratifying to hear. So I can now jump on the snot bandwagon and declare that homemade orangettes do actually taste nicer than store-bought, despite the fact that they don’t look as picturesque as the ones you get wrapped in la-di-da ribbons in the stores. They are easy – if tedious – to make and perfect for people who can’t stand the thought of throwing stuff away. Leave as little of the white pith on your peels as possible, and the end results will taste all the better for it.
Recipes abound on the internet, all of them not so different from each other. I found that a simple syrup (1:1 ratio of water to sugar) rendered the peels sufficiently sweet, particularly after they’d been dredged again in sugar. You’ll be left with orange-flavoured syrup – what, were you going to throw it away? – which you may wish to use for sweetening your tea. Or, even better – making mulled wine syrup! Which is terribly appropriate for Christmas in the next two weeks.
Next projects: arancello (for which I have approximately 2.5 litres of vodka!), preserved lemons, mulled wine syrup. And more jam, of course.
I shouldn’t tell y’all to stay tuned, given that there is so much living to do and carving out time to update this blog more consistently is rather difficult. But nonetheless, stay tuned. And thank you for reading, especially if you’ve been around for a long while.
P.S. I am asking the whole world, but if you live in London and have glass jars at home that you were going to throw away or recycle, would you donate them to me please? Pretty please? I will feed you orangettes if the wolves don’t eat them first.