Persimmon harvest in the Bay Area

Tim and I were invited by an old friend to harvest some of her family’s Fuyu persimmons for the Co-op.  Despite filling 6 bags, about 75 pounds of fruit, I estimate we harvested less than 10% of this one tree’s persimmons.  This family also shared their sweet, juicy Valencia oranges.  Again, this is a fantastic micro-climate for fruit.  (Google: plant an orchard!)1114131451aThe Bay Area has many of these persimmon trees, as they do really well in the climate there.  Here in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock and Glendale have the most persimmon trees, from my unofficial tally.  This sumptuous fruit only appears for a couple of months once a year, so Co-op members are enjoying them fresh as we contemplate making chutney.  (The Fuyu can be eaten when firm, like an apple, and are not astringent like the Hachiya which must be soft-ripe.) Meanwhile, I dried some of them, and they are fantastic. I don’t have a dehydrator so I used my oven, set at 170, the lowest setting. I sliced a bit off the end, then into 1/4″ slices and placed on a baker’s cooling rack on a baking sheet. 1119131804a 1119131804e 1119131813a 1119131810 After 5 hours, I switched the pan positions, and after another 5 hours, took them out.  That is a total of 10 hours in the oven at the lowest setting.  Now we’ll be able to have persimmons in April – if I can successfully squirrel these delish morsels away!

Passion Fruit in Nichols Canyon, right in the middle of Los Angeles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShan’s passion fruit were one of our favorite Co-op projects last year.   This year her vine is producing an even more abundant crop! She calls them her ‘baskets of Easter eggs in the kitchen’.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe use the whole fruit technique in our preserves and marmalade, in which the seedy center is scraped out and then the shells are boiled and peeled for the pectin-rich pulp.  The only thing that goes into compost is the thin, papery shell and some of the seeds.  To strain out the seeds, give the seedy juice a quick whirl in the blender, then put that in a strainer and let gravity extract all the juice.  All we add to the tart juice and relatively tasteless pulp is sugar, as this whole fruit has exactly what is needed to set up a perfect preserve.  Adding the chopped pulp gives it body and texture as well as pectin, and if someone has some oranges, those go in as well.  Simply core, seed, and thinly slice the whole orange and boil it briefly to soften, then add that to the mixture.  We use the standard ratio of 1:1, that is, 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of fruit.  Like all preserves, it works best when done in batches of 6, or 6 cups of fruit boiled with 6 cups of sugar. IMG_2363You can see step by step instructions in an earlier post on this blog.  If you have some passion fruit, first, congratulations, and second, try making preserves.  Although there are several steps, it is actually relatively easy.  And your house will smell extraordinary!


White nectarines – simple canning may develop flavor

ImageThe Co-op received about 50 pounds of white nectarines, which were harvested fairly green.  These are so delicate when ripe that it does make sense to harvest them early, but the flavor was not well-deveoped.  In the past 3 years we have made preserves and jam with these, but this year I wanted to try simply canning the pitted fruit in a light simple syrup.  Perhaps the canning process will develop the flavor?  We’ll open a jar and taste the fruit in another ten days.  If it doesn’t pass muster, they may be turned into chutney, or perhaps salsa.Image

Meyer lemons: salted; three marmalades with orange flowers, rosemary and pomegranate molasses

Perfectly ripe Meyer lemons in their bath

Perfectly ripe Meyer lemons in their bath

The Co-op received a generous bag of perfectly ripe Meyer lemons.  These had to be processed right away, as they were at their peak and would spoil quickly.  A quick way to preserve lemons (or limes) is to make preserved lemons with salt, known variously as Moroccan preserved lemons or Indian lemon pickle.  You’ll find smallish jars with impressive prices at specialty stores, but it is so easy to make your own.  Wash thoroughly and slice off about 1/4″ at both ends.  Slice nearly through, but leave one end intact, a bit like an open flower.  Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt in your clean jar, then sprinkle the open lemons with salt as you layer them in.  Push down forcefully to press them and extract juice so that the uppermost lemons are covered in juice, then sprinkle with more salt.  Close tightly, then let sit for 4 to 6 weeks.  Periodically shake the jar.  To use, simply rinse the lemons and finely chop the rind, and use instead of salt.  Add to couscous or rice, or add to stews and dips.  You’ll find lots of uses for anything seasoned with lemon and salt.

Meyer lemons simply preserved with salt and their own juice

Meyer lemons simply preserved with salt and their own juice

These lemons were also made into a marmalade base, using the standard citrus prep technique.

Citrus prep for marmalade, with a pectin bag for cores and seeds

Citrus prep for marmalade, with a pectin bag for cores and seeds

Using the golden 6 cup rule, 6 cups of the mix was cooked with sugar and then flavored.IMG_4753

For a tarter marmalade flavored with sprig of fresh rosemary in the jar, only 4 cups of sugar was added.  Pomegranate molasses is a tart addition, so 5 cups of sugar went into that batch.  When three tablespoons of orange flower water was added, the standard 6 cups of sugar, or 1:1 ratio worked well.  All are good and fun to try, but honestly, with a Meyer lemon base, just about anything tastes brilliant!


Lots of Loquats

IMG_4660You can find a loquat tree in nearly every neighborhood in Los Angeles.  All the trees are bearing heavily this year, perhaps in response to the drought conditions.  Sadly, much of this fruit will end up in green cans for green waste management, as there are more than even our hungry squirrels and raccoons can eat.  But you can harvest and preserve this local crop, with just a little effort.  Loquat fruits are mostly seed and not very juicy, but once cooked they do have a delightful subtle flavor, evoking almonds (from the seeds) and roses.  Thanks to Co-op members and a dear friend of the Co-op, Nadine, for the loquat harvest.  Nadine invited us to harvest her loquats, and Cyd (Co-op stalwart) and I went home with not only 50 pounds of loquats but armfuls of blooming iris and lilies from Nadine’s wonderful Hollywood Hills mediterranean garden.  The best of Hollywood!

Look for recipes and step by step instructions here soon for loquat jelly as well as pickled loquats.IMG_4661


Fresh Orange Cake, fill it with berries or orange curd + Italian Meringue Icing


The Co-op had lots of ripe, sweet Valencia oranges a few weeks ago.  A bounty of former orchards ripened in our back yards and there will be more.  We literally gave them away in a box in front of Co-op HQ for any interested passers-by. My family’s birthday calendar and my culinary strengths (baking and preserves) happily coincided with this Co-op surplus. I made this cake twice in 10 days, and I recommend it to you as it is the happy confluence of easy and delicious.

IMG_4641IMG_4645 You can dress it up with an orange curd between the layers and cover it with a meringue, or simply mince and macerate strawberries and mangos for a filling and topping.  

Basically, this cake is excellent by itself and amenable to your ideas.  It is so simple that you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now.  It takes about an hour.

2 1/4 c flour

1 1/2 c sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

zest of 2 large or 3 small oranges (just the orange, not the white pith)

3 eggs

1 c orange juice (you can use the juice of those zested oranges, and add water to reach 1 cup)

4 ounces melted unsalted butter (1 stick), cooled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with vegetable-oil spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Spray the paper too.
  2. In a large bowl or the bowl of your electric stand mixer, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Mix well at medium speed, then beat in the eggs,  juice, and butter until blended, about 2 minutes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then invert the cakes onto a rack to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper.
  3. Either fill with fresh chopped strawberries, mangoes, or whatever you like, or make an orange curd filling.
  4. Orange Curd: In a medium saucepan, combine a cup of orange juice, 1/3 c sugar, 3 tbsp flour and about 2 tsp orange zest.  Keep whisking constantly over heat until the mixture thickens and starts to boil.  Take off the heat and whisk in a hefty tbsp of butter.  Set aside to cool with a piece of plastic wrap over the top to prevent a skin forming.
  5. Italian Meringue Icing:  This is a treat that my family loves, as it is lighter than a buttercream and really attractive.  My grandmother Nonny made a wonderful 7 minute frosting, and this is right along that line.
  6. In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup sugar and 1/3 c water to a boil to the soft ball stage, or 240 degrees.  (You will need an electric mixer for this, or someone to help.)  Meanwhile, beat 3 egg whites with a pinch (1/8 tsp) cream of tartar to the soft peak stage.  While you are beating the egg whites, slowly pur in the hot sugar syrup and beat continuously for about 8 minutes, until the meringue is smooth and glossy.
  7. To assemble the cake, split the layers and fill with the orange curd, then frost.  I decorated this one with lemon balm leaves and a geranium flower. It is not overly sweet or rich, but fresh and yummy.


Kumquat chocolate sauce, and kumquat marmalade with wild fennel seeds

I love that Cyd is an intuitive cook as well as an adventurous spirit. He took home some of the Co-op’s kumquat harvest to preserve and share, according to our mission. Cyd is attuned to his immediate environment, keeping an eye on our deer and local fruits, and had climbed up on a Nichols Canyon hillside and harvested local fennel seeds. Using these saved seeds, he flavored a kumquat marmalade. Genius! He also combined basic chocolate with kumquats to make Kumquat Chocolate sauce. Right?? The tart citrus notes balance the rich chocolate, and it makes a delicately nuanced sauce that transforms a plain matzoh cracker to something sublime. (That is one way I like to taste things, as a matzoh is kind of a blank culinary slate.) We’ll get the recipes from Cyd and post them on the ‘Recipes’ tab. We are all looking forward to whatever Cyd will cook up next!

Kumquats, red chilis and cocoa nibs – oh my!

Cyd and I harvested 30 pounds of kumquats from a tree in Pasadena, and with 30 pounds, there is room for creativity.  Beata gave the Co-op a large bag of organic cocoa nibs and came over to help us do some preserving.  The jars, the steaming pots of water, and the fruit all reminded Beata of her childhood in Poland, watching her mother put those lovely seasonal strawberries and cherries in jars.  Even hearing the ‘ping’ of jars cooling down evoked memories.

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

Kumquats with cocoa nibs and chili pepper, nearly at the canning stage

But I don’t think anyone has memories quite like this flavor.

Prepared halved kumquats were cooked with cocoa nibs.  Once softened, chili pepper flakes were stirred in and then sugar was added.  This preserve is moderately sweet, spicy/hot, and has that bitter richness from the cocoa nibs to balance out the acidity.  It also has a terrific contrast texture, smooth jelly and crunchy nibs.   I really want to stir in soy sauce and dip dumplings in this one, or maybe spread some on a warm tortilla.  What will you do?

The recipe is on the ‘Recipes’ tab, Kumquat Chili Pepper Preserves with Cocoa Nibs’.  The name may be pragmatic, but the flavors are a flight of fancy.

Blood Orange Marmalade

Mimi brought over 2 1/2 pounds of blood oranges, or 13 3 ounce fruits.  She wondered what sort of marmalade these would make – and so did I.  In order to really taste this rather subtle citrus, no flavoring, such as vanilla or spice, was added.  Start by soaking and scrubbing the fruit, then cut 1/4″ from each end and halve.   IMG_4607 Cut out a little triangle of core and put in the cheesecloth lined bowl for the pectin bag, scraping out any seeds at the same time.  IMG_4611Slice each half thinly, and measure.  2 1/2 pounds yielded 8 cups of sliced fruit.  Put in a large pot, add an equal amount of water and the pectin bag, and boil for 30 minutes, then cover and take off the heat.  At this point, let the mixture sit about 8 hours, usually overnight, or refrigerate for later use.IMG_4615

The golden rule for marmalade and preserves is to cook no more than 6 cups per batch.  Since this yielded 8 cups of cooked mixture, I split it into 2 batches of 4 cups each.  Bring the fruit mix to a boil, then add an equal amount of sugar, which in this case was 4 cups. Add 2 tbsp of lemon or lime juice.  Keep the mixture at a boil. Bring the canner to a boil and have your jars ready.  This reaches the gel stage in about 30 minutes, but can take longer, depending on your stove.  Ladle into jars leaving 1/4″ head space, and process for 10 minutes.  This yielded 18 4 ounce jars.



Butter Marmalade Thins – an icebox cookie

This simple cookie relies on just butter and marmalade for flavor.  Butter really is important for this one, rather than margarine, and use unsalted butter for best results.  This recipe seems like a big batch, but the genius app for this cookie is to keep a couple of rolls of wrapped dough in the freezer, ready to slice and bake for lovely warm cookies in 15 minutes.  And using your own marmalade, well, what could be better?

3/4 lb. unsalted butter

2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

5 tbsp marmalade (try using lemon marmalade!)

scant 1/2 tsp salt

5 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

Soften butter to room temperature.  This is a good time to use your stand mixer.  Cream butter until light, add sugar, mix, then add eggs and marmalade.  Mix well.  Mix dry ingredients, and add to wet dough in stages.  Form dough into rolls about 1″ across, wrap well in plastic wrap, and chill or freeze. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Slice dough into rounds about 1/4″ thick, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned on the edges.  Dough spreads little as it bakes, but leave at least 1/2″ between slices.

Buter Marmalade Thins, an icebox cookie

Butter Marmalade Thins, an icebox cookie



Easy, no-fail marmalade using just the natural pectin found in the citrus

I have been refining this technique for marmalade, and have now tested and retested it on Meyer lemons, lemons, Bearss limes, Mexican limes, grapefruit, cocktail grapefruit, kumquats, tangelos, mandarins, Rangpur limes – and oranges.

some of the citrus we have preserved

some of the citrus we have preserved

It will always work, it is much more efficient, and the ratios are simple.  Basically, add one part water to one part prepared fruit and bring to a boil with the pectin bag uncovered for about 30 minutes  (45 for harder peels) , or to ‘al dente’ stage. Bite a piece, it should be tender.  Cover and let sit overnight, or refrigerate for longer.  When you are ready to can,  measure 6 cups of mixture into the cooking pot, bring to a boil and add 6 cups of sugar , or one part sugar to one part cooked mixture.   Cook at a boil to gel stage, usually around 30 minutes.  Ladle into hot canning jars, seal and process 10 minutes.

The first step will take about 1 1/2 hours, and the second step will take about 2 hours for 2 6 cup batches.

PECTIN: There is exactly the right amount of pectin in the whole citrus fruit for your marmalade to gel.  Commercial marmalade uses commercial pectin, which requires about 70% more sugar.  More sugar means more jars of marmalade; but we want more fruit and less sugar. We will not have as many jars, but our product will be concentrated fruit rather than primarily sugar.The pectin is in the pithy parts and the seeds and membranes.  Since we want the pectin but we don’t want to eat the seeds and pith,  put those in a cheesecloth-lined dish as you prepare the fruit. Use two layers of cheesecloth.

A mandoline is useful for some firm citrus, after you have tipeed, cored and seeded them.

A mandolin is useful for some firm citrus, after you have tipped, cored and seeded them.

You’ll end up with a pot of perfect citrus slices, and a little bowl of seeds and cores.  Tie up the cheesecloth hobo-style, and cook it along with the water as you soften the fruit.

Put the pectin bag in the cooking pot, and let it sit in the pot until you are ready for the canning process. Let the bag sit in the cooled mixture overnight, or in the refrigerator. When you are ready to do the second canning stage, first take out the pectin bag.  Squeeze out the milky substance from the bag over a separate bowl.  This is marmalade gold! Use a separate bowl in case any seeds escape the pectin bag, so you can take them out before you add this mixture to the cooking pot. (I learned this because  I got a little too ambitious squeezing out the bag, and broke through some of the cheesecloth in my zeal.) Don’t squeeze the bag directly into the cooking pot, because you don’t want any seeds.Squeezing the pectin bag, similar to milking a cow

IMPORTANT: cook just 6 cups at a time.  Measure out 6 cups of the cooked mixture into the cooking pot and bring to a boil, then add 6 cups of sugar.  I highly recommend white cane sugar – C&H is my choice, but any cane sugar works.  You can go up to 7 cups, but more than that, it becomes tedious to bring it to the gel stage.  In the time that you are bringing your mixture to the gel stage, you are getting the canner and jars hot and ready.

THE GEL STAGE, A REMINDER: When you add sugar to the pot, put a little saucer in the freezer.  As the foam subsides and the bubbles become clearer and the mixture slightly darkens, dribble a few drops on the cold plate, then put it back in the freezer for 10 or 20 seconds. Take it out, and push the edge of the mixture with your fingertip.  If it is still liquid, keep cooking. IF IT FORMS WRINKLES ON THE SURFACE, IT IS READY TO CAN.

The basic cooked citrus mixture is fine by itself, but when you add sugar, you can add flavors.  My little secret ok, it isn’t a secret anymore! – is to add 1/4 tsp of kosher salt to every batch to round out the flavor.  Here are a few of our most successful ideas: add either a scraped vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract; 1/4 cup brandy, or tequila to limes; dried chili pepper flakes or diced pickled jalapenos; 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a dash of cloves; 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper; herb extract, such as 1/4 cup sage or lavender steeped in 1/2 cup boiling water, then strained.  When using fresh ginger, you’ll want to cook the fresh peeled diced ginger along with the citrus, as it needs to soften, too. Start with 1/4 cup, or a small tuber of ginger, adding more in subsequent batches if you like that sweet/hot flavor.  You can even layer in chilis to the ginger citrus mixture, and thanks to Mark Lambert for this inspiration!

Meyer lemon with fresh ginger and lavender infusion and lavender sprigs

Meyer lemon with fresh ginger and lavender infusion and lavender sprigs

Specific recipes will be posted on the ‘Recipes’ tab.  Just remember to cook 6 cups of prepared fruit with 6 cups of water and the pectin bag, let it sit overnight, then measure out 6 cups of the cooked mixture and add 6 cups of sugar.  That’s it!