Ah… back to more normal reality! Seeing both my books published and republished and celebrating that fact has been immensely exciting, but now it is time to turn my attention back to the more usual seasonal tasks for this time in October – and also some domestic activities which should have been seen to much earlier in the year!
For instance, the candying of peel. I usually complete this in the summer when we are enjoying lots of relaxed breakfasts with the doors and windows all thrown wide to the soft mountain breezes or sat in the sunshine in the garden. Then there are copious quantities of grapefruit and orange peels left over. Rather than simply consigning them to the compost bin, it is far better to preserve them for use later in the autumn and winter.
This is really simple – even though it takes several days to complete. It is a process of boiling the peels in an increasingly sweetened sugar syrup and leaving them to marinade in it for days in between. (For anyone wishing to try this for themselves the recipe is included in ‘Merry Midwinter’.) I can really recommend it!
The crucial point comes at the end of the procedure when the peels are lifted out of their syrupy bath and left to drain on a wire cooling rack and then placed in the bottom oven of the Aga for several hours. The trick is to allow them to dry and set in a gentle heat for just the right amount of time so that they are dry and handleable but still soft and moist. The length of time to achieve this varies from batch to batch, depending on the size of fruit and exactly how hot my ‘cool oven’ is at the time, and no two batches of peel are ever the same.
I did actually candy a batch of grapefruit several weeks ago, but it was right in the middle of the time we were getting ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ ready to go to print… and I forget them. Rather than the two or three hours in the coolest part of the oven, I only remembered them twenty-fours after first placing them there to dry out. When I ran to retrieve them, they were a deep brown in colour – otherwise known as burnt – and so rock hard they could have shod a horse! Sadly not one of my finest moments!!! But sometimes these things happen. You either laugh or cry and it is by far better to laugh about it.
I prefer to candy grapefruit peel – which produces lusciously thick sticky slices of decadence – and which adds real luxury and fresh, fruity zest to home made Christmas cakes and puddings. This year I have also candied orange peels too. they give very distinct flavours and both can be sliced and dipped in melted dark chocolate for the ultimate experience with freshly brewed coffee at the end of your Christmas dinner.
Why not try it for yourself? It is really easy to do. One of these days I might even try candying whole small fruits, like clementines, which were my mother’s favourite and which always used to arrive packed in wooden boxes from Fortnum and Mason. I can strongly recommend it. You end up with a far superior product full of gorgeous sweet tangyness rather than the drier, more tasteless bought version.
Oh, and if you have any left over, it is absolutely delicious baked into Hot Cross Buns for Easter. Candied peel made this way will easily keep in an airtight container for at least twelve months.
Be adventurous! Have a go – and make something which will really set your Christmas baking apart this year.