Somehow, March has shaped up to be like January. Uninspired, that is, at least in terms of this blog. I have to explain to you a few things: I'm not sure how that happened (again!); I'm sorry; and I don't want it to happen in the future. And so, on this last day of the month, I'm going to cram in one more post. Hopefully another one will follow in the next few days, as I already have the topic and a picture. I can't make any promises, though. Thursday (tomorrow) is a D-day of sorts since I will start in the ICU at the county hospital for a month. To call it an intense experience would be an understatement.
Today, I want to tell you about something I made last month. (I literally must write about it this month, or else it will be really, really old news; I'd be telling you in April about something I made in February!) It's one of those gifts that keeps on giving, the sort that are really important for a busy cook who needs to have pantry and freezer staples around for use at a moment's notice.
This recipe also takes advantage of the season. Winter and early spring are a really awesome time for citrus. We have been enjoying so many delicious types of citrus lately! I've had the privilege of eating some very sweet tangerines, and on ambitious mornings I juiced some navel oranges harvested from my grandfather's trees (until I ran out). The novelty of the balanced sweetness and acidity in a really good orange makes you understand why they used to be the only present the Little Women would receive at Christmastime. Good citrus can be revelatory.
In addition to the store-bought citrus, I had the excitement in February of receiving a large harvest of kumquats. My mother-in-law has a dwarf, but quite prolific, kumquat tree; better yet, though, she has friends with a 20 foot tall kumquat tree. I've never seen this impressive specimen, but I've tasted its bounty for the past two seasons. Apparently the deliveries I receive of freshly-harvested kumquats, which seem like large amounts, hardly put a dent in the fruit borne by the tree.
Both last year and this, the kumquats were used up quickly. A came over, and we made two batches of straight up kumquat marmalade. We also had shrimp and kumquat skewers, which were delicious and which I should definitely share with you on this blog sometime. Two batches of marmalade, and skewers for four, and a party favor Ziploc filled with kumquats for A&K only used up half of the fruit we had in the refrigerator.
It was time to make kumquat Earl Grey marmalade.
Making jam of any sort is ever so satisfyingly concrete. Making jam this beautiful (I mean, it's actually glowing, at least in the picture above) also fulfills an inner desire for creating lovely things.
Did I mention that it's tasty? The Earl Grey isn't necessary, but the orange flavor of the bergamot enhances the kumquat and makes for a great marmalade. A great marmalade, by the way, should include the proper proportions of sweet, tart, and bitter; most marmalades, to my taste, are too heavy on the bitter. This marmalade is perfect on a slice of lightly-buttered toast, and I think it would be wonderful as a sophisticated appetizer with a slice of Brie on a water cracker.
To make the marmalade in any decent quantity requires boiling-water canning. As I've written about before, the process sounds much more intimidating than it actually is; any interested locals are encouraged to e-mail me for a private lesson. I've only taught two people (A and C), but they are now both successful independent canners who have branched out on their own and shared their delicious creations with me.
What's harder than the canning (or at least more of a pain) is the preparation of the kumquats. These squirrelly little fruits hide seeds like nobody's business; one big seed if you're lucky, or a number of tiny ones if you're not. While you're slicing the kumquats crosswise into pinwheels, you'll spend a fair amount of time picking out seeds. It's time-consuming, but totally worth it for the beauty of the final jam. Oh, and not to worry if you don't have access to your own personal kumquat supplier like I do; the supermarket ones, as long as they're not soft (and therefore verging on spoiling), are perfectly acceptable.
Certainly during this busy upcoming month in the ICU, I'll need to prepare breakfast on the go. It's a good thing I have plenty of kumquat marmalade to spread on toast. Whether you eat it for breakfast or otherwise, enjoy!
Kumquat Earl Grey Marmalade
Adapted from the Kumquat Growers' Association
Makes: 6-8 half-pints (the first picture above was about 1 3/4 batches)
Time: 1 hour active, 1 hour and 15 minutes total
4 c. sliced kumquats
1 c. strongly brewed Earl Grey tea
1 package Sure-Jell pectin
6 1/2 c. sugar
1 t. unsalted butter (optional)
Slice the kumquats thinly crosswise, removing seeds as you cut; each kumquat should be sliced into about four or five pieces. Add the kumquats, tea, and pectin to a large pot. Heat on medium until mixture reaches a rolling boil. Add the sugar, all at once, and bring mixture back to a rolling boil. Add butter to decrease foaming, if desired. Cook at rolling boil for one minute, then remove from heat.
Ladle marmalade into jars that have already been boiled for 10 minutes to sterilize them. Top with fresh seals that have been soaked in boiling water, and place rings finger-tight on jars. Process for ten minutes in boiling water canner. Make sure each jar seals; if it doesn't, re-process in boiling water canner with fresh seal.