To find out how to turn culinary projects into homemade holiday gifts, we turned to Karen Solomon, author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It and Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It and most recently, Asian Pickles: Japan. As the titles of her cookbooks suggest, Solomon is an expert in food preservation and DIY kitchen techniques. Here, she’s provided a couple of her favorite recipes and best tips for gifting handcrafted foods to loved ones this holiday season.
We spend too much time gushing over summer fruit. Don’t get me wrong: of course I drool over sweet nectarines and juice bomb pluots as much as the next gal. But I get so much pleasure eating those fruits out hand that canning them sometimes feels like a disservice. With the exception of apricot jam, summer fruit flavors can be jarred successfully, but they’re only a melted popsicle of their former selves once they’re firmly tucked under the cap.
Such is not the case with the winter citrus that is surrounding us at this moment. While few things can match the honeyed perfume of a fresh Kishu or a Mandarin, standard oranges, like Valencias, or bitter oranges, like Sevilles, are actually made better by turning them into a marmalade. And while topping toast may be marmalade’s core competency, it is an ingredient that I use throughout the year in my salad dressing, homemade plum catsup, ham glaze, and pork loin marinade.
And when life gives you lemons…preserve them! Particularly if your back yard is home to “Texas” lemons – thick on skin, low on juice – preserving the skins and mincing them into a traditional Moroccan tagine or pound cake, or adding a touch of the juice to a cocktail, will put that fruit to excellent use.
Both of these recipes yield enough to either stock your own shelves or your friends’ and families': preserved citrus makes a wonderful gift. And while my recipes are meant to guide you, know that flavor (and color!) possibilities are easy enough to make your own. Steeping some dried hibiscus flowers in with the liquid (and then removing them before eating) will turn either of these recipes a stunning and surprising beet hue, and add a nice tart and tang. Try adding two sprigs of fresh rosemary with the sugar in the marmalade to make the fruit a bit more herbaceous – and then affix another stem to the outside of the jar for gifting. The lemons call for cloves, bay, and cinnamon, but feel free to leave them out, or substitute them for peppercorns, sliced ginger, and star anise.
However you proceed, peel back the skin on winter’s citrus bouquet, and revel in its colorful possibilities.
Time commitment : About 1 week
4 pounds thick-skinned lemons
3 bay leaves
1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 cup kosher salt
Instructions: Wash, dry, and stem the 6 smallest lemons in the bunch (or however many whole lemons you can comfortably fit inside a quart jar). Take the lemons out of the jar and cut a deep X shape lengthwise into each fruit, leaving about 3/4 inch of each lemon intact at one end.
Place the cloves, bay, and cinnamon in the bottom of the jar. Pour all of the salt onto a plate. Hold a cut lemon over the plate and spoon 1 teaspoon of salt inside the cut. Rub the salt all over the inside of the fruit and stack it in the jar. When all the lemons are packed in, scrape up any remaining salt and transfer that to the jar as well.
Juice the remaining lemons until you have 2 cups of juice—enough to cover all of the lemons in the jar. If you run out of lemon juice, pour in a small amount of water to top off the fruit. It’s important that the lemons be totally submerged.
Cover the jar tightly, and shake gently to distribute the salt. Label and date the jar, and refrigerate for 7 days, shaking occasionally. Makes 4 cups.
How to Store It: Your lemons are ready to use after a week and they will keep for up to 1 year in the refrigerator.
Time Commitment: 2 days
Prep Ahead: Marmalade should be cooked in a large stockpot to help contain some of the foamy overflow. You will need 10 half-pint jars, or their equivalent, to store your bounty. Make sure they are free of rust and odors and the lids seal tightly. Prepare a label that lists the contents and date prepared.
5 pounds tart oranges, like Seville or Valencia
7 to 8 cups sugar
Instructions: Scrub the skins of the oranges and lemons well, and dry them. Peel the skins from the fruit, and set the fruit aside—keep it covered and airtight. Mince the skins and pith; or, if you have food processor technology, now is the time to use it. You can achieve the right size and thinness by running the skins through the thin slicing blade twice. Cover the skins with water in a large bowl and let them soak overnight.
The next day, chop the orange and lemon pulp into small bits, reserving as much of the juice as you can as you go and saving the seeds. Tie the seeds up in cheesecloth or an empty tea bag.
Drain the water from the skins and transfer them to a large stockpot. Add the fruit pulp, juice, and seed bag. Bring to a boil, then let it simmer gently over medium to medium-low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and scraping up from the bottom to prevent sticking.
Add the sugar—starting with 7 cups, then adding up to 1 cup more, depending on the sweetness of the fruit—and thoroughly combine it with the fruit. Let it simmer about 30 minutes longer, or until the marmalade is sweet and thick.
Transfer the marmalade to jars, wipe the rim clean, and cover. Makes 10 (8-ounce) or 20 (4-ounce) jars.
How to Store It: You can refrigerate the marmalade up to 4 months.
How to Can It: Soak the orange and lemon peels and cook them with the pulp and sugar as directed until sweet and thick, then test for the jell point, checked with a thermometer—you want it to register 221ºF—or the ice-cold plate test. Ladle into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes.
Food and lifestyle writer Karen Solomon is the author of Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It, Asian Pickles: Japan, and a contributor to Chow! San Francisco Bay Area. She also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and is a former editor and columnist for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Her writing has appeared in Fine Cooking, Yoga Journal, Prevention, the SF Zagat Guide, and dozens of Bay Area and national publications. Visit KSolomon.com.