Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What went wrong (and the few things that went right) with marmalade

I have already mentioned numerous times that I got very impatient with my marmalade. This led me to try out a bunch of different short cuts hoping for a ready remedy. I also tried a few other new-to-me techniques which other people use with some degree of success.

After 4 days of canning and testing, only one of my shortcuts worked and I personally wouldn’t recommend it. Both of the new techniques I tried worked but I have a few cautions before you try them out.

Citrus Specifics:
1. Each type of fruit and even varieties of the same fruit are easier to handle in different ways and for different recipes. For instance I found that I preferred to deal with room temperature oranges if I was peeling them by hand for preserves but cold oranges worked better with a peeler and sliced better with a knife.

2. A food processor/chopper might be a valid shortcut for slicing your fruit very thin. You sacrifice texture (if you like rind strips) and a small amount of volume but gain time. But you also might destroy your food processor and this I don’t really understand. After using my chopper on my blood orange marmalade I tried to clean it out and found that the inside was coated with waxy orange residue. I tried scraping this out with a spoon, a scrubby sponge, a scrub brush, and steel wool and made little headway. I also tried soaking the vessel in water, dish soap, and 409 again with limited results. It looks as if the plastic the food processor is made out of was actually scarred by the orange peel. Perhaps the peel is acidic enough to break down the plastic? I have no idea. I will keep working on figuring out what is going on.(It turns out that I was almost right about that. But it isn't the acid that's the problem. The main oil in an orange peel is limonene which can actually break down and disolve plastics in a high enough concentration. Yes, Virginia I really did melt my food chopper.)

3. Using a food mill to remove the membranes from citrus doesn’t work at all. I have a decent food mill that I have used successfully for many other operations but in this case it was just an inefficient and cumbersome juicer.

1. Using old bands to line the bottom of a pot instead of a canning rack works well. You can fasten the bands together but you really don’t have to. But there are some obligatory cautionary statements:
    a. You have to have a deep enough pot to allow for water to cover the jar (this is why I was using stumpy jars) and the bands have enough height that this can be tricky
    b. If the holes in the bands are bigger than the bottoms of the jars things might shift enough for jars to tip or fall into the hole and be touching the bottom of the pan.
c. I have hard water and so the chemical reaction between the metal of the bands and of my pot stained the pot. This has happened to my pressure cooker and vinegar will help get rid of the stain or if added to the boiling water will help prevent it from happening in the first place. But it is unnerving when a pot you cook food in directly is suddenly stained black.
2. I have seen keeping lids warm in water in a Crockpot listed as a valid method in several place. It works and it is nice to not have to waste a burner on lids when you have a lot going on. But:
    a. My crockpot on Low was hot enough that I burned myself more than once but the “keep warm” setting didn’t seem to be warm enough
    b. The bands rusted on the inside of the stoneware and on each other. This is probably due to my hard water more than anything else but I can’t get the coloring off of my crockpot liner. I have since used this technique again and a liberal dose of vinegar prevented it new staining so there is hope for this method.

3. Homemade spice bags are great but you might want to double or triple the thickness of the cheesecloth if it is thin or pieces will escape.

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