cumquats two ways

Nothing makes me more excited than home-grown produce. I’ve not had much luck with my own various attempts at a veggie patch, so when someone offers me produce from their own garden I’m at once delighted, honoured…and slightly envious.

This week (probably last week by the time I post this) I was lucky enough to be offered some end of season green tomatoes, and to my surprise they came bundled with a whole lot of cumquats! Green tomatoes are a favourite at my house and I already have a plan for those, but cumquats! New ingredients mean new skills, WHOO! I’m a sucker for a good learning curve…even at the risk of those tomatoes turning red in the mean time.

little beauties

little beauties

I went straight to my food bible, Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, and decided on two classics: brandied cumquats, and cumquat marmalade.

Brandied Cumquats

Brandied cumquats are a bit of a treasure if you’re keen to do some old lady style preserving but don’t have much time or experience. But they do require at least 2 months to “mature”, so patience is key.

Stephanie’s Brandied Cumquats:

  • 500 gm cumquats washed
  • 600 ml brandy
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
At the time of making I forgot about my perfectly large, swing top, “lightning closure” (who knew, right?) jars and opted for two smaller screw tops. I also didn’t have any vanilla bean in the house (sacre bleu!) so just left it out. I’m pretty sure I could have substituted any whole spice in there: cinnamon, star anise, clove but I was too excited to get cracking to think about these things.

 

Something you’ll learn early on in the “art” of preserving is the importance of sterilising your jars (and also any other utensils you use!). A few of my friends learnt this the hard way after their batch of pickles literally started exploding in their pantries (hello lovely ladies if you are reading this)!

 

There’s a lot of info on sterilising on the net but my preferred method is as follows:

    • Wash the jars and lids in fresh, hot soapy water, then rinse and stand them in your sink or draining board
    • Place the lids in a clean bowl (any old bowl, just not plastic)
    • Pour boiled water (I do it straight from the kettle) into each jar, right up to the brim (let it overflow if you must) and over the lids so that they’re completely covered
    • Let the jars and lids stand for a few minutes (at least 10 I’d say) then carefully tip out the water making sure you don’t burn yourself* or touch the rims as you go
    • Allow them to air dry, upside down on your dish rack
    • Be sure to avoid touching the rim or inside of the jars as much as possible
hot tamales!

hot tamales!

If you’re really pedantic (like me) I suggest that you sterilise your utensils too if you haven’t used them in the cooking process, but need them for bottling. I do this with the pyrex jug and spatula I use for scooping, pouring and scraping into jars. You can never be too safe!
* Lots of proper preserving people suggest you use jar tongs, which are great if you have them. I’m pretty ad hoc about most things and I have a great pair of little silicone mini mitts which I picked up at Aldi for about $3. Best buy ever! They’re heat proof and grippy!

Once sterilised, it’s just a matter of filling your jar (or jars in my case) with the cumquats (and vanilla bean) pouring in the sugar and finishing with the brandy. My sugar created a bit of a plug about half way through my brandy pour so, with the lid securely on, I gave it a bit of a jiggle and shake to loosen it up then poured in the remaining brandy.

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Do I get anything for product placement?

do I get anything for product placement?

Stephanie suggests that you give the cumquats a stir every few weeks (with a sterilised skewer) to help dissolve the sugar and rotate the cumquats through the brandy. I’ll probably just give them a shake every now and again.

Et voilà! 

cumquats two ways

Now all I have to do is wait 2 months till I can taste those little brandied orbs!

Cumquat Marmalade
Marmalade. It’s one of those things that reminds me of old British people, like my nanna and Dad (hi Dad!).

Stephanie’s Cumquat Marmalade:
  • 2 kg cumquats, washed
  • sugar
I only had 500 grams of cumquats left after my first batch of brandying, but the recipe is written in such a way that it’s easy to adapt to whatever quantity of fruit you can get your hands on. In the end my 500 grams made 3 large jars of marmalade.

Even though Stephanie’s recipe is pretty straight forward I still googled a few more recipes and tips on marmalade making because I’ve never made it before. And because it’s my natural inclination as a food nerd.

Most recipes call for the fruit to be very finely sliced so that 1) the rinds aren’t chewy and 2) to maximise the pectin. Pectin is the gelling agent which has to be added to most jams and jellies to give them their familiar texture. Marmalade is different because citrus fruits already contain high levels of pectin, found in the skins and pips, so adding extra is unnecessary.

Stephanie’s recipe stands apart from the few other recipes I read in that it calls for the chopped fruit (she leaves it up to you to decide whether you want to finely slice or just quarter the fruit) and muslin encased pips to be left soaking, overnight, in water (enough to just cover it). My theory is that this draws out the pectin and probably cuts down on the cooking time. Thanks Stephanie!

remember to keep the pips!

remember to keep the pips!

The next day you need to measure and count (and remember) the number of cups of cumquat/water mix as you scoop it into a heavy based pan for cooking (fruit, water, pips…everything!). Cook the fruit and pips (still in the muslin) in the soaking water over medium heat until tender, then add 1 cup of sugar for each cup of mixture you counted before. So if you measured 10 cups of cumquat/water mix, add 10 cups of sugar. Yeah. I need to go buy more sugar now too!

Soaked fruit (pips are hiding), measured into a well loved Le Creuset

Soaked fruit (pips are hiding), measured into a well loved Le Creuset

Five cups of sugar for 5 cups of mix

Five cups of sugar for 5 cups of mix

BBC GoodFood’s Seville Orange Marmalade recipe suggests that you turn the heat right down after you’ve added the sugar and allow it to completely dissolve before bringing it up to a rolling boil; completely resisting the urge to stir or scrape the edges down (something I failed to do…oops!). Some more reasearch reveals that this process minimises crystallisation which is only apparent once the ‘lade has cooled. I’ll have to report back to let you know if my pot scraping made much difference.

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Cooking before adding the sugar

Bubbles galore after adding sugar

Bubbles galore after adding sugar

Different recipes suggest different cooking times after you’ve added the sugar. Stephanie suggests 25 minutes and BBC says 10. I was a bit lax in my timing, but I think it was closer to 25 mins; you need to get the mix to setting stage (a bit of science!).

To test whether the mix is ready to set, stick a couple of small plates in the freezer after you’ve added the sugar. After boiling for a while (let’s say 15 minutes), remove the pot from the heat and allow the mix to settle then put a blob of liquid on your frozen plate. Stick it back in the freezer for a minute then get it out and drag your finger through it to see whether it remains in 2 distinct halves. If not, put your mix back on the heat and test every couple of minutes. You can also test for setting stage using a sugar thermometer (setting stage occurs at approx 104/105 degrees celcius), it’s probably way easier…but I don’t have one.

First setting test, not quite ready

First setting test, not quite ready

Second test, two distinct blobs means it's ready

Second test, two distinct blobs means it’s ready

After a successful “setting test”, turn the heat off and allow the bubbles to subside. Pluck out the muslin and squeeze it out with some clean rubber gloves (or something else that’ll protect your hands!). Around the edges of your pan you’ll notice quite a bit of scum that will need scraping out. Again…resist the urge to scrape the edges down to avoid crystallisation.

Scrape as much of the white scummy stuff off as you can

Scrape as much of the white scummy stuff off as you can

Allow the mix to cool for about 10-15 minutes then gently stir the mixture before pouring into sterilised jars. Allowing the mix to cool slightly before bottling will help prevent the fruit sinking to the bottom of your jars!

Almost too pretty to eat!

Almost too pretty to eat!

A perfect jar for the occasion

A perfect jar for the occasion

Oh. P.S. Look at the pips I rescued from the muslin. Gorgeous!

cumquats two ways

an adventure in suet

It’s a bit unfortunate that I started this blog in the middle of a new project; Christmas pudding. I learnt a lot of stuff. Mostly about suet.

They took 6 hours to steam so forgive the horrid fluro lighting of my kitchen at 10pm! And yes, that’s yellow yarn (who knew my love of knitting would spew over into my food blog so early on?!). But here they are:

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A moment of uncertainty…!

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Followed by a huge sigh of relief!

I did A LOT of reading before embarking on this project, mostly because I was a bit undecided about the use of suet. A few weeks ago I made some mincemeat which also traditionally uses suet, but since I was still firmly on the fence…I erred on the side of delicious, familiar, butter.

an adventure in suet

Mincemeat sans suet

If you’re not familiar with it, suet is raw beef fat from around the kidney and loins…hence my initial trepidation about using it. There are a number of suggested alternatives to its use including butter and vegetable shortening but neither have quite the same properties as suet.

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Yum… (Source: Wikipedia)

Back in suet’s glory days (if there was ever a time?) it was used for all sorts of things like puddings, dumplings, sausages, haggis(es?) as well as lamp oil, candles, soap and as a leather treatment. Nowadays it seems that suet goes to the birds.

What’s so special about suet that can’t be replicated by butter or other solid fats? Suet has a higher melting temp than most substitutes which means that it only begins to melt just as the surrounding batter is beginning to set. When it does melt, long into the cooking process, it leaves a void in its place which makes for a much lighter, spongier pudding. And no, it doesn’t leave a meaty flavour. In comparison, butter which has a lower melting temperature than suet, will melt before the pudding has a chance to set which will leave your pudding heavy and greasy.

Why suet and not regular beef fat? I only started to ask myself this after I looked at my first hunk of suet and wondered whether the butcher had ripped me off (granted…he did give it to me FOR FREE!) as my piece(s) looked nothing like the images I’d so faithfully googled!

Frantically, I googled again and came across Savoring the Past and its article aptly titled (for my particular situation anyway!) Suet, Part two: What it is, What it isn’t, and What to Look For.  Is it a bit sad to admit that my heart actually skipped a little joyfully when I found this? It is, but I’m OK with that.

To save you from reading the whole article…basically suet is different to regular fat at the molecular level (oooh, science!). This accounts for its milder taste, higher melting temp and the way it completely hardens after you render it. This is the critical difference between suet and regular muscle fat.

Rendered beef fat (Source: Savoring the Past)

Rendered beef fat (Source: Savoring the Past)

Rendered suet (Source: Savoring the Past)

Rendered suet (Source: Savoring the Past)

With this in mind I chopped a couple of small pieces off the suspect suet and cooked it over low heat in a fry pan for about 10 minutes. Ideally I should have done it in the oven at its lowest setting but honestly, I couldn’t be bothered! And it worked out just fine. I poured the melted fat onto a bit of baking paper (saves on washing!) and watched on with trepidation as it cooled. Would it be like granny’s mashed potatoes? Or granny’s lavender soap?!

an adventure in suet

Science, bitches!

Huzzah! The butcher gave me suet!

Was it all worth it? I guess we’ll have to wait till Christmas to find out!

it’s time

On Friday, after clearing out another op-shop of its jars and pudding bowls, I realised that cooking went from being “that thing I do sometimes on the weekends”  to a full blown obsession…and it was time to start a blog.

So here we are.

My aim is to keep track of the stuff I make and the places I go (books, websites or otherwise) for help and inspiration. I already regret not starting sooner as in the last few months I’ve churned out several batches of pickles, chutneys and pastes. And right now, literally right now in my kitchen, there’s a Christmas pudding steeping in brandy and milk waiting to be steamed. I even went to the trouble of sourcing, rendering and grating real suet (p.s it’s kind of gross and amazing at the same time)! 

Away we go!

it's time

Christmas Pudding, before steaming