from "Living Within", December 2013
This season makes me think of candy sweetness. Sugar plums and candy canes jingle into consciousness on stage, and screen and through loud speaker systems, and candied fruit makes its annual appearance amongst the Christmas specials. Mince pies, fruit-heavy cakes and plum puddings all require their share of jewel bright glacé cherries and sweetly preserved citrus peel. The ultimate jewel in the candy crown may, of course, be the marron glacé (or candied chestnut) - not as a rule to be messed about with or mixed in with anything else, just relished as a luxurious and unalloyed joy (if your pocket allows that is) unadulterated by anything apart from the the pleasure of eating it. There is a reason that they cost stupid money - they require level upon level of skill and patience and fiddly process, and days (and days!) of tender loving care and attention - casualty levels are alarmingly high - so, no, you are not being ripped off, they are a luxury item as a result of the time and trouble that it takes to create them.
This year when I have been having some fun preserving, jams and jellies and marmalades, I might even given them another go as a home-made treat and, if you have the time (about a couple of weeks), and the inclination, do search out a method while the raw item is available to buy, fresh from the tree, and in the markets.
In their stead, I can offer you here a quick method for candying citrus peel, an essential ingredient to much of the seasonal fare, and one that is not even remotely as good when bought ready chopped in tubs from the supermarket. Candying fruit can be a painfully long process - the skins must be pre-softened so that the sugar doesn’t cause them to harden before they have a chance to sweeten, and the time to impregnate entire fruits (whole or in pieces) with sugar syrup and then allow them to dry is often lengthy. But here is a method that is relatively fast, and the end result can be baked with, nibbled on, or even dipped in chocolate to be served with coffee.
Take some large navel-type oranges (up to 5) - wash, cut in half crosswise, and scoop and scrape the pulp and membranes from the middle, leaving the white pith intact.
Cut long slices of peel, about 1cm at the broadest point. Place in a saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes - drain and repeat (with fresh boiling water) 4 more times (5 times in total); this will start softening the peel and take away bitterness. Drain for the final time and reserve.
Make a sugar syrup. In a heavy-based pan, add 250ml cold water to 500g granulated sugar with a teaspoon and a half of powdered ginger (optional, but will give a nice kick). Stir over a low heat until ALL of the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat and when the syrup has boiled for a couple of minutes, add in the blanched orange peel, bring up to a gentle simmer and leave to cook (partially covered with a lid) for about 35 - 45 minutes or until the peel is softened. Take the peel, carefully, out of the pan, and leave to drain in a single layer over a wire rack. When they have stopped dripping and are cool, transfer to some waxed paper or baking parchment, again in a single layer, and sprinkle liberally with more granulated sugar; leave to dry for several hours, or overnight (best done near a radiator, in an airing cupboard, or some place warm and dry). When dry (no longer sticky), store in as airtight a jar as you can find.
I shall leave you with my best wishes for a Merry Christmas, and a quote from that harbinger of the Christmas season, “Elf” the movie.