Archives for posts with tag: citrus peel

In February I started a garden in bare, neglected ground. Over five months I dug out green plastic netting, dog shit, pieces of asphalt, mallows, too many weeds to count. I added compost, coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable scraps. I carted home pine boughs and pine needles, sticks and leaves I found in the gutters. I bought plants, I was given plants. I raised tomatoes and peppers from seed. I planted squash and beans, basil and tomatoes. The Sun Gold tomato took over almost an entire fence line. I added sunflowers and blue sweet peas.

With the miracle of sun and water, things grew. Two-inch squash appeared on the butternut vines, more than one, more than two, as the vines reached out into the yard for more sun. The beans and tomatoes were awash in blossoms, the green beans too tiny to pick yet, the shelling beans swelling. I was so happy and proud of my first home vegetable garden in sunny San Leandro. I fed friends chard and kale and gave away extra tomato seedlings.

And then I had to leave, not an easy decision. A situation arose that I could not live with and we could not come to an agreement about it. There is plenty of love left, but nothing to do with it at present, just as there were plenty of vegetables in the garden when I left and no one to tend them. Unless my ex-landlord or someone Johnny knows steps in to take care of it, the garden will die. In its death as in its life the bean roots will nourish the soil, fixing nitrogen. The plants will go back to the soil which gave them part of their life. I had custody of the garden for a brief time, enough time to grow things, but not enough time to gather in the entire harvest.

June finds me back at my mother’s house, sleeping on a sofa, my belongings in the capacious living room in boxes and bins and garbage bags. My mother and brother have been working on the never-refinished hardwood floor of my old bedroom and I can’t move my stuff in there yet. I brought with me several tomato seedlings and three pepper plants. One of the pepper plants appears to have a broken stem and may die soon. The other two are sitting outside in a copper bowl, waiting for me to find somewhere to plant them. My sister-in-law brought a large, healthy-looking tomato seedling from her house and we must find a place for that, too. We put three tomato plants in cages in two large buckets. I have many seeds left, but nowhere to plant them: I’ll find a pot for some Thai basil and perhaps some other herbs, but I will be beginning again in the foggy land in the path of the Golden Gate.

Meanwhile, I blanch and scrape citrus peel — I had saved peel for five months in the freezer and there is no room for it here. To save it, I have been working for three days, blanching and scraping lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit rinds. As I write, the orange peel is done and beginning to dry, the lemon and lime simmers on the stove and the grapefruit in the refrigerator awaits its hour-long sugar bath. The methodical scraping of pith with a steak knife was meditative, the long hours of labor calming the mind: it was good to have something simple to do, although after twelve hours or so I would be glad to see the labor ended. I thought I might be canning tomatoes and beans this summer — instead I am harvesting citrus peel for baked goods. As I blanch and scrape, perhaps I will leach any bitterness from my soul and let my heart rest in the sweetness of life, the sweetness of each tiny blessing. I am grateful to be able to read and write, to smell the clean, sharp citrus in the air. I am grateful for my readers, friends and family and grateful for a sweet life that I had for nearly two years.

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Painting shows loaf of black bread and a few ingredients

Winter Bread. 12″ x 12″ gouache, watercolor and pencil. Sharyn DImmick

I am a water sign and a watercolor painter. I think about water. I love to swim in open water. I like to take hot baths. And I conserve water. On a blog which shall remain nameless I ran across the suggestion that leaving your sink faucet running while you chop onions will cause you to cry less. I ran to the comments field to beg all who read the post not to leave their water running. My friends in New Mexico and Colorado know not to waste water. People in Africa know not to waste water. Some of us don’t understand that potable water is a limited resource and we need to treat it as a limited resource. When you turn on the faucet, water comes out. For now. If you or your landlord or your parents or your roommates have paid the water bill. If you are lucky, you live in a place where the water is good, drinkable, not polluted. Where I live we have good water: it is soft. It tastes good right out of the tap.

Recently, I read another blog post, a wonderful round up of all the things you can do with citrus peel. You can candy it — I knew that. You can zest it. I knew that, too. You can compost it. Check. You can make it into cleaning products. But some people make citrus salts. And some people make liquor. And some people make flavored sugars. You should read the wonderful post yourself.

One of the reasons I loved this post so much is that it was full of lovely things to do with something that we often waste. And one of the reasons I like learning things people did in the past is that some people had some good ideas about how to use things fully. Citrus peel is a lovely thing, quite edible and useful. Water is a lovely thing, drinkable, useful and quite versatile. Please don’t waste it.

Now, it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere and winter has got me thinking about Northern people, perhaps some of your ancestors and mine. People who lived where it was cold. People who lived where crops were limited. Many of those people grew rye. Do you know where this is going? I am offering you some northern winter bread to go with your water. Perhaps you will make some citrus marmalade to spread on your bread where it will look like trapped sunshine. Just saying. Perhaps you will eat winter bread with summer’s blackberries or raspberries preserved in a jar, or your friend Carol’s boysenberry jam.

Anyway, this is winter bread. It is dark. It is hearty. It contains yeast and all manner of dark things: coffee, molasses, cocoa. Don’t get excited — it’s not sweet: it is winter bread and the holidays are over for now. You can eat chocolate bread on Valentine’s Day if you want to, but it is January and Heidi Swanson across the bay aka 101 Cookbooks posted a recipe for black bread, the stuff I call winter bread. Her recipe is even darker than mine because it includes the dark, bitter flavor of caraway seeds. Caraway is bitter enough that it should have made it into the bitter herbs for the Passover table. I passed on the caraway. Her recipe also has golden flecks of carrot in it. You might like that. I might like it, too, but I made winter bread without carrots or caraway this time around. You can make it, too.

Winter Bread, inspired by and adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Black Bread

Get out a 1 cup  glass liquid measuring cup. Put 3 Tbsp butter in it and microwave for about fifteen seconds. Empty butter into a large mixing bowl. It doesn’t have to be melted, but should be soft enough to slip out.

Now, measure 1/3 cup molasses into the same cup.

Pour it into the mixing bowl. It should slide right out. If it is recalcitrant, use a rubber scraper or a clean finger to help it along.

Take the greasy, sticky measuring cup and add 1/2 cup lukewarm water to it.

Dissolve 1 packet or 2 and 1/4 tsp active dry yeast in the water by whisking it with a fork. Set aside for now.

Add to your bowl of butter and molasses:

2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 Tbsp instant espresso powder diluted in 1/4 cup warm water

2 tsp kosher salt

Now add your proofed yeast to the bowl. Get it all: use a utensil or finger — fingers are truly useful in the kitchen.

Measure  1 and 1/3 cups rye flour. Add to your bowl

Measure 3 cups unbleached flour or bread flour into your bowl.

Have a cup of cool water at the ready, plus 1/4 cup flour for work surface, plus additional flour.

You can make this with a mixer with a dough hook. I do sometimes. But this time I hand-kneaded it: it was a new recipe. Rye flour takes a lot of kneading to make good bread and hand-kneading made it easier for me to make adjustments and keep track of how it was going.

First I stirred it. Then I mushed it with my hands. It was still pretty dry and shaggy with wet bits. Finally, I filled a cup with water like I’ve told you to do and spread 1/4 cup of flour on my bread board. Then I dumped the not-quite-bread-mass out on the board, added a little water with my fingers and started kneading. Do you know how to knead? It’s really folding the dough on itself and pushing it forward, letting the weight of the dough work on the dough, then repeating. Endlessly — it will seem that way the first time you knead a loaf of rye or whole wheat or sourdough: it can take awhile to work the proper amount of flour and water into your dough. If the dough will not pick up the flour from the board after several minutes, it is too dry — add some more water. If the dough is super-sticky and gloms onto the board, add flour by the tablespoon and work it after each addition: as you knead bread it tends to get drier and less sticky. You want it neither dry nor wet. It should feel sort of like your ear lobe. Touch it. Like that. Rye bread can take ten or twenty minutes to knead. It’s winter. Slow down. You can sing to yourself as you work: rhythmic songs are good: “I’m gonna WASH that MAN right OUTta my HAIR…”

When it’s done, butter or oil your mixing bowl, put the bread in it, cover with a warmed, dampened linen or smooth cotton dish towel and set it in a warm place to rise, for instance an oven that has been on “Warm” for a few minutes and then turned off. Or an oven with a pilot light. Or a pre-warmed clothes dryer.  Go away for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half. When it has doubled in size, reward it by deflating it: push on it to let the air out. Form it into a rustic round and put it in a tart pan or on a baking sheet to rise again. Check it in half an hour. Preheat your oven to 425. Take a sharp knife and cut an “X” or cross in the top of your bread. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350. Check again in 25 minutes. Bread is done when it makes a nice sound when you thump it. No thump? Bake it some more.

Then you have to let it cool. I know, but if you cut it hot, the middle gets icky and soggy. So wait awhile. You have my permission to cut it warm — barely warm. Eat with unsalted butter. Or jam. Or marmalade. Dunk it in your soup. Get out the cheese. You know what to do.

Food Notes: Oh yeah — I added just a touch of orange juice and zest — I had half an orange sitting on the counter. You can use brewed coffee instead of instant espresso. Use whatever salt you like and adjust accordingly. For a completely different, lighter, sweeter rye that incorporates more citrus, try Swedish Rye Bread.

Painting Note: I’ve had the blues lately, so I decided to inventory my paints. I found I had a lot of ultramarine blue. As in four tubes. I had some other blues, too, so I made a tablecloth of blue stripes with blues straight out of the tube: starting at the left, the stripes go cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine, violet and then repeat. The window frame is mostly cobalt. The glass has mauve pencil underneath the blue created by all of the pigments in the water.

Painting of orange on plate in Mabel's dining room, Taos, New Mexico.

First Orange. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil and gouache. Sharyn Dimmick

I ate my first orange of the season this morning, the first one I’ve had since March. The fruit plate at breakfast In New Mexico has been full of melons: I know they can’t be seasonal — not watermelon anyway. Today I turned first to the stewed prunes. I had two, but they were cold. Then I saw oranges in the fruit bowl and went up to investigate. The first orange was large. sporting a blue and white label: I squinted and read “Australia.” I put it back, but now I wanted an orange. I found a small one with no sticker. I took it, hoping it had been trucked no further than California where I live, two states away.

Taking it back to the table I peeled it with my fingernails and then used a knife to get under the thick white pith, losing a little juice as the knife pierced the flesh. Wiping my hands on my napkin, I removed the navel and separated the first segment from the broken halves.

It tasted like sunshine: winter sunshine — a little sweet, acid, radiant in my mouth. I understood for the first time how my mother felt in Canada and Illinois when she got an orange in her Christmas stocking: how wonderful it must have tasted in the dead of winter when they were rare.

Mom has never lost her taste for oranges. We argue about them. She wants them in August and September when it is not orange season. I remind her that in January, February and March we will be inundated with citrus: I spend March making tangerine curd to eat on angel food cake, devising citrus dressings for salads, drying and candying citrus peels. We make Swedish rye bread in the winter with orange zest and fresh juice.

When Mom moved to California in 1944 she said you could buy oranges everywhere: from roadside stands, from trucks on San Pablo Avenue. She bought an orange juicer — not an electric thing, but a press with a screen and long handles: you bring the handles together and squeeze halved oranges or lemons between metal plates. The screen catches the seeds and the juice falls into a reservoir below with a pouring spout. It does not work well if you have removed the peel for zest or candying — it was designed for halved citrus, squeezed whole.

I have never been partial to the standard American trio: apples, oranges and bananas, sitting on the counter year-round and incorporated into every fruit salad and lunch box. I eat apples in season, drying them for the winter and giving them up when they come from cold storage. I like oranges when I am hiking and fresh food is scarce, or when, like this morning, I take a walk in thawing snow: I walked to town to get a coffee, walked back in time for morning meditation, craved fruit at breakfast. The orange tasted like lost gold recovered, what explorers had been looking for as they sailed around the world.

Oh, you’ll want a recipe. Alright. This is how to candy citrus peel: orange, lime, tangerine, lemon, or grapefruit. I started doing this when I got interested in using the whole fruit: if I’m not zesting citrus fruit there is all of that peel left over — why not turn it into winter sweets? Home-candied peel bears no resemblance to that nasty glaceed mixed fruit you find in the store. I chop candied peel into breakfast muffins, use it in orange French toast, or eat it straight out of the jar when there are no sweets in the house and I want a little something. Sometimes I save mixed citrus peels in a bag in the freezer: when I have a lot, I take them out and candy them all at once. It’s best to use organically-grown fruit for edible peel, but if you only have commercially-grown citrus available, be sure to wash it with dishwashing liquid and water, rinse it and dry it before peeling so that you are not ingesting any unwanted chemicals.

Here’s what you do. Peel a lot of citrus fruit or take your bag of saved peels from the freezer. You can candy several types at once — you don’t need to separate them. If you are peeling fresh fruit, score the peel into quarters with a knife: this makes it easier to peel.

Place your peels in a large saucepan of cold water: you want 2 cups of water per eight limes or lemons, six tangerines or oranges, or three grapefruit. Bring peels to rolling boil. Drain them. Start again with cold water. Repeat. The thicker the peel, the more times you should blanch it — grapefruit peel takes at least four times,

Cool the peels and scrape the white pith from them with a knife or the side of a spoon, being careful not to break the peel — if it breaks, you can’t brag about it, but it is no tragedy — you’ll just have some smaller pieces. Cut the peels into strips.

Now return the peels to your saucepan with equal amounts of sugar and water — say 2 cups each. Bring to a simmer and cook without stirring until peel is translucent. This takes about an hour. If you are a thermometer-wielding type. Alice Medrich says to get the syrup to between 220 and 222 degrees.

Remove peel with slotted spoon and cool in a single layer on a rack over a baking sheet (the peel will drip for awhile).  We set ours in our oven overnight. When peel is dry, dredge it in sugar and store it in sugar in a glass jar in your refrigerator. If you make enough it will last you until citrus comes in again the following year. It makes great gifts, too. People have been known to dip it in chocolate or caramel.