Kumquat Marmalade

This recipe was so STUPID.  SO STUPID, in fact, that it took me two tries to get it right, and I only got it right after ignoring all the previous instructions.  So in fact I will not even link you to this stupid recipe that I used for fear of it tainting me with its idiocy.  I take full credit for this, seeing as I had to fix it.  MANY TIMES.  What I present below is the CORRECT way to do it, and should produce about 4 pints of marmalade.

If you’ve never had a kumquat, you should try one.  Sweet and bitter at the same time, it’s definitely an experience.  I like to think of them as tasty breath-fresheners.  Your first bite will be sweet, then as you crunch through the skin, the citrus oils will clear out your palette.  Quite refreshing, actually.Make sure you pick kumquats that are firm and don’t have any squishy spots.  Use them soon after you buy them because they go quickly.

Wash and remove the stems from 24 fresh kumquats

Slice them thinly across the middle, and remove the seeds.

Make sure you keep the seeds.

This is where all the pectin-y goodness is. 

There’s pectin in the pith as well, but not as much.

Slice 2 oranges across the middle as well. 

I used Navel oranges.  This seedless fruit is neat because it reproduces by growing a new orange in its belly button (or navel), which is that thing you see at the opposite end to the stem.

This orange reproduced another whole orange inside.  How cool.  I bet it would have been confusing to eat had I peeled it normally.

I found it was easier to can the marmalade if you make cuts in the orange peel so it breaks apart and is therefore smaller.

Toss the orange slices and the kumquat slices together in a measuring cup and see how much you have.

Chuck them in a large bowl and add 3 cups of water for every cup of fruit you measured.  I had 5 cups of fruit so I added 15 cups of water.  Leave that to sit overnight.

The next day, pour your fruit and water into a large saucepan (this is why I love our maslin pan so much).  You may find some jelly-like stuff at the bottom of the bowl.  I’m not sure what it is but I think it’s important, so scrape that stuff off and put it in the pan as well.

Bring the stuff in the pan to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer it until the rinds are very tender and you can squish them with your spoon.

Juice 2 lemons.

Pour that lemon juice, together with 9 cups granulated sugar, into the maslin pan.

Tie up your seeds in a bit of cheesecloth and add that to the pot as well.

Bring the mixture to a boil again, then simmer on low for a couple of hours.

The mixture will cook down, reducing in size, getting thicker and darker.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn, and keep stirring it.  When it starts to foam, you are nearing your gel point.

You can tell if your mixture is ready to gel by putting a plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  Remove the plate and drip some of the liquid across the plate.  Once it has cooled, give it a push with your finger.  If it wrinkles up, your marmalade is ready to go into the jar.

When you have reached the stage where your foamy marmalade goo is wrinkling on your cold plate, you can can it according to your canner’s instructions.  Check out our tips here.

Pantry Sanity

I am a highly organized person.  My mother?  Not so much.  Adventurous and willing to try something new, yes.  But organized?  I think not.  Some day I will show you her studio.  It’s truly frightening.

While my parents were away I ransacked their cupboards in an attempt to make sense of the chaos that reigned within.  I’d like to share with you three simple tips that will make negotiating your own spice cupboards or pantries a little bit easier.

#1: Bags are Bad

As I have said, my mother is always willing to try new things, and as a result I’m pretty sure she owns every spice imaginable.  Some of them she keeps just for the jar they came in.

The problem is that all these bags (and boxes) clutter up your space.  You push them aside when looking for something else and the next thing you know, they have been shoved to the back of the cupboard, upside-down, and have emptied their contents into the crevices of the shelf.

The simple solution to this is to put all your stuff in jars.  Think of it as recycling.  That pasta sauce jar you just emptied would be handy holding your collection of pinto beans, yes?  My mother has a vast collection of vintage glass jars, as well, so it was worth it to put them to good use.

I prefer glass jars for the obvious reason that the contents are always visible, but also because glass cleans easily and doesn’t absorb odors.  This means that when you transfer the contents of one half-empty jar into a smaller jar so you can use the bigger one for something else, all you will need is a quick rinse and you’re set.

#2: Label EVERYTHING

As I mentioned before, my mother likes to try new things, and we have a myriad of spices in the cupboard.  You can trust me on this: you may think you’ll be able to identify something later on by smell and taste and colour alone, but you’ll be wrong.  You’ll be very wrong.  Remember that spices lose their potency over time and more than once I have mistakenly added ground oregano when I meant to add corriander.  It does happen.   So make sure you clearly label all your little jars.

Mystery items are never fun.

Glass jars also lend themselves very well to my labeling technique.  Instead of using adhesive labels that peel and which eventually need to be soaked off when the jar is empty, I write on the glass itself with a permanent marker.  I don’t have to worry about peeling or tearing or fading, and when I’m ready to re-purpose the jar for another spice, a quick rub with the scrubby side of the sponge and it’s gone.

#3: Arrange with Purpose

When it comes to your cupboards, you have to accept the fact that your Martha Stewart prowess in kitchen aesthetics does not apply to what goes on behind closed cupboard doors.  While it may seem like a good idea to organize your things alphabetically, or even by colour (I’m looking at you Cait), this will not do you any good when you are cooking for twelve people and you can’t find the yeast.  Most of us just don’t have the space to be THAT organized.

Organize your items by usage.  This means that the stuff you use most often should be in front, even if it’s the biggest item.  Things you use all the time can even be kept on the counter, ready to go (see our Salt and Pepper Dish).  The stuff you don’t use as often can be shoved to the back — but not to fret: if it’s nicely labeled in a clear glass jar you will be able to find it any time!

Bread and Butter Pickles

One summer when I was young, our kitchen was filled with cucumbers.  We made them into dill pickles and bread and butter pickles and there wasn’t a single counter that wasn’t packed with shiny, hot jars of the stuff.  The whole house smelled of vinegar.  It was great.

We made two batches of bread and butter pickles on this particular day and it took a long time, what with the sterilization and the soaking and the canning, so make sure you have a free day and plenty of space when you’re going to do this.

One batch of bread and butter pickles yields about six 1-pint jars and uses 3L (about 4lb) of pickling cucumbers.

Wash your cucumbers.  Scrub them and all their knobby bits well.

Cut the tops and bottoms of the cucumbers off (the bloom and stem ends).Using a mandolin or a food processor, slice the cucumbers into 1/4″ thick rounds.

Please do not cut off any of your fingers.  Mandolins are vicious.

This will take a while, especially if you are doing two batches.

Now you have a helluva lotta cucumber slices.  Put some on your eyes and take a rest for a while.

Just kidding.  There’s work to be done.

Now you have to slice some onions.  Use about three medium onions per batch of pickles.  Peel the onion and slice it in half lengthwise, then use a mandolin or food processor to slice them the same thickness as your cucumbers.

I like to use the Onion Goggles here to avoid bloodshed.  Or tearshed.  Or both.  If I’m weeping uncontrollably I may slice off an appendage on the mandolin.

Put all your cucumber and onion slices in an enormous bowl and sprinkle them with kosher or coarse pickling salt.  Cover with ice water (or water with ice cubes in it) and leave to soak for three hours.

Now you can take a break.  Or make something else while you wait.

You know what, why don’t you cut up two sweet red peppers, sliced thin on the mandolin again, and add them to the pile?  They make for a nice colour contrast in the jar.

Drain the vegetables after their three-hour soak, rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and then drain them again really well.

At this point you should probably start preparing your jars and lids.

Put your lids and rings in a pot of water and set that to boil. 

Plop your jars in your canner and set that to boil as well.  This will take a while.Now you can prepare your pickling brine.

The key spices here are celery seed, turmeric, and yellow mustard seeds.

In a small bowl, put 2 tablespoons mustard seed, 2 1/2 teaspoons celery seed, and 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric (the turmeric is what turns everything yellow).  Set it aside for now.

In an enormous pot (we used the large maslin pan from Lee Valley), put 5 cups granulated sugar (I know, it seems like an awful lot).

Add to this 4 cups pickling vinegar.  My grandmother insists that all pickling (unless otherwise stated) must use pickling vinegar.  It’s about twice as strong as regular distilled white vinegar.

Add in your pickling spices and give it a stir.

Bring it to a boil and dissolve the sugar.

Now plop in your vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are tender and yellow and the liquid is once more boiling, about fifteen minutes. 

Once your jars have been boiling for ten minutes, you can haul them out of the canner.  Turn off the heat for now to allow the water to cool slightly.

Drain the jars carefully using a jar gripper and put them near your pickle pot.

Using a canning funnel, carefully ladle pickle mixture into your six jars to within a half or quarter inch of the top of the jar. It’s pretty much a guarantee that you, your counter tops, and everything around you will become extremely sticky at this point.Make sure there is plenty of liquid in the jar as well, but be careful to leave some space at the top.

Use a wooden skewer (don’t use metal) to poke around and remove the air bubbles from amongst the pickles.

Remove your lids and rings from the heat and carefully place the lids on the jars. 

Twist the rings on to fingertip tightness and return the jars to your canner. 

Dunk them under and bring the water to a boil for fifteen minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and allow to cool.  As they cool they will seal with a lovely POP sound.

You can eat these pickles right away, but store opened jars in the refrigerator.  Serve as a side to your dishes, put in sandwiches, or just eat straight from the jar.  Your choice.Our two batches left us with some extra pickles, which we put in a jar in the fridge. 

The rest we saved for you!You know you want one …