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Archive for the ‘Preserving’ Category

It is probably no surprise that I don’t love winter, given that  I grew up in a place famous for its sunsets and beaches.  Frankly, I am too lazy to dress for winter, prefering summer dresses and sandals to boots and sweaters.  I also love summer stone fruits (peaches, apricots, nectarines) and berries, and can’t eat enough of them when they’re in season.  The gloomy days and cold nights make me a bit lethargic and achy but the one thing that I DO love about winter is the amazing array of citrus that is ripe and on offer.  I honestly think that citrus fruits, packed with Vitamin C, are nature’s way of providing foods that will protect us from colds during the wet and nasty flu season.

In my kitchen right now are no less than seven types of citrus fruits and because I thought they were so beautiful, I had to take a photo of them together!

Huge home-grown lemons, Huge home-grown oranges, Tangerines, Navel Oranges, Ruby Pink grapefruit, White grapefruit, Seville Oranges

From L to R Clockwise: Huge home-grown lemons, Huge home-grown oranges, Tangerines, Navel Oranges, Ruby Pink grapefruit, White grapefruit, Seville Oranges

My good friends gave me huge bags of home-grown oranges and lemons. I LOVE Meyer lemons – so sweet you can almost eat them like an orange. These are so huge that they look like they’re on steroids, and will make a beautiful lemon curd (when I get around to it).  The Seville oranges in the middle foreground were purchased at my local Adelaide Showground Farmer’s Market.  Seville oranges are not as common in the markets here as they are in Europe but many marmalade enthusiasts only use Seville oranges to get that traditional bitter marmalade flavour.  My husband likes bitter marmalade and I prefer it less bitter so we decided on a happy medium – use Seville oranges but remove excess white pith to prevent it from being extra bitter.

Winter is a great time for making jam because a) it’s miserable and wet outside, b) cooking heats up the house.  We spent last Sunday peeling, slicing and simmering marmalade all day.  2 kilos of fruit didn’t look like much, but it made a lot more jars of jam than we realised and as usual, I started giving them away to friends.  Among my neighbours, we all make jams and preserves so my pantry is filled with homemade jars of goodies.

There are literally hundreds of recipes for making citrus marmalade (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pomelo) and everyone will make it a different way which is why I will not post a recipe here, but this link is a good standard recipe.  My husband remembers his mother cooking the oranges whole before slicing them when making marmalade, while I like peeling and slicing the peel separately from the fruit. Instead of juicing the oranges, I like chopping the pulp up and cooking it down.  I don’t think any one way is the best way – as long as it turns out well in the end.  Do remember to keep the seeds (pips) and place them in a muslin (cheesecloth) bag and boil it together with the rest of the mixture to add pectin to help the jam set.

I do have something I’d like to share though – a knife designed for citrus that I bought it over a decade ago at Lakeland in the UK but I don’t see it in their catalog anymore.  What’s great is that the blade is both smooth and serrated and the other side can be used to score the skin to make it easier to peel.  I know that there are all kinds of gadgets that also score citrus fruit for ease of peeling but I still love this knife:

Love this knife!

Scoring the Orange

Scoring the Orange Peel

Removing a little of the bitterness

Removing excess pith to lessen the bitterness

Prepping the Oranges

Skimming the Scum Off

Skimming the Scum Off

The Marmalade is Almost Done

Just Before the Sugar was Added

The Finished Product in Various Jars

The Finished Product in Various Jars

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I love olives and as a kid, I loved putting California olives on each finger and eating them off one by one. It would amuse me for minutes!

If you’ve ever lived anywhere that has a Mediterranean climate, chances are you’ve seen an olive tree or two. Olive trees can actually grow in tropical climates but they do not fruit (which is why I never saw them until I was an adult). When I worked in the Napa Valley, nearly everyday during olive season, someone from one of my tours would try to pick an olive from the trees along the tour path and eat them raw! And why not?! It’s NOT common knowledge for people who didn’t grow up with olives to know that olives are not edible off the tree. The intense bitterness comes from a chemical compound called oleuropein. As far as most Americans know, those black ripe Mission olives on the trees around the winery looked just like those California black olives that come in a can. (By the way, “California olives” have their own production method to create a uniform product). So olive warnings became part of my repertoire for my tour along with basic viticulture & oenology – it would go something like this: “Now before we go into our cellar, take a look at the gorgeous view of the Oakville valley floor. Also, do you notice the olive trees? Please, please do not eat the olives off the trees as they are very bitter and you will be miserable, I promise.”

Here in South Australia, our climate along the coastline is Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and moderate winters and olive trees absolutely thrive here (sadly it is thriving too well and is a weed that displaces native vegetation in many parts of SA). It is not unusual to be driving down dirt roads in the countryside and see trees in autumn heavy with fruit. One day about a month ago, we were driving back from the beach when I saw olive trees filled with fruit that would have probably gone to waste so I pulled over and we started to get our plastic bags out from the car and started to pick. We ended up picking four different kinds of olives, one variety I know is the tiny Koroneiki olives but the other three are a complete mystery. We thought that one of the dark, ripe black variety might be Kalamata but we were wrong because we later found a real Kalamata tree and saw that the fruit has slightly pointy ends which none of our olives have.

I have cured olives a few times before and each time, I used a different method or recipe. Every other time I did it, I didn’t take it as seriously and thus, they didn’t turn out too well or they moulded very quickly. I decided that this year was going to be different and that I was going to be vigilant about changing the water daily and brining them properly. Although I have a few books that instruct on how to cure olives, I decided to use a method from Vasili’s Garden’s website. Taking care of olives is almost like taking care of a pet! We actually asked our neighbours to babysit our three buckets of olives by changing the water daily when we went away for our anniversary! Although Vasili’s recipe doesn’t mention slitting each olive with a knife, I decided to do it so that the bitterness can leech out faster. Do the slitting in front of a TV and get someone to help you do it because let me tell you, it is a mundane job. Salt curing (dry) is another way to leech the bitterness out of olives – they take on an interesting wrinkly character and have a much more concentrated flavour than the water/brine cured olives.

Cramming as many olives as I can in jars!

Ran out of jars, I guess I’ll try plastic!

Currently, the olives are in jars (and one large Ziplock bag because I ran out of jars) and sitting in our second (drinks) fridge and I’ll be checking on them once a week to see if the bitterness is gone yet. Once they are ready, I think I will experiment and flavour some of them with thyme, rosemary, garlic, chillies or preserved lemons…whatever I fancy that day.

Do you cure olives? What do you flavour them with?

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