3 things to do with citrus peels

Waste not, want not! Our  recent post on Candied Grapefruit Peel yielded some interesting comments, and at the same time Erik made a discovery about citrus. Thus, three things to to do with your rinds:

Idea #1
Readers Terry and Barb both commented that they soak citrus peel in vinegar to make citrus infused vinegar to use for cleaning, and in Barb’s case, as a deodorant. This is an excellent idea. Infusing vinegar with cleansing/disinfecting herbs, like lavender or sage, is something I’ve known about for a long time, but don’t do, in practice. I’m too lazy. Instead, I scent my cleaning vinegar with essential oil. But we always have citrus peels laying around in piles, and the simplicity of the citrus idea is so a peeling that I had to try it. (ouch! stop throwing things!)

I filled one jar with orange peels and covered it with vinegar. After only a couple of days it started smelling really nice. Now it’s about a week old and doesn’t seem to be getting any more potent, so   I’m going to strain it off. In a second jar I’m trying an experimental blend of orange and thyme. Like citrus, thyme has excellent disinfectant qualities, but I’m not sure how its scent will blend with the orange.

I suspect our cleaning vinegar is going to smell like citrus from now on out.

UPDATE: I’ve been using orange-peel vinegar for a while now and the only drawback is that it is tinted yellow. If you spray a light surface and forget to wipe afterward, it will leave yellow stains behind. Not true stains–they wipe up easily even if they’re long dry. This isn’t a big problem because generally I am spraying and wiping, but once in a while I’ll find yellow droplets in spot I forgot to wipe.

This, of course, disqualifies this spray for carpet cleaning. (And plain vinegar spray is a great thing to use to clean up pet accidents on carpet.)

Speaking of pet accidents, I realized this first when I found a yellow spray at the base of our bathroom sink and immediately though young Trout had taken to spraying. Cryeth the cat: “O! Unfair! I never did such thing!”

Idea #2
A reader named Chile sent us this link to an old Cuban recipe for candying grapefruit pith. As you know, grapefruit pith can be quite thick. If you have some separate use for the peel or zest, you can cut the leftover pith into cubes and candy it with cinnamon. She says it’s really good!

Idea #3
Erik has learned that you can make pectin out of citrus rinds and membranes. Like apples, citrus is quite rich in pectin. This is a really good use for under-ripe, not so tasty oranges. Here’s a how to link: Wedliny Domowe. The same link also has instructions for making pectin from apples. It’s all about local sourcing, after all. An oddity of living where we do is that it is much easier to come by citrus than apples. At least for now.

On a related note, we also know that you can make clear, citrus flavored jelly by boiling organic citrus rinds in water, then straining off the solids. The resulting liquid is citrus-flavored and pectin-rich. Add sugar and you have citrus flavored jelly. It’s tasty, we’ve tried it. But unfortunately, we don’t have a recipe. If you happen to have a recipe, please share!

How to Store Canned Goods: Take the Screw Band Off!

Right in the center, wrong on the left. Bungee cord ’cause we’re in earthquake country.

Another quick tip from the Los Angeles Master Food Preservers: you should store your canned goods with the screw bands off. Why?

  • So you can clean underneath the band to prevent spoilage and bugs.
  • The screw band can create a false seal.
  • Leaving the screw bands on can cause corrosion. 

The only time to have the screw bands on is if you are transporting the jars. Otherwise, take them off!

Canning Citrus

Say you’ve got a huge citrus tree and want to can some of it without using a lot of sugar. The nice thing about citrus is that it’s so acidic you can water bath can it in its own juice, in just water or in a light sugar syrup. In our Master Food Preserver class we did a taste test of tangerine sections canned in a variety of liquids:

  • water
  • very light syrup (1/2 cup sugar per quart)
  • light syrup (1 cup sugar per quart)
  • medium syrup (1 3/4 cup sugar per quart)
  • heavy syrup (2 3/4 cups sugar per quart)
  • very heavy syrup (4 cups sugar per quart)
  • syrup with honey (one part sugar to one part honey in any of the ratios above)

The citrus preserved in just water was edible but not particularly good nor was it aesthetically pleasing. As much as I try to avoid sugar it does help the fruit hold its shape. The best formula for canning citrus in terms of flavor and aesthetics was, in my opinion, either the very light or light syrups.  I was not fond of the honey/sugar syrup as the honey tended to overwhelm the flavor of the fruit.

A home grapefruit canning experiment I tried at home went horribly wrong, but I’ll blog about that in another post. Let’s just say that if I had a big citrus tree I’d consider canning some of the harvest using a very light sugar syrup. It’s a decent way to get a shelf stable product with a lot less sugar than, say a marmalade or jelly. Another sugar-free alternative would be to dehydrate the fruit.

Directions for canning all kinds of fruit in syrup can be found on page 2-5 of the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning which you can download for free here.

Mellow Yellow: How to Make Dandelion Wine

Today on Root Simple we welcome another guest post from our Midwest correspondent Nancy Klehm:

In the past week, we Midwesterners have experienced three hard frosts – killing back the growth, that emerged too early of my grapes and hardy kiwis and zapping peach blossoms. We will see if there is any fruit onset and if my vines recover.

Meanwhile, it is dandelion wine time!

I first tasted dandelion wine when I bought a bottle of it at a folksy gift shop in the Amana Colonies (yes, Amana of the appliance fame). I had wanted something to drink at my campsite that evening. When I opened the bottle, I anticipated something more magic than what met my tongue. It was cloying yellow syrupy stuff, which resembled soft drink concentrate. I poured it out next to my tent, returning it to the earth where she could compost it. I was sure that I’d never get close to it again.

That was fifteen years ago, and now I have been drinking dandelion wine for about two years. The new stuff is stuff I’ve made myself from dandelion blossoms gathered in Chicago. I’m happy to say that it is divine. I am sure now that the colonists actually keep the good stuff in their private cabinets.

Upon mentioning “dandelion wine”, Ray Bradbury usually comes to mind. However, after I heard a radio interview with him a few years back when he passionately made a case to colonize the moon so we can ditch this trashed planet and survive as a race, I got confused. Enough said.

So the point is, I am going to tell you how to make dandelion wine. I encourage you to do this because dandelions pop up everywhere and every place. They are nearly ubiquitous pioneers in our landscapes of disturbed and deprived soils. Consumed, they are a magnificent digestive, aiding the heath and cleansing of the kidneys and liver. Amongst vitamins A, B, C and D, they have a huge amount of potassium.

As a beyond-perfect diuretic, dandelion has so much potassium that when you digest the plant, no matter how much fluid you lose, your body actually experiences a net gain of the nutrient. In other words, folks – dandelion wine is one alcohol that actually helps your liver and kidneys! Generous, sweet, overlooked dandelion…

When you notice lawns and parks spotting yellow, it’s time to gather. The general rule of thumb is to collect one gallon of flowers for each gallon of wine you want to make.

Enjoy your wandering. People will think you quaintly eccentric for foraging blossoms on your hands and knees. Note: collect blossoms (without the stem) that have just opened and are out of the path of insecticides and pesticides.

So here’s how I make dandelion wine…

I pour one gallon boiling water over one gallon dandelion flowers in a large bowl. When the blossoms rise (wait about twenty-four to forty-eight hours), I strain the yellow liquid out, squeezing the remaining liquid out of the flowers, into a larger ceramic or glass bowl. I compost the spent flowers (thanks dandelion!).

Then I add juice and zest from four lemons and four oranges, and four pounds of sugar (4-4-4 = E.Z.). Okay, now here’s what I think is the best part: I float a piece of stale bread, sprinkled with bread yeast, in the mixture. This technique is used in Appalachian and some European recipes.

Then I toss a dishtowel over it so the mixture can both breathe and the crud floating around my house stays out. I continue stirring the wine several times a day until it stops fermenting. This takes about two weeks or so.

When I am certain it has stopped “working”, I strain, bottle and cork it up and bid it farewell until months later. In fact I wait until the winter solstice, when I can revisit that sunny spring day by drinking it in.

Everlasting Flower for Colds

Dried California Pearly Everlasting. The flowers are small, about the size of a buttons on a shirt collar.

Last summer I was happy to be able to take a class on native plant use taught by Cecilia Garcia and James Adams, co-authors of Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. One of the many things I learned in this class was that the flowers of California Pearly Everlasting, Gnaphalium californicum, aka cudweed aka rabbit tobacco, are supposed to be good for colds.

I’ve not had a chance to try it until this week. I’ve only had one cold since last summer, and that one hit so fast and hard I just sort of gave up on doing anything but riding it out. The one I have this week is more of a typical head cold, and  a good chance for a field test. And I can say that I think they helped. But I’m not sure how.

My confusion is a result of memory vs. notes. I remember James saying he takes this tea instead of Day Quill whenever he has a cold. So, having the flowers on hand, I took the tea expecting it to act like cold medicine. Because the effects are so subtle (unlike cold capsules) I didn’t think my first cup was doing anything at all–until I realized I’d stopped sneezing and constantly blowing my nose. The relief lasted for a few hours. When I started feeling crappy again, I had another cup and the symptoms retreated again.  Over the course the first day I had 3 cups. The next day, I felt much better. My symptoms were less, though I did still feel “under siege” and retreated to bed early.

During the course of that day, I dug out my class notes and discovered that Cecilia said something different than what I remembered–she said that Everlasting is an immune stimulant, and when you have a cold you’re supposed to take one cup (one!) before bed for 4 nights. It has to be 4 cups over 4 nights, even if you feel better. No more, no less. So she’s using it more like Echinacea–not as a symptom relief.  Meanwhile, random internet searches affirm that it’s good for colds, but don’t say how.

Continue reading…

Saturday Linkages: Tiny Houses, Human Cheese, Doomsday Condos and Speakin’ Squirrel

Tiny Cabin in Scottish Countryside http://bit.ly/ItD5XQ

And . . . Anderson Cooper tackles tiny houses http://www.mnn.com/your-home/remodeling-design/blogs/watch-anderson-cooper-tackles-tiny-houses

Cat needs to learn water conservation: http://boingboing.net/2012/04/12/cat-needs-to-learn-water-conse.html

No it’s not one of our April Fools day jokes: Breast Milk Ice Cream, Human Cheese http://aol.it/In5zBn

Doomsday condos in old missile silos: http://boingboing.net/2012/04/11/doomsday-condos-in-old-missile.html

Thomas Rainer’s 5 Myths about Native Plants http://bit.ly/IxkbcY

Learn to speak squirrel: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/learn-to-speak-squirrel-in-four-easy-lessons/2012/04/09/gIQAV8Jr6S_print.html

Abused Altadena Kitten Still Needs a Home http://bit.ly/IEaUzW

These, and more linkages, are from the Root Simple twitter feed.

Candied Grapefruit Peel

Erik sourced some nice grapefruits from our friend’s tree and used the flesh to do some homework for his Master Food Preserver program. This left a big pile of organic, unwaxed grapefruit rind on our counter, so I decided to do something about it, and set off to make candied grapefruit peel. This is the technique I came up with by mashing together a bunch of different internet recipes and making two batches of the stuff. The results are delish if a bit rustic in appearance. I don’t think I’d pass muster at French pastry school with my lazy technique, but Erik and I like them a lot.

You must genuinely love grapefruit, the bitterness of it, to appreciate these. If you’re not a grapefruit fan, I’m sure this would work with orange rind as well. If you are a grapefruit fan, you’ll find yourself sneaking off to the candy jar for a little more that sweet-bitter flavor punch.

We’ve been snacking on them straight, but I think they’d be really good chopped into small pieces and sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or folded into scones or dipped in chocolate. I like them as straight-up candy because they’re so intense they satisfy restless cravings, but for the same reason you can’t gorge on them. Actually, I can’t eat more than two at a time. The how-to after the break.

The Technique

I’m calling this a technique and not a recipe. Grapefruits vary in size, peel thickness and bitterness, so results are going to vary.

This is a good thing to do when you’re working in the kitchen anyway, because it takes time, but not tons of attention.

  • Chop your rind into any shape you want. I cut mine into rough strips about 1/3-1/2″ wide and and 2″ long, though there were lots of smaller pieces, too. You don’t have to trim off the white pith. Thank goodness, huh? If it’s ridiculously thick, as it can be sometimes, feel free to carve some of it away as you work. Pieces with huge chunks of pith on them will be slower to cook and dry than the rest. I guess what I’m saying is that standardization leads to consistency. Not that it matters a lot. 
  • Put the cut up peel in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, pour off the water. Refill and bring to a boil again. Boil four times total. This doesn’t take as long as you’d think. The boiling reduces some of the bitterness in the peel. 
boiled grapefruit peel
    • Use about 1/2 cup of sugar for every grapefruit. Pour the sugar into a saucepan large enough to hold the peel. Add half as much water as sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the drained peels and begin to cook over medium heat, stirring occassionally.  e.g. 2 grapefruit = 1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water.  My batches were made with 5 small grapefruits and 2 cups of sugar.  (Obviously you can play with the amount of sugar–something with little pith, like a thin skinned orange, would need less. And maybe a “lite” version is possible. Try and see.)
    •  Cook the peels over medium heat. They will soften and turn transparent. Meanwhile, the sugar syrup will thicken and reduce. Keep cooking until the sugar syrup is so thick and so reduced that its mostly just coating the rinds, and the rinds themselves are golden and clear like tiny stained glass windows. Be sure to stir lots at the end so it doesn’t burn. This process took an hour in my case. It may have gone faster over higher heat. It would also go faster with a smaller batch.
    Cooking down the syrup
      • Turn the peels out onto an oiled rack to cool and drip off any excess syrup. (Lacking a rack, I ended up spreading mine over the bottom of colanders, which wasn’t a ton of fun, but worked.)  Let them stay there until they lose their wet stickiness. How long will vary–overnight, at least, I’d say. At that point you can sugar them if you want yet more sugar. It looks nice. Put the sugar on too soon and it will be absorbed into the syrup. When they’re totally dry, store them away in something air-tight.
      When almost all the syrup was gone/absorbed, as it looks here, I spread out the pieces to cool.

      A Review of Williams-Sonoma’s Agrarian Line

      Last week upscale retalier Williams-Sonoma announced an urban homesteady line of goods they call “Agrarian”. A number of Root Simple readers responded to the news after I linked to a Wall Street Journal article about the Agrarian line. One reader likened the “Agrarian” items to Marie Antoinette’s 18th century cosplay mini-farm. Another hoped that mainstream acceptance of things like chicken coops and beehives might lead to fewer uptight home owners association restrictions. Yet another speculated that Ikea would come out with similar, but more modernist, options. But rather than delve into the cultural meaning of the Agrarian line (you are all welcome to do that in the comments), I thought I’d look at a few of their actual offerings in beekeeping, chicken coops, canning supplies and books.

      Beekeeping
      Let’s start with the beekeeping supplies. The hives boxes they offer are very attractive but simply too expensive. If you want English style hive boxes like the ones Williams-Sonoma offers you can get them a lot cheaper at Brushy Mountain. The detailing on the Williams-Sonoma hives are better, but not enough to justify the price difference, in my opinion. Personally, I’d suggest saving even more money and going with the “migratory” boxes used by commercial beekeepers. Our local supplier, LA Honey sells them for a fraction of the cost of English style boxes. Three ten frame unassembled medium supers, a lid and bottom board run just a little over $100 at LA Honey compared with $500 for Williams-Sonoma’s three hive boxes. Hive boxes get smoked, weathered and banged up, so it’s not something I’d spend a lot of money on. Ditch the foundation and you’ll save even more money.

      But it’s the veil in the beehive starter kit Williams-Sonoma is selling that bothers me the most. Like most of the other offerings in the Agrarian collection that veil is more about the image of the activity, in this case beekeeping, than it is about actual activity, i.e. beekeeping. This is, of course, the essence of modern marketing as pioneered nearly a century ago by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (watch the Century of the Self to go down that left hand path). Use that stylish Williams-Sonoma veil and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll have a few angry bees crawling up the inside of the veil. Inexperienced beekeepers, such as myself, are better off with more protection. It ain’t stylish, but this one piece suit from Dadant has saved my rear on more than one occasion.

      Dadant Bee suit. Prada it ain’t.

      As far as Williams-Sonoma’s beekeeping books go, I’m not a fan of the ones they are selling. I’d get a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping and The Practical Beekeeper Volume I, II  and III: Beekeeping Naturally, both of which tell you how to keep bees without using chemicals and with minimal intervention.

      An Upscale Chicken Coop
      Williams-Sonoma’s “Alexandria” coop is mighty fine looking, but, like the beekeeping equipment, expensive. Just the coop will set you back $879. Add the $399 run and you’ve got some expensive eggs. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has a decent looking $400 coop if you don’t feel like building one yourself. Update: Make sure to read Terry’s comment on this post for her thoughts on the sizing and weather performance of this coop. I completely agree with her.

      Euro-style Canning Supplies
      The canning supplies in the Agrarian collection are really nice. While the USDA only recommends using two piece Ball/Kerr lids, the attractive Weck jars Willliams-Sonoma carries have a number of advantages. There’s no BPA and the only piece you have to throw out and replace is the rubber gasket.

      Books
      Of course if they were carrying our books I’d be writing a glowing review (just kidding, though looking at my taxes, maybe I’m not kidding!). There’s a few excellent books here, especially The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux. Many of the other books suffer from the “Century of the Self” problem mentioned above–they’re all about image, which equals too many pictures and not enough actual how-to advice.

      Conclusion
      That a major upscale retailer is selling chicken coops and canning supplies goes to show how much things have changed in the past ten years. I take this as a good sign. Perhaps some of those Weck jars will trickle down to my local hardware store. Maybe Rem Koolhass will design a chicken coop for Ikea (though I pity the poor chickens who will have to live in it). And, someday those uptight HOAs will be so thick in goats they’ll resemble a small Afghan villages. Thank you great recession!

      Altadena Kitten Needs a Home

      Some horrible person kicked this little kitten. My friend April took her to the vet and saved her life. She needs a home. She is about 9 months old, is fixed with a tipped ear, and has had her rabies and 3-in-1 shots. If you’d like to take her home please contact April at [email protected].