Orange You Glad I Made You A Present?
Theoretically, I like to make big batches of yummy homemade treats to have on hand during the holiday seasons. That way, when I get a last-minute invitation or when folks drop over for some holiday cheer, I have a little gift for them.
I say “theoretically” because this doesn’t always happen. You know—there are holiday concerts and school plays to attend; there are snowshoeing opportunities. But this year will be different. Because I have a plan—a plan that will at least take the guesswork out of what I’m making. This year, I have decided to make my homemade goods under a unified guiding principle—citrus!
Citrus is the perfect guiding principle for holiday gifts. First, and most obviously, citrus is in season in the winter. Citrus also has a long holiday tradition— from the precious orange that tumbles out of Almanzo Wilder’s stocking in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy to the candied citron in your fruitcake and the clove-studded orange pomander. Whether it’s citrus curd, candied peels, preserved citrus, or citrus-infused alcohol, citrus brings sunshiny brightness to the dark, cold days of winter.
Here are four recipes that lend themselves nicely to gifting. They can be put into pretty little mason jars or bottles and are fairly easy to produce.
Candied Grapefruit Peel
I fondly remember when my daughter was an infant and I made batches of cookies and candied grapefruit peel to send to relatives across the country. Making candied citrus peel is relatively straightforward. First, choose citrus fruit that is unblemished, unwaxed, and preferably organic. And because grapefruit is so bitter, you will need to boil it before candying it.
- 2 grapefruits
- 1 cup of sugar
- Wash the grapefruit well.
- Slice the peel into strips.
- Put peels into a saucepan and cover with cold water.
- Bring to a boil and boil for one minute.
- Drain the water and repeat 3 more times.
- Meanwhile, take a large, heavy-bottomed skillet and combine 1 cup sugar and a ½ cup water.
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Put the drained grapefruit peels in and boil, stirring, until the syrup is mostly absorbed, about 10 minutes.
- Put the peels on a rack to dry. It will take about 6 hours for it to dry out completely.
- Roll the dried peels in granulated sugar. Or, for extra decadence, roll in sugar and then melt some dark chocolate in a double boiler and dip the peels in it halfway
Rich with butter and egg yolks, the curd is a voluptuous spread. The tartness of citrus cuts the unctuousness. Lemon curd is the traditional preparation, but lime curd gives a whiff of the tropics, making it a dynamite filling for a coconut layer cake. It’s also a nice spread for scones, crumpets, or just buttered toast.
Adapted from Fine Cooking
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup of sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- ⅔ cup fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon grated lime zest
- Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the eggs and yolks one at a time.
- Beat for one minute and add the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled.
- Cook the mixture over low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it smooths out.
- Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil.
- Remove from heat and stir in lime zest.
- Transfer to a bowl and press plastic wrap onto the surface of the curd before chilling.
Cook’s notes: For a smoother curd, you can strain it when it’s cool to remove the zest. Save the egg whites from preparing the curd to make your own meringue cookies, and then spread the lime curd between two meringues for light and tangy sandwich cookies.
Preserved lemons are crucial for making Moroccan dishes such as chicken tagine, but these salty, lemony flavor-bombs are also at home in a pasta dish or a vinaigrette. Making preserved lemons is easy, but once you put the lemons together with the salt, it does take a month to cure; so start today if you’re planning on gifting these.
- 5 lemons
- 5 tablespoons of sea salt
- 1-quart jar, sterilized
- Additional fresh lemon juice
- Scrub lemons well.
- Quarter lemons (but not all the way through, so that the four quarters are still attached at the ends).
- Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of sea salt.
- Pack the lemons as tightly as possible into the jar. You can add a cinnamon stick or a dried chili if you’d like. Cover the jar and store at room temperature.
- The next day, press the lemons further down into the jar. If they are not submerged in their own juices, add some fresh lemon juice until they are covered.
- Do this again for the next day or two until you do not need to add fresh lemon juice.
- The lemons will be ready in a month. Place in the refrigerator, where they will keep for several months.
Cooks note: When you are ready to use them, make sure to remove the seeds. Some people discard the pulp as well, using only the now-supple rind.
If giving the gift of booze appeals to you, invest in a gallon of the best vodka your budget allows and a big ol’ citron known as a Buddha’s hand. Buddha’s hand is like a lemon crossed with H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional Cthulhu (but we promise there’s nothing scary about the citron-infused vodka). Buddha’s hand is mostly skin with just a bit of flesh, making it perfect for infusing vodka with a citrusy essence.
- 1 gallon of vodka
- 1 Buddha’s hand
- 4 quart-sized bottles
- Slice the “fingers” off the citron, paring away any exposed pulp.
- Roll the fingers on the counter, as if you are making clay ropes this allows the oils to come to the surface.
- Slide two or three fingers into each of the bottles and fill with vodka before capping and storing at room temperature.
- Vodka will be infused and ready in a week.
Cooks’ note: The alcohol will preserve the fruit, but it’s a good idea to store the bottles in the refrigerator after opening.