Country Traditions

January 15, 2011

Marmalade is way easier than it looks – Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories

Filed under: canning, family, recipes, wisdom — Tags: , , , , , — dmacc502 @ 4:25 pm
Today I made marmalade......mmm!

Image via Wikipedia

The first step is to peel the fruit. We’ve made lemon, lemon-orange, and orange marmalade, but you can use pretty much any citrus fruit.

We looked around a bit and settled on this recipe primarily because of its simplicity. It scales well. For a large batch, just keep peeling and cutting fruit until the pot is full or your hands were tired. You can also scale down–grab a couple of oranges from the cafeteria and you’ll make a lot of friends in your dorm kitchen.

The peels need to be cut into little slivers for the appropriate texture in the marmalade. If you stack up the pieces, you can cut a bunch at once.
Marmalade 06

Many recipes recommend removing the white pith because it is bitter. Other recipes recommend removing the pith and reserving it, cooking it along with the fruit in a cheesecloth bundle and removing it at the end, presumably to allow extraction of the pectin. Many jam and jelly recipes call for pectin to be added, but it isn’t needed for marmalade because of the amount of pectin already present in the skin and pith of the citrus fruit.

Some recipes call for a blanching or soaking stage. The primary purpose of blanching is to remove the bitterness from the pith and peel. We like bitter marmalade, so we left in most of the pith and didn’t soak or blanch the peels or fruit. That also keeps the recipe simple– just slice up the fruit and throw it in the pot with the peel pieces.
Marmalade 08

The fruit and peel are cooked in water until they’re good and soft. It takes a while (about an hour), but once you’ve got a nice simmer going, you can ignore it pretty well.
Marmalade 12

The sugar goes in. Lots of sugar. The original recipe calls for 4 cups of water and 4 cups of sugar (with ten lemons). The 4 cups of water barely covered the raw fruit (in a saucepan with roughly equal depth and diameter). For scaling the recipe up or down, you can use that as a rough guide: pour in water a cup at a time until the fruit is almost covered, then once everything’s soft add as much sugar as you did water.
Marmalade 15

Stir in the sugar, and bring it up to a boil, stirring regularly.
Marmalade 28

The original recipe says to cook it until it’s 220 degrees fahrenheit. If you’re one of the few with a well-calibrated thermometer, congratulations. For the rest of us, put a spoonful of the proto-marmalade on a cool plate. If it’s still runny after cooling for a minute, keep simmering a little longer. It should show signs of jelling after cooking for 45 minutes to an hour.
Marmalade 19

That’s it. You’ve made marmalade!
Marmalade 20

But now you’re wondering what to do with it. We recommend spreading it on a freshly toasted english muffin. Or maybe a crumpet.

You can put the rest of it in a bowl, let it cool, then keep it in the fridge and use it. Or you can can it. Canning is not as scary as it sounds. You pour the warm marmalade into warm jars, wipe the rims clean, put a clean lid and rim on them and boil the jars covered with water for 15 minutes.

There are lots of kinds of canning setups but the simplest is a pot with a spacer to keep the jars off the bottom. While you can get dedicated canning kettles with jar racks inexpensively, you don’t really need any special equipment. Rules of thumb: your pot needs to be deeper than your jars so you can cover them with water, and the jars shouldn’t rest on the bottom of the pot, so as to avoid thermal stress. You can put a small wire cooling rack, a vegetable steamer, or an array of skewers tied together in the pot to keep the jars off the bottom.
Marmalade 21

After boiling the jars, you can ladle out some of the water and lift your jars out with an oven mitt. However, a set of jar lifting tongs doesn’t cost much and makes that step easier. A wide mouthed funnel is nice since it keeps stuff of the rims of the jars, but is also not necessary, especially if you get wide mouthed jars.

The folks who make Ball jars have some nice overviews of canning techniques.
Marmalade 30

You may recognize our technique as one common in mathematics. We have reduced a difficult problem (what to do with 75 pounds of citrus) into a problem whose solution is well known: what to do with many jars of marmalade.


via Marmalade is way easier than it looks – Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories.


Lady marmalade: learning to make citrus preserves – Telegraph

Filed under: canning, family, recipes — Tags: , , , , — dmacc502 @ 4:22 pm
Ambersweet oranges, a new cold-resistant orang...
Image via Wikipedia

Lady marmalade: learning to make citrus preserves – Telegraph.You can either use whole fruit (simmering before shredding), which gives a darker, less bright-tasting preserve, or you can shred the peel before cooking, which gives a lighter, fresher preserve. As Nick cuts the rind from a kilo of blood oranges, he tells me that it must be cooked until absolutely soft before the sugar is added. Not doing this properly will result in hard bits of rind (it doesn’t soften further once the sugar is added) and a poor set (the pectin you need for a good set is extracted during this stage).

Other key points are to use granulated sugar – caster just sinks to the bottom of the pan – and to warm it in a low oven first (this helps it dissolve). Once the marmalade is made let it sit for 12 minutes before potting as the peel will distribute better. All the other technical stuff you need to know is in Nick’s recipes opposite. Start by making one type then go with your imagination. I fancy lime with a slosh of rum, and blood orange with rosemary. Anyone for shredding?


October 1, 2010

Roasted Pheasants

Filed under: animals, recipes — Tags: , , , — dmacc502 @ 10:13 am
Roast tarragon pheasant

Image by dearbarbie via Flickr


  1. 1/2 pound fresh horseradish, peeled and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  2. 3 cups water
  3. 1 tablespoon sugar
  4. Salt
  5. 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  6. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  7. 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  8. 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
  9. 1 teaspoon chopped sage
  10. Freshly ground pepper
  11. Two 3-pound pheasants
  12. 1 lemon, quartered


  1. In a covered medium saucepan, simmer the horseradish with 2 cups of the water, the sugar and a large pinch of salt until the horseradish is tender, 30 minutes; drain well. In a food processor, puree the horseradish with the crème fraîche. Scrape the puree into a small bowl and season with salt.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, blend the butter with the thyme, rosemary and sage and season with salt and pepper. Rub 11/2 tablespoons of the herb butter under the skin of each pheasant. Rub the remaining 1 tablespoon of herb butter all over the outside of the birds and season with salt and pepper. Tuck 2 lemon quarters into each cavity and tie the legs with string.
  3. Set the pheasants on an oiled rack in a roasting pan on their sides, and roast for 30 minutes. Carefully turn the birds to the other side and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the pheasants breast side up and roast for 10 minutes. Pour the cavity juices into the roasting pan, pressing lightly on the lemon to release the juice. Transfer the pheasants to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Set the roasting pan over 2 burners. Add the remaining 1 cup of water and simmer, scraping up the brown bits, until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 3 minutes. Pour the juices into a small saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  5. Carve the pheasants and arrange on plates. Using 2 soup spoons, scoop the horseradish puree into neat ovals and set them beside the pheasant. Pour the pan juices over the pheasant and serve with the Caramelized Endives with Apples.

September 30, 2010

How to make perfect shortbread

Filed under: recipes — Tags: , , , , — dmacc502 @ 11:24 am
Baking powder

Image by Mel B. via Flickr

ShortbreadView larger pictureShortbread: from top, Sue Lawrence, Delia, Leiths, Ballymaloe unrolled and rolled, Marcus Wareing. Click the image for a closer look. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

I’ve always wished I had a Scottish granny. Nothing against the two ladies to whom I owe my taste for slabs of Thornton’s toffee and cream sherry, but if they ever baked a round of shortbread, it never made it on to the tea table while I was visiting. I won’t deny that Tunnock’s tea cakes – another great Scottish snack – have their merits, but despite not having a tartan bone in my body, I nurse a particular passion for shortbread as wild and romantic as anything in the work of Sir Walter Scott.

Sandy as the Western Isles, and rich as an RBS board member, shortbread is without doubt the finest biscuit Britain has ever produced. (Although, strictly speaking, thanks to the efforts of the Scottish Association of Master Bakers, it’s not a common biscuit at all, but a “speciality item of flour confectionery” – for tax purposes, at least. Even baked goods are canny with their pennies north of the border, it seems.)

All you really need to know about shortbread is in the name: according to Laura Mason and Catherine Brown’s methodically researched encyclopedia The Taste of Britain, “short” has been used to describe a “friable, brittle, crumbling texture” since medieval times. The first recipes called for “barm” (the yeasty foam formed by fermentation) along with butter and a “Peck of Flour”, which sounds more like a modern shortcake, but by the 19th century the leavening agents had returned to their duties in brewing, and the shortbread had taken its current form – a sweet, crumbly biscuit.

According to one Mistress Meg Dods (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) writing in 1826 as she prepared a box to send south for Christmas, the buttery biscuit is a treat reserved for special occasions. You don’t get shortbread in a box of Family Circle (the hopefully named “rich shortie” is no substitute), or nestling amongst the pink wafers at the blood donation centre – its natural habitat is Sunday china, and Christmas Eve. Even the tartan pouches of Walkers beloved of refreshment trolleys have a certain posh thrill about them, particularly when dunked in railway tea. But, assuming you don’t travel enough to get your fix, what’s the best way to make shortbread at home?

The basic

According to the Orcadian folklorist and food writer F Marian McNeill, who published The Scots Kitchen in 1929, classic shortbread contains just three ingredients, flour (“dried and sieved”), butter (“squeezed free of all water“) and sugar (“fine caster”). It all, she says, depends on the quality of this trio, ‘careful blending … and careful firing’.

Reading on, however, her shortbread turns out to contain rice flour (of which more later), forcing me to fall back on the patron saint of inept cooks, Delia Smith, for my first recipe. In her Complete Cookery Course, she beats 110g butter until creamy, stirs in 50g caster sugar, and then sifts in 175g plain flour. The dough is rolled out to a 3mm thickness, cut into biscuits, and baked at 150C for half an hour. The results remind me of the description of shortbread in the Oxford Companion to Food as essentially “a thick layer of rich, sweetened shortcrust pastry“: crumbly and sweet, this would make an excellent accompaniment to some fruit and cream, but isn’t rich or buttery enough to satisfy on its own.

Enter the rice

Improbably exotic as it may sound in this context, ground rice (available from the Asian or baking sections of large supermarkets, depending on the relative propensity of the local population to make phirni or shortbread – fine semolina also works if you can’t find it) has long been the secret of many a cook’s deliciously sandy shortbread. The recipe in the Leiths Baking Bible suggests a ratio of 55g ground rice to 115g plain flour, stirred into 115g softened butter and 55g caster sugar. The dough is then shaped and baked for 20 minutes at 170C – and it’s absolutely delicious. There’s a definite crunch when I bite into a piece, and the rice has made the crumb fabulously friable. This could be a contender – although I’d reduce the ratio of rice slightly, or it’s more grit than biscuit.


Scottish food expert Sue Lawrence knows her shortbread – and she uses cornflour, rather than ground rice, to give a “nice melt in the mouth texture” – 50g to 200g plain flour, along with 175g slightly-salted butter and 85g caster sugar. (Shortbread, she says, benefits from a wee bit of salt, and I have to agree – a generous pinch also works wonders.) It’s patted out and cooked in a gentle 150C oven for 35 to 40 minutes, to give a rich, feather soft shortbread that does indeed dissolve on the tongue. The flavour is good, but personally, I prefer a bit of Scottish sand in my petticoat tails.

Baking powder

I find only one recipe using any sort of leavening agent, as used at Ballymaloe Cookery School – the news of the change in recipe must have been lost somewhere over the Irish Sea. A good pinch of baking powder is sifted into 275g butter and 110g caster sugar, along with 350g plain flour and 75g ground rice, and baked in a 150C oven for an hour. There’s a satisfying ‘snap’ as I break a biscuit in half, but I find the texture rather dry and crunchy – I can imagine these with ice cream, but they’re a bit too austere for a cup of tea.

Rich shortbread

Ayreshire shortbreadAyreshire shortbread. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

This leads me to seek out a richer recipe for so-called Ayrshire shortbread, which, not content with the butter and sugar content of the traditional biscuit, demands cream and egg as well. I try one taken from a 1936 manual of Household Management, which uses 2 tbsp cream and 1 egg yolk stirred into 225g plain flour, 100g rice flour, 100g caster sugar, and 100g butter. The dough is moister than an all-butter version, and the shortbread has a rather scone-like texture – in fact, fluffy wouldn’t be too strong a word for these deviants. Too soft by half – proper Sassenach biscuits in fact.

Chilled out …

Sue Lawrence, and Leiths, both call for softened butter. Delia and Good Housekeeping ask for it at room temperature. Chef Marcus Wareing, however, in his book How to Make the Perfect … specifies the butter for his mother-in-law Doreen’s shortbread must be chilled, and then grated into the dry ingredients. This is a technique I’ve come across before in pastry making – keeping the mixture cool means it’s easier to work with.

However, according to Bon Appetit magazine, using cold butter also helps to give a flaky, rather than a crumbly finished product, as “the relatively large particles … leave air pockets when they melt during baking“. Flaky is not a word writ large in my shortbread dreams, but I give the recipe a try anyway, chilling the dough for an hour in the fridge before baking as well in obedience to Doreen. The texture of her shortbread does seem different – looser, somehow, and when I break one in half, I spot a few tiny cavities in the crumb.

As Leiths also recommend chilling the dough before baking, although only for 15 minutes, I make another batch of their recipe with soft butter, stick it straight in the oven without passing the fridge, and end up with thinner, crunchier biscuits – presumably because the mixture spreads as the fat melts. I conclude that refrigerating the dough is a good idea, but chilling your butter probably isn’t.

Roll on, roll off

In the course of my baking, I’ve noticed that many recipes instruct the baker to pat her biscuits into shape, rather than rolling them. This puzzles me, until I read F Marian McNeill’s explanation: too much pressure on the dough has a “tendency to toughen it”. Sue Lawrence agrees that if you have cool hands, you should use them – if not, she says, a light rolling pin will be fine.

To put this to the test, when making the Ballymaloe biscuits, I roll out half the dough firmly, and pat the other half into shape by hand. Oddly enough, the rolled biscuits, which start off flatter, seem to have risen slightly more than their patted counterparts, but they’re also a little less crumbly. It’s a fine point, but for the perfect shortbread, you should probably go as easy on the dough as possible.

Shortbread has so few ingredients that you can’t get away with cutting corners; good quality butter and sugar are essential, and plenty of them. Rice flour gives it that special sandy texture that sets it apart from the common biscuit, and a pinch of salt helps to balance that rich, delicious sweetness. Treat the dough gently, chill it, and cook it gently, sprinkle liberally with brown sugar – and wash down with a pint of Irn Bru.

Perfect shortbread

Perfect shortbreadFelicity’s perfect shortbread. Photograph: Felicity Cloake

Makes about 12 portions

115g butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar (I like to use golden for flavour)
Good pinch of salt
130g plain flour
40g ground rice
Demerara sugar, to finish

1. Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt.

2. Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; if it doesn’t come together, add a little more butter.

3. Line a 15cm cake or tart tin with baking parchment, and pat, or lightly roll, the dough into a shape slightly smaller than the tin. Alternatively pat out to 1cm thickness and cut into biscuits and put on a lined baking tray. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes until firm.

4. Bake for around an hour (about half that for biscuits) until cooked through, but not browned. Take out of the oven and cut into fingers, slices or squares.

5. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with demerara sugar and transfer to a wire rack. Once cold, this should last for a good few days in an airtight container (or the coolest oven in an Aga, according to Darina Allen of Ballymaloe).

Could shortbread be the greatest British biscuit of all time – and if so, what’s your favourite recipe? Is Walkers shortbread the best on the market, or does anyone share my sneaking fondness for Prince Charles’ elegant shortbread thins, despite his Welsh loyalties? And are added flavourings ever acceptable north of the border?

September 28, 2010

Sticky Bun Syrup

Filed under: recipes — Tags: , , , — dmacc502 @ 11:04 am
A traditional sticky bun loaf

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s a syrup recipe for a brown sugar sticky bun. Use your own roll recipe to accompany!
1 c. light corn syrup
1 stick plus 1 tbsp. unsalted (sweet) butter
1 c. packed light brown sugar
½ c. chopped pecans

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar and syrup and stir constantly until sugar is completely dissolved. Add pecans and simmer 2 minutes.

September 17, 2010

Old-Fashioned Lemonade

Filed under: recipes — Tags: , , — dmacc502 @ 3:58 pm

Old-Fashioned Lemonade

6 cups water, divided
Zest of one lemon
1 cup sugar
2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 8 – 10 lemons)
Lemon slices, optional

In saucepan, bring two cups water, lemon zest, and sugar to boil. Boil five minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour into large pitcher. Add four cups cold water and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Chill in refrigerator two hours. Pour into glasses and garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Honey Lemonade

½ cup water
1 ½ cup fresh lemon juice (about 5 – 7 lemons)
2/3 cup honey
Zest of one lemon
6 cups water
Lemon slices, optional

In saucepan, heat ½ cup water, lemon juice, honey, and lemon zest. Keeping mixture just under a boil, stir constantly until honey is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Add 6 cups of water and refrigerate 3 hours until chilled. Pour into glasses and garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Ginger Lemonade

6 cups water, divided
3 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup sugar
2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 8 – 10 lemons)

In saucepan, bring two cups water, ginger root, and sugar to boil. Boil five minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, cover pan, and let steep fifteen minutes. Strain mixture. Add to large pitcher with remaining four cups water. Refrigerate two hours or until chilled.

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