Preserved Lemons

 

Preserved Lemons

I always seem to have a few too many lemons sitting in the fruit bowl.

I like to have lemons around as I use them a lot – a splash of juice brightens up a sauce or gravy, a little zest lifts even the most simple of cakes and, of course, a gin and tonic just isn’t the same without a slice or two of yellow sharpness – but I hate to see them drying out and going to waste because I bought too many.

The most obvious thing would be to buy less lemons but it’s not quite that straight forward – because I like to use the zest I only buy unwaxed lemons and I find that they are often only sold in nets of five or more fruits rather than individually – why is that?  When they are available individually they are twice the price of waxed lemons.

I do all the usual things like freezing slices for a G&T or freezing the juice in an ice cube tray for a little zap when needed but I still sometimes get a little overloaded.  This week I asked the bun scuffle Facebook community for ideas and, as always, they came up trumps.

Thanks to Ali Robinson for suggesting that I preserve them – I love preserved lemons but have never actually made them before, so I stole this recipe from the BBC Good Food site and gave it a go.  The recipe (below) couldn’t be simpler but I’ll have to let you know how they turned out in a month or so.  When they are ready I’ll post some recipes for using them – mmm I can feel something Moroccan brewing…

Ingredients

10 or 12 Unwaxed Lemons (depending on the size of the jar)

250g / 9 oz Sea Salt

6 to 8 Black Peppercorns

3 Star Anise

3 Bay Leaves

Method

You will also need a sterilised preserving jar big enough to hold half the lemons. To sterilise wash thoroughly in hot, soapy water, rinse well and place in a low oven (140°C/Gas Mark ) for around 15 minutes.

Cut a deep cross into five or six of the lemons so that they are nearly quartered but still held together at one end. Pack a teaspoon of salt into each lemon and re-shape.

Push them into the jar as tightly as you can. Spoon the rest of the salt in and around the lemons along with the bay leaves, peppercorns and star anise.

Juice the rest of the lemons and strain the juice into the jar – top up with water to completely cover the lemons. Seal tightly with a lid.

Turn the jar every day to mix up the salt and spices. The lemons will be ready to use in a month to six weeks.

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If it’s January then it must be time to make Marmalade.

Orange Marmalade

Seville oranges are gnarly, ugly and virtually inedible but I still get excited when I see them in the shops.  This only happens in January in the UK and it marks the prelude to a great flurry of marmalade making across the country.  I think that one of the reasons I love them so much is that they look like a much needed blast of sunshine when it’s cold and grey outside.

This year I had to smile as the ancient art of preserving met modern social media; the call went out on Facebook that our local veg shop had supplies of the bitter, sharp oranges and favourite recipes were tweeted and exchanged in food forums across the web.

I guess this is my addition to that exchange.

As always I got a bit carried away and bought far too many oranges so I made more marmalade than I had jars for and still had enough fruit left to make an Orange Meringue Pie (Recipe here).

I like my marmalade dark and bitter so I use dark muscovado sugar and a little bit of treacle in the mix.  I also (whisper it quietly) prefer mine without whisky.  If you like a little kick of spirits on your toast in the morning then just stir in 150ml of your favourite tipple once the mix has reached setting point but before you cool it for bottling.  I recommend Jameson as it is smooth with a sweet base note which works well with the sharpness of the orange.  Alternatively you could try an orange liqueur such as Cointreau.

Making marmalade takes time and shouldn’t be rushed but it is a really pleasurable activity – put the radio on or plug in your iPod, ensconce yourself in the kitchen and enjoy.  Just don’t rush.

You will need a large preserving pan and enough jars for 8-10 pounds of marmalade.  If you don’t have a preserving pan you can use a heavy based saucepan but may need to make this marmalade in batches.

Orange Marmalade Recipe

Ingredients

1.3kg / 3lb Seville Oranges

The Juice of 2 Lemons

2.25 kg / 5lb Granulated Sugar (or preserving sugar)

450g / 1lb Dark Muscovado Sugar

2 tbsp Treacle

150 ml / 5 fl oz Whisky (optional)

 Method

Put 2 litres / 4 pints of water in the preserving pan and add the lemon juice and all the whole oranges.  Use a heat proof plate or a pan lid to weigh down the oranges and keep them submerged in the water.  Bring to the boil and then cover the pan tightly with tin foil or a close fitting lid and simmer for 2 hours.  By this time the peel should be soft and easy to pierce with a blunt knife.

Remove the pan from the heat and lift out the oranges using a slotted spoon.  Place the oranges on a deep plate to cool.  Don’t cut corners here the oranges are much, much easier to handle when they are cool.

Once cool cut the oranges in half, scoop out all the flesh, seeds and pith and add it to the liquid in the pan.  Flatten out the peel and the flat of a knife to remove as much pith as possible leaving just peel.  Reserve the peel and add all the pith to the pan.

Return the pan to the heat, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for around 6 minutes.  Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve into a large jug. Push down on the fruit with the back of a ladel or large spoon to make sure all the juice is extracted – this helps to maximise the pectin in the marmalade which improves the set.

Weigh the sugars into a large, heat proof container and put into the oven on a very low setting – I use the warming oven on the Rayburn.  Warming the sugar first helps it to dissolve more quickly and reduces the risk of it crystallising.

Cut the reserved orange peel into shreds – make these as fine or chunky as you like.  Put the orange cooking water, the warmed sugar, the treacle and the shredded peel back into the pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached.  Remove from the heat.  If you are using the whisky stir it in now.

Skim any scum off the surface of the marmalade with a large metal spoon.  Once the spoon is sticky the scum will stick to the back of it quite easily.  Leave the marmalade to cool and begin to thicken slightly (for around 20 minutes) before pouring into sterilised jars and sealing.

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Home Made Christmas Gift Ideas

This year I decided to make most of my Christmas presents and of course most of those gifts are edible – as if I needed an excuse to spend more time in the kitchen!

As with most people this year I am trying to spend a little less than usual and homemade gifts can work out cheaper than bought presents.  I say “can” because I became less convinced about the savings as I bought presentation jars, labels and ribbons and mourned all those free glass jars and bottles that I put in the recycling over the last year – from now on I will be saving everything!

Spoiler Alert!!  If you are expecting a gift from me you should probably stop reading now as this may spoil the surprise when you open your gift this Christmas.

I love mulled wine or mulled cider at Christmas but sometimes it seems like a bit of a faff to make just a glass or two so this year I have bottled some mulling syrup.  I can now make small amounts of mulled wine in just a minute or two:

Mulling Syrup Recipe

Put 250g Sugar in a pan with 1 litre of water.  Add 2 quartered oranges, 6 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 whole allspice, 1/4 of a grated nutmeg and a few small slices of ginger.  Heat gently until the sugar is all dissolved then bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve lined with a square of muslin.  Pour into sterilised bottles whilst still hot and seal.

The syrup will keep in a cool, dark place for up to three months.

To use, heat 1/3 syrup with 2/3 red wine or cider and enjoy.  You may like to add another cinnamon stick and a slice of orange when you re-heat.  This makes a lovely gift when given with a bottle of wine or a local cider.

Jars of chutney made from your summer vegetable glut also make a lovely gift when teamed up with a local cheese and crackers or parmesan and cheese biscuits.

Something specifically Christmassy also makes a lovely gift.  I particularly like Delia’s Spiced Cranberry and Claret Jelly.  In our house it’s not a replacement for cranberry sauce on Christmas Day but it does taste great with left over turkey on Boxing Day.

If your family and friends prefer sweet gifts try making fudge or biscuits.  I’m not a great fan of fudge but it is improved immeasurably with addition of some good rum and juicy raisins.  Whatever you decide, make it and give it with love and it will be received with pleasure.  But most importantly of all – don’t forget to keep some for yourself!

Rum and Raisin Fudge Recipe

Soak 4 oz of raisins in 3 tablespoons of dark rum for an hour or so before you need them. Butter and line an 8″ square cake tin.

Put 1lb Demarera Sugar, 4 oz Butter, 5 fl oz Milk and 14 fl oz sweetened Condensed Milk into a large non-stick pan. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Raise the heat and bring to a gentle boil.  Continue to boil, stirring all the time until the mixture reaches 115 C or 240 F or the soft ball stage.

Remove from the heat and stir vigorously for 10 minutes until the mixture becomes thick and grainy.  This burns off nearly enough calories for you to steal a piece of the finished fudge!  Stir in the rum and raisins until evenly distributed then pour the mixture into the prepared tin and leave to cool until set.  Cut into generous chunks and put into gift bags.

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Courgette Chutney

This is the 7th of the courgette recipes this week and you may well be getting a little tired of courgettes by now but I promise you will be glad of them later in the year so it is worth finding a way to preserve some.

You can freeze courgettes but I am not a fan.  Slice small courgettes and spread out on a tray in a single layer.  Place the whole tray in the freezer.  Once frozen, put all the slices into a plastic bag, seal and replace in the freezer until needed.  By freezing in this way you can remove just as much or little as you need each time.  You can use the courgettes up in soups and stews but the texture is a little odd if you try to do much else.  Larger courgettes with their higher water content really don’t freeze well at all and are quite mushy when thawed. Alternatively you could make a ratatouille and freeze that.

I much prefer to preserve my courgettes in a chutney.  Making chutney is such a wonderful experience – I find the chopping very therapeutic and, as the chutney heats up, your whole house will be filled with a wonderfully heady aroma; rich, sweet and spicy with an almost elusive top note of vinegary sharpness.   The pleasure of preserving in this way is compounded when I place the finished jars into the cupboard; somehow laying down food for the winter gives me the same feeling of security that I get from a full log store.

This recipe is sweet and fruity with a slightly spicy base note but it’s not hot – you could add a chilli if you want to give it a little kick.  If you have made too much (I’m not actually sure if that is possible!) it makes a lovely gift for friends.

The photos I have taken are of the fresh chutney because I have only just made it.  I’ll add some more photos once it has matured so that you can see the difference.

Once it has matured it tastes wonderful with cooked meats or cheeses.

Ingredients

2 Onions

1 lb /500g Tomatoes

1 lb / 500g Courgettes

2 medium sized Bramley Apples

A thumb sized piece of Root Ginger

4 Cloves of Garlic

1/2 lb / 250g Demerara Sugar

1/2 pint / 300ml White Wine Vinegar

1 tbsp Mustard Seeds

2 tsp Mixed Spice

Method

Chop the onions, tomatoes, courgettes and apples into similar sized pieces.  I quite like a chunky, rustic chutney so tend to chop roughly and in largish pieces but you may prefer a more refined end result; if so dice accordingly.  Put into a large, heavy based pan.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and add to the fruit and vegetables in the pan along with the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds and mixed spice.  Mix well.

Heat gently, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the chutney mix is simmering and the sugar is dissolved.  Simmer, uncovered for 2 hours until it looks thick and dark like chutney .

Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place.  The chutney will be ready for eating in 2 to 3 weeks but will improve with age.  It will keep, unopened, for months or even years because sugar and vinegar are powerful preservatives but once opened keep it in the fridge and use within a few weeks.

 

Look here for more courgette recipes.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to receive updates please “like” the bun scuffle Facebook Page or follow bun scuffle on Twitter using the links below. If you don’t use social Media you can email me fiona@bunscuffle.co.uk and I will send you updates by email.