Friday, February 22, 2008

The honeybells are here! The honeybells are here!

Actually, my first honeybell shipment came a couple of weeks ago, but it was a very disappointing batch. Several had bad/soft spots, about a third were unripe/green, and most were horribly scarred (too ugly to make a pretty preserve). I was initially very sad, but I contacted Cushman's, and they were extremely pleasant about it, offering to replace my entire order, no questions asked. Thus, batch #2 arrived two days ago, and it was MUCH improved! So I promptly set about my marmalading tasks. I learned several important lessons when making the blood orange marmalade recently, the most important of which is that making marmalade takes pretty much FOREVER! So I cleverly hatched a plan to spread out the work. I washed and prepared the fruit the first evening, did the initial cooking the next morning, and then the final cooking off and canning the second evening. This was a MUCH better, more humane schedule.

To prepare the fruit, I decided to try and avoid all pith and go for a less bitter preserve more suited to my wimpy American palate this time around. I used a vegetable peeler to just take off the outer skin of 12-14 washed honeybells, and then julienned the peels very finely. Then I removed the outer pith from the rest of the fruit (it came off in big pieces, just like when you peel an orange). Next, I TRIED to supreme the honeybells, but the fleshy innards clinged to the membranes so much that it proved impossible! So I took off as much of the tougher parts of the membrane as I could, then just roughly chopped the fruit segments. After all, I thought, many orange marmalade recipes have you used the whole orange, either thinly-sliced or finely chopped. Of course, this was a RIDICULOUSLY messy job, as honeybells are RIDICULOUSLY juicy! (In fact, Cushman's sends a package of plastic bibs with every order--pictured above! Tee hee.) But after the requisite three hours of work, I had a pot-full of honeybell pulp, shreds of peel, and plenty of juice, including that of two lemons. Having learned my lesson about trying to use a flour sack towel as a jelly bag, I added all of the pith and membranes and seeds and lemon rinds to four layers of cheesecloth tied up with string ("these are a few of my...." oh, never mind). I added water to cover the fruit mixture, submerged the bag of pectin-y bits, brought the pot to a boil, and simmered everything for five minutes before covering and letting it sit overnight.

The next morning, the pot was brought back to the boil and cooked (uncovered) for 25-30 minutes to soften everything. Then I put the lid back on and left it to sit until I got home that night. I must confess, I had become a bit agitated that, instead of dissolving as I had hoped they would, the chopped membranes (good grief--that sounds very Hannibal Lecter or maybe one of those Saw movies, doesn't it?) seemed to have swelled up and become far too prominent in my preserve. So I decided to press the softened fruit through a strainer. Happily, the shards of peel held their shape, but I pressed the membrane bits right through the collander, yielding more of a mush, and that seemed a fine solution. However, next time, I think I may just take off the outer peels and juice the rest of the fruit by hand. That way, I'd get the juice and most of the flesh, but leave the membranes with the rinds. Note to self: don't try to supreme honeybells next time! After dealing with the membranes, I kneaded every drop of pectin that I could get out of my cheesecloth satchel, which worked great, by the way--not one tear or rip! And when I measured everything, I had about 11 cups of pulp, juice, peel, and pectin. This time, I decided to follow June Taylor's guideline of 50-60% sugar for marmalade, which was between six and a half and seven cups on the higher end. You may recall that, for the blood orange marmalade that had the pith included, I upped it to 75% sugar to counteract some of the bitterness. But as sweet as the honeybells are, and as I had removed most of the pith, I found nearly seven cups of sugar to be plenty!

After adding the sugar, I brought the whole mess to a rolling boil and set the timer for 30 minutes. On average, the final cooking down process takes anywhere from 30-45 minutes--longer than 45 minutes and you risk carmelizing the sugar, thus ruining the color and fresh fruit flavor of your marmalade. So imagine my panic when, after an hour of cooking had elapsed, it STILL wasn't to a sufficient jelling stage! I cooked it another ten minutes until my nerves couldn't take it anymore, and I pulled it off of the heat. Mind you, it was still only at about 215-218 degrees on my candy thermometer (you want 220-221), and the color and flavor were still bright, but I didn't want to chance it. (Plus, it was getting to be past my bedtime!) So I went ahead and filled ten half-pint jars and processed them in a boiling water bath for ten minutes. This morning I checked them, and although the marmalade was a little looser than I might like, they certainly weren't syrupy or runny. So I'll check them again in a week or two (sometimes if you give them some time, they'll continue to set up for you), and if they are still too loose, I may open up the jars and boil them down a little longer. But I have a hunch that they'll be fine. I enjoy a more tender marmalade (as opposed to one that is the consistency of Jello), and besides, they'll set up more when you open a jar and then store the leftovers in the fridge.

What I can report, though, and this is the most important thing, the marmalade tastes AMAZING! It is sweet and sunny and slightly tangy, and it's just GORGEOUS to boot! It is the most vibrant yellow-orange color, and though it may have been a mistake, those softened, smooshed-up membranes added a wonderful body to the preserve, whereas many marmalades are more like clear jelly with slivers of peel floating around in it. This has more character and texture, which I like, though not as much as the kind of marmalade made with whole slices of citrus. I think it's a very happy medium, plus, it's so delicious, I might just have to make another batch!


Randi said...

Are these for sale at the Farmer's Market?

Joy Bugaloo said...

The honeybells or the marmalade? I might sell some of the marmalade this coming season, if I end up making another batch and have enough to feel good about parting with. ;-)

As for the fruit, I ordered it from Cushman's in Florida (just Google it). I have never seen honeybells in a grocery store up here, though I have seen minneolas, a close cousin.


Randi said...

I actually meant the marmalade!!