Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dreaming of summer, smelling of kumquats

Winter is slowly winding down here... we've had a few days of surprising mild weather and apparently spring will be springing relatively early this year if the meteorologists are to be believed. Though at the moment it's back to windy and biting cold. That taste of (relative) warmth, of being able to go out without bundling up, has me anxious for warmer weather to get here.

Spring is a rather messy season, with grey piles of melting snow, mud puddles and rain, but that increase in temperature and daylight has an amazing effect on your sense of well-being. Growing up in California I can't say I ever truly appreciated the seasons. We had dry/warm weather or wet/cool weather and that was about it. Here in Quebec, you get it all. Hot and humid summers, crisp and colorful autumns, freeze-your-bits-off snowy winters, and rejuvenating (if soggy) springs. And I've come to grips with the fact that no matter how many angry letters or bribe-laced muffin baskets I send those weather fairies, they will not change the seasons for me, so I just try and enjoy what I can about each.

This winter I've ventured outdoors more, even going for a "when did we get to the Arctic circle?" hike in the woods and hot tubbing at -30C. While it's tough on the extremities, you do appreciate that stew cooking on the stove that much more when you come in. I've also indulged in exploring the variety of offerings at David's Tea. That, however, is a post for another time. This weekend, to try and suppress my longing for flip-flop weather, I decided to celebrate winter citrus and make marmalade.

And, since I can't just do something by the book, I decided to make kumquat and blood orange marmalade. Don't ask, I've no idea why... or rather, when B gave me a weird look at the market when I put the two items in the basket, I simply stated "Because I can!" And, well, it just sounded fun to make and kinda fancy schmancy. (and really, what better reason do you need??)

So, I browsed a few marmalade recipes to orient myself with the ingredients. David Lebovitz had a really good one (may I just state for the record I want to live this man's life) though it seemed a bit too time-intensive for my limited patience. I found this one at Kitchen Culinaire which seemed simple enough, so I adapted a sort of cross between the two and got to work.

Marmalade is, in essence, pretty simple. The blood oranges were juicy and dark red, so I cut them up into small pieces, roughly 1 pound. The kumquats, also about 1 pound, were quite the opposite, being dry and pithy. The best part is the peel, though, so I removed all else and cut the peel into strips, adding it to the oranges. All that went into a pot with roughly 3-4 cups of liquid (mix of juice and water) and about the same amount of sugar. I let it all cook for about 45 minutes and enjoyed the citrus-y, sugary smell that filled the house. Odd how citrus is a winter fruit but has such a summery taste and scent.

Technically you don't need to add pectin to make successful marmalade (see David's recipe for this in more detail), but since my ingredients hadn't offered any seeds to work with, I decided to use a packet of liquid pectin I found in the cupboard (what the heck did I have it for, I never use that stuff... how odd). Once the marmalade had boiled down to a syrup-y state and the orange bits were translucent, I added in the pectin and let it cool a bit. I chose not to process it as it was a relatively small batch and I'd be keeping it in the fridge anyway.

If you've not made marmalade before, I encourage you to try it (assuming you eat the stuff). While most jams and especially jellies require relatively accurate recipes to gel properly, you can get away with a loose marmalade and still have it be delicious. You just need a bit of patience and the time to let it do it's thing on the stove without burning it. You can use a wide variety of citrus and add-ins (whiskey, perhaps?) and they can make nice little gifts, as well. If you are lucky enough to have a citrus tree in your yard (I hate you!), this is a great way to use up that bumper crop you're faced with now and then.

So there you go... once chilled, my kumquat and blood orange marmalade was ready for my toast and tea! A lovely, bright red marmalade that just might get you through the last few weeks of winter. Though maybe it could use some help from some lemon curd.... hmm...

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