Sometimes in the dead of a dreary winter, I need something bright. Recently, heaps and heaps of citrus in all their vivid glory – oranges, grapefruits, lemons, clementines, pommelos – flat out distracted me. The stunning displays immediately brought to mind images of a warmer, sunnier climate; somewhere, ANYWHERE but here. I inhaled their sweet-tart fragrance and smiled as I glanced around. And there, on the end … there they were. Bright orange with a flush of reddish pink the only hint of what lay inside. Yep, blood oranges. Hot damn. And the Moro variety to boot – I’ve found them to be a little sweeter than some of the others. Slice them open and you’re rewarded with a shock – deep, almost purple flesh and a sweet flavor. I immediately scooped up a bunch thinking I’d make something lovely and pinkish for Valentine’s Day.
Fast forward two weeks. The lovely oranges were still sitting in my fridge, forlorn; perhaps a little forgotten. My intention of making a blood orange tart hadn’t been thought of again since purchase. Visions of a fancy cocktail haven’t danced through my head in weeks. Working the vivid segments into a salad, perhaps of fennel and sweet onion, has only been a distant memory. I just simply haven’t had a chance to even sit down and eat one. These babies had to be dealt with, pronto.
So what did I do? Well, I made marmalade of course. (Because I don’t have enough jam around here. Egad.) I really enjoy a good chunky marmalade; sweet with a little tang, a hint of bitter and delicious on toast with a bit of sweet butter. I also like that marmalade uses the whole fruit – there’s very little waste. I’m liked this idea; liked it a lot and decided this was the best way to preserve these beauties for the long annoying months that pass for spring around here. Plus blood oranges make the most striking marmalades. Dark crimson, almost burgundy. Just gorgeous.
Jam/marmalade making is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. The key is to know when you hit the gel point. What works for me is to put a dab on a plate that’s been in the freezer for a while. Let it sit undisturbed for a minute or two then tilt the plate. If it runs and seems too syrupy, boil the mixture for another five minutes and test again. If the plate tips and the jam resists then wrinkles just a bit, you’re good to go.
I also like to can my jams and marmalades. Betty Crocker in full force. Canning allows me to give some away (bake and release!) as well as an attempt at prolonging the season. If I need a little boost of sunshine, there’s always something in my jam stash that will perk up a grey day. Right now, I’m cheered by some peach/fraise du boise jam on homemade bread. Mighty fine.
Canning can be a little scary at first. All those stories of botchulism and potential bacteria problems put a seed of doubt in your mind that you could potentially kill your family. Just set those thoughts aside and take some simple precautions. Clean surfaces and tools, sterilize your jars/lids and simply take care (always use new lids by the way though you can reuse the jars and rings.) Boil your jars and lids for at least 10 minutes to sterilize. Carefully fill and wipe clean all rims for a good tight seal. Process the filled jars for 10 minutes in boiling water to cover then an extra 5 with the heat off. Allow the jars to cool completely and check the seals. If the jar hasn’t sealed, store in the fridge and use within 2-3 months. Read more about it all here.
Take a Saturday afternoon and you’ll have some tasty spreads in no time whatsoever. And you know what? You don’t even have to go through the whole canning process. Just keep it in the fridge and use within 2-3 months.
A side note. When it came time to peel the oranges I remembered that I had this crazy tool way in the back of one of my kitchen drawers. I think it was from some long ago Tupperware party though I don’t think I’ve ever attended one of those. I probably snagged it from my mother at some point. Let’s just say it’s origins are a bit sketchy and I’ve used it exactly zero times until today. In fact I’m not really sure why I remembered it at all but I gotta tell you, it worked GREAT. Scored the skin without piercing the flesh and the peels came off beautifully. I’m not saying go out and buy one of these kooky things (though you can here) but I bet there’s a good chance you might have one shoved way back in your kitchen junk drawer too.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: TEN POINTS. I brought some brightness – both color and flavor – into an otherwise dreary week. Two points for the pick-up! I also added a shot of booze (crème de cassis) at the end for flavor and to enhance the color. Two points for booze! Plus you get to throw about fancy terminology like “supremes.” Two points for fancy! And you might dig around in a junk drawer and unearth some kooky tool of unknown origins. Two points for useless crap you didn’t even know you had! Most importantly, give this away and you’ll blow your friends away when tell them you made it yourself. Two points for being handy! And there you have it … ten points!
BLOOD ORANGE MARMALADE
Makes about 4 half pints
2 pounds blood oranges
2 cups water
5 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons crème de cassis (Campari or even Grand Marnier would be interesting as well)
- First things first, put a small plate in the freezer. We’ll come back to this later.
- Prep the peels: With a sharp knive (or one of these funky orange peeler thing-a-ma-jigs) score the peel only of the orange into quarters.
- Carefully remove the peel and set the fruit aside.
- Put the peels into a large pot of water, cover with cold water and bring to a boil.
- Once the water comes to a boil, set the timer for 5 minutes.
- Drain, cover with cold water and bring to a boil again. (you’re going to do this blanching process 3 times total)
- Drain and run under cold water to cool.
- Once cool, take the back or dull side of a paring knife and scrap off any of the smooshy white pith. Discard the pith.
- After scraped, thinly slice the orange peels and set aside.
- Prep the fruit: Meanwhile, supreme the fruit. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the orange, to just expose the pulp.
- Starting at the top of the orange, with a sharp knife follow the downward curve of the orange cutting off just the pith (the white part.) Continue all around the orange. Discard these trimmings.
- Pick the fruit up and make sure you removed all the pitch– you may have to trim some bits off the bottom. Continue with the remaining fruit.
- Now to the supremes – slice carefully between one of the segments and the membrane.
- Cut the other side of the segment and separate from the membrane. You should have a nice lovely membrane-free orange segment.
- Squeeze the membranes over the bowl for any juice. Toss the membranes and pith.
- Continue with the remaining oranges.
- Prepare the canner, jars & lids: Meanwhile bring a large pot and a small saucepan of water to a boil.
- Place the jars in the large pot; lids and rings in the smaller pot and boil both for 10 minutes. Leave both in hot water until needed – you can turn off the heat and just let them sit.
- For the marmalade: in a large pan, bring the sliced orange peels, segmented oranges and 3 cups of water to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the peels are tender – about 30 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into a large pyrex measuring cup. You should have about 5 cups – if you’re not quite there, add water to the 5 cup mark.
- Pour mixture back into a heavy saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium high.
- Maintaing the boil, gradually stir in the 5 cups of sugar.
- Boil hard, stirring to prevent scorching, until mixture reaches the gel stage – about 20 minutes.
- To test the gel, remember that plate you put in the freezer? Put a dollop of the marmalade on the plate and let sit for 1 minute.
- Turn the plate. You’re looking for a semi-solid dollop that sort of puckers when you turn the plate. (Check out the photo above.) If the marmalade runs or feels syrupy, boil for another 5 mintues and try again (put the plate back in the freezer while you’re doing this.)
- Once at the gel point, stir in the crème de casis.
- Jar the stuff: with a pair of tongs, remove the jars from the hot water and turn upside down on a clean kitchen towel to drain. Do the same with the rings/lids.
- Cover the canning pot and bring back to a boil.
- Turn jars right side up and ladle hot marmalade into the jars, leaving ¼” headspace. (If you have a wide mouth canning funnel, it really comes in handy here.)
- Wipe down the rims with a wet paper towel to catch any stray marmalade bits and insure a good seal.
- Place a lid on top and screw the ring down until finger tight.
- Process: Make sure the water is boiling in the canning pot (or wait until it is) and carefully lower the filled jars into the water. Jars should be covered by at least 1” of water. If not add more water and wait until it comes to a boil before setting the timer.
- Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit in the hot water for 5 minutes.
- Remove jars from the water and set on a rack to cool.
- Once cool, check the seals. Press the center of the lid. Sealed lids will be concave and will have no movement when pressed. If sealed, marmalade will keep for months (even years.) If unsealed, store in the fridge and use within 2-3 months.
- Be sure to label and date your jars. It’s really easy to lose track of what you have, what it is (vs what you think it is) and when it was made.