I have just seen a post on Facebook which informs me that there are only fourteen more Fridays before Christmas. I got my diary out and counted – and it is true! So for all the people who feel that they have loads of time between now and Christmas…. think again!!! Suddenly, fourteen Fridays neither sounds – or feels – very much.
And I already seem to be a bit behind myself – and I am blaming all delays this autumn on my book which is being published in just a couple of weeks time on the 4th October. I have only just finished candying my first batch of fruit peel which I usually get done in July or August. My favourite peel is grapefruit which is thick and luscious when candied. I usually add it to my mixture when I am baking my Christmas and New Year Cakes. It gives a fresh tang to the other fruits and spices. (And I often finish using it up in the Hot Cross Bun dough at Easter which makes the spicy fruit bread an extra-delicious treat.)
But it doesn’t have to just be added to baked dishes. How soft and moist the peel is depends on how long you dry it for after the candying process is completed. Longer drying will produce a hard dry product that is tougher to cut but keeps for longer. Less drying time produces sticky, soft peel which I love to cut into thick moist slices and coat in melted dark chocolate – something tangy and a little different to go with the coffee at the end of our Christmas meal and which doesn’t cost a lot. It also uses the peels which usually get thrown away.
Candying peel in this way is around a ten day process. This does not mean that it is a lot of work. After the initial boiling of the fruit and the making of a sugar syrup for it to steep in, it is simply a case of adding more sugar to the syrup every day, boiling it up with the peels and then leaving it to cool. At the end of the allotted time, the syrup is drained off (and can be kept in an airtight container and is delicious poured over desserts like sponge pudding or ice cream). The peels are then laid on a wire rack to allow warm air to evenly circulate. It is then dried very slowly and gently in a very warm place or a very cool oven – I put mine in the bottom of my cool Aga oven, and keep checking on it frequently to make sure that it doesn’t dry out too much or even burn. After that I pack it away in an air-tight container where it will happily keep for 12 – 18 months… but it rarely gets to last that long!
Activities like candying peel can be seen as part of the annual cycle of seasonal tasks. They can also be viewed as
a precursor to Christmas preparations – depending on how keen you are to begin your ‘Christmas count-down’. Jobs like this done earlier in the autumn or year definitely make others easier to complete as the year draws to a close when rich fruit cakes and puddings (not to mention mincemeat!) might need to be made.
Standing in a warm cosy December kitchen and being assailed by the scent and taste of the great, glowing, half-globes of succulent sweet peel plunges one straight back into the long light days of summer and freshly squeezed juice or prepared halves for breakfast out in the sunshine. Ah, heady memories!
This autumn I plan on candying some orange and lemon peel as well – all tastes citrusy but the different fruits produce subtly different flavours.
Why not try some for yourself? Full instructions for the candying process can be found in my book, ‘Merry Midwinter’ which is being published on the 4th October 2018 – just a fortnight from now. Have fun!