In the Garden:
Fresh-picked citrus makes a colorful gift.
Give Citrus from the Garden
The holiday season is right around the corner, bringing with it the annual gift-giving dilemmas. If you are the lucky owner of a citrus tree that produces ripe fruit in December, share your fortune with the "fruit-challenged" names on your list. Most citrus trees produce more fruit than the owner eats, so this is a perfect use for all that bounty.
Simply fill a wicker basket with Arizona sweet oranges, navels, mandarins, tangelos, or lemons, and tie a gorgeous ribbon on it. Moro blood oranges and some grapefruit may be coming into season. Taste-test the fruit to determine how sweet it is. It's a very simple gift, but for folks who don't experience the joys of picking fresh fruit off the tree, it is a special treat. Store-bought fruit just doesn't compete.
Candied Citrus Peel
If you'd like to add a little something extra, include homemade lemon bars or small jars of orange marmalade along with your "secret" recipe. If you are challenged for time or kitchen skills, here is a simple recipe for Candied Citrus Peel that only requires the cook to be able to boil water. The peel can be eaten as a sweet treat, dipped in chocolate, or used in dessert recipes that call for citrus flavoring. Put the colorful peels in a covered jar, tie a ribbon on, add a card for suggested uses, and cross a few more names off your list!
Peel 10 to 12 oranges, grapefruits, or lemons in halves or quarters, removing the bitter inner white pith. Soak peel in slightly salted water overnight. Drain and cover each variety of fruit separately with fresh water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Drain, cover with fresh water, and repeat the process several times until the peel is tender and translucent. Drain and remove any leftover pith.
At this point, you can cut peel into thin strips or leave them in larger chunks. It depends on your intended use. If you want to dip them in chocolate, leave them large enough for grasping. If used in other baking projects, cut them into tinier strips. For 1 cup of peel, make a syrup of 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup for each variety of citrus. (Or substitute 1 cup water and 1 cup granulated sugar.) Cook peel gently in the syrup until it is almost completely absorbed by the peel. Cool and drain. Roll each piece in granulated sugar and place on wax paper to dry.
For spiced citrus peel, combine a small amount of cloves or cinnamon, wrap in a cloth bag, and secure with a tie. Add the bag to the syrup during cooking of the peel. For mint flavor, add 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh mint leaves to syrup during cooking. (Recipe adapted from University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension Family & Consumer Sciences)
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