Produce wise, I have no complaints about the past 12 months. Seasonal local vegetables from Hillsborough farm throughout the summer and a wonderful time exploring citrus varieties after that. My clear favorite was the Mayer lemon. I simply fell in love with its vivid color, fragrance and sweet/tart taste. The best priced ones were from Whole Foods, priced at a modest 3.49 /lb (about 6-7 lemons). Indulged in making 'achar', preserved lemon, Lemon rice, margaritas & a dozen bottles of marmalade! (this was in addition to a community pick testing for Food52 , a fragrant Five-citrus marmalade.
Back to Meyer lemons. What?: A hybrid citrus thought to be native to China, a cross between lemon & mandarin orange. The skin is smooth and thin with minimal white pith, while the juice is not quite as tart as a regular lemon and it has a faint trace of orange, no doubt from its mandarin genes.
Making a marmalade, I learned, is not for the beginner cook. It requires a good hefty dose of old fashioned labor. Just slicing through 10 lemons takes time, a task which seemed trivial though after I had gone through chopping 2 pomelos (huge chinese grapefruit similar to pamplemousse better known as 'pumplimaas' in Tamil) and a generous assortment of other citrus. If dedicated cooking is your passion, then here is my recipe for a yummy Mayer lemon marmalade spiked with crystallized ginger and cardamom. The recipe is adapted from Epicurious.com and I believe the original recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine in Dec. 1999.
Mayer Lemon Marmalade with crystallized ginger and cardamom (makes 10 1/2 pint jars)You need:
10 Mayer lemons (or 8 regular lemons)
6 cups water,
6 cups sugar
1.5 cups finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon powdered cardamom
10 sterilized 1/2 pint canning jars with sealing ring lids.
Cut the lemons into halves and remove and reserve the seeds/pips. Tie up the seeds in a cheesecloth/muslin cloth/bag. (If you're South Indian or related to one, look for a clean 'veshti' or 'angavastram' to rip off a piece!)
Cut the lemons once again into quarters and slice thinly. Combine the lemon, water and the bag of lemon pips in a large non reactive pot. Cover and allow the mixture to rest at room temperature for a whole day. (yes, 24 hours).
Add the crystallized ginger pieces to the Lemons the next day and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and cook down the liquid until the quantity reduces to less than half the original volume (~ 1 hr).
Add the sugar and the cardamom powder and boil over medium heat, taking care to skim off any foam. Using a candy thermometer, monitor the temperature. (which is going to stay at 212 F for a LOOONG time ~ 1/2 hr).
Once all the residual water has evaporated, the temperature of the thick jammy mixture will quickly rise to 220 F. Immediately switch off the heat & remove the pot.
Ladle the marmalade into the sterilized jars leaving about 1/4 inch air gap at the top to allow for vacuum sealing. Wipe the rims thoroughly clean, screw on the lid & ring & tighten till the point of minimum resistance. Allow to cool slightly and then process in a vacuum bath canner. (I like to follow the timing prescribed from a post on Indian Food Rocks, viz, 10 minutes at sea level adding a minute for every additional 1000 ft above sea level, depending upon where you live).
Thumbprint shortbread cookies (with the marmalade that you just made!)
You need: (about 12-15 cookies)
1 cup All purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon Orange zest
1/4 cup of marmalade or any of your favorite store bought jam
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Sift the All purpose flour, sugar,salt and the baking powder together in a mixing bowl.
Add the butter and the orange zest (I used the frozen variety from Perfect Puree) to the flour blend. Using a silicone spatula, gently combine the ingredients together to form a dough.
Using a cookie scoop, measure out equal portions onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. (I personally like a rustic looking edge, but for a smoother circular shape, gently roll the dough into a sphere using your palms)
Gently press down to flatten. Using your thumb, make a well in the center of the dough.
Fill the wells with 1/4 teaspoon of your favorite jam or marmalade.
Bake at 325 F for 20 minutes, turnin the baking sheet around 180 degrees halfway through the baking process. until the base begins to turn a golden brown color
Cool the cookies on a cooling rack (they crisp up slightly upon cooling) and serve these rich buttery morsels with a hot cup of coffee or tea.