Saturday, March 19, 2016

Nerd Alert! It’s the Earliest Spring in 400 Years
What’s cooking? Candied Kumquats, Candied Meyer Lemon, and Triple Citrus Marmalade

Kitchen Goddess note: I know I said this post would be up on Friday, but I forgot that the Spring National Bridge Tournament would be running, so instead of writing, I’ve been online watching the play in the prestigious Vanderbilt Knockout Teams. You heard me right – bridge hands. That’s how big a geek I really am.

When you finish reading this post you will know more than you thought possible about the vernal equinox, otherwise known as the First Day of Spring. If you’re not interested (what??!!), you can skip directly to the recipes for citrus. But then you may never know why spring doesn’t arrive on March 21st any more.

You probably already know the vernal equinox is the day when the sun rises exactly in the East and sets exactly in the West, so that daytime and nighttime are very nearly equal. The earth’s tilt on that day is 0º.

Now the wonky factor increases. You certainly know that we correct for minor flaws in the 365-day year by adding in a day to February every four years. So years divisible by 4 are leap years (in addition to being U.S. presidential election years – but let’s not go there today). What you might not know is that years divisible by 100 are not leap years. (Wait – most wonky coming right up.) So no February 29 in 1900 or 1800 or 1700. But if a year is divisible by 400, we get leap day back. That’s why we had one in 2000.

The point here is that solstices and equinoxes do a little bit of creeping ahead throughout each century, and then at the end of the century, the loss of leap day adjusts for the creep by pushing them back. But we didn’t lose the leap day in 2000, so the equinox has kept up its 100-year-old crawl forward. In 1947, for example, the vernal equinox was at 5:12 a.m. on March 21.

This year, depending on your time zone, the first day of spring begins sometime on either Saturday, March 19th (today!), or Sunday, March 20th. For the Universal Time Coordinate (formerly called Greenwich Mean Time), spring begins at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. For us here in Austin, it starts at 11:30 p.m. tonight, and for my New Jersey daughter-in-law, who has been counting the days since some time in January, the shift happens at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday.

The bottom line? This will be the earliest First Day of Spring since 1896. (And I want to thank the folks at, home of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, for all this great information.) Now, aren’t you glad you stopped by?

Citrus Delight

Another really great thing about March is that the season for citrus fruits is still happening. I was in my local fancy grocery store last week and was almost overcome with the fun variations on oranges, lemons, and limes there. Today’s collection includes Meyer lemons (thinner skinned and sweeter than regular lemons, and one of my all-time favorite dessert fruits), sweet limes (larger and thinner skinned than regular limes, and so mild you can eat the skin), and kumquats, which are completely new to me. But it’s my year of eating dangerously, so I decided to try them.

Do you know kumquats? Small, sweet-tart, and tender. Eat them whole, but watch out for the seeds. So I was thoroughly enjoying them raw, but was wondering what I could do to prolong the experience. Then I saw a recipe for candied kumquats. They looked so darling and jewel-like that I had to try it. My, my – they are yummy that way. Add them to your morning yogurt or cottage cheese, spoon them over vanilla ice cream, or add them to a smoothie. I’ve tried it all. And my goal of extending their life in my kitchen is failing miserably, as I keep sneaking into the fridge to spoon a couple out of the jar.

It was a snap to candy the kumquats, so I decided to candy some Meyer lemons, too. Candying citrus is like falling off a log – ridiculously easy. The candied lemon slices look like pieces of stained glass, and they’re terrific in all the same ways as the candied kumquats. And whatever you do, don’t throw away the candying syrup from either fruit. It’s a wonderful addition to tea or with a glass of seltzer, and it’s great in cocktails.

I didn’t candy the sweet limes, but I’m sure they’d be good that way, too. Mostly, I thought the three fruits would have a delicate beauty all together in a marmalade. Plus, I really wanted to add my French ginger liqueur into something. So that’s the third way I dealt with my bounty.

Get out there and – while the season lasts, which for most citrus fruits, is through the end of March – try one of these treatments. The fresh tastes are just the thing to bring spring into your kitchen.

Kitchen Goddess News Flash! Apparently Sam Sifton of The New York Times heard about this post in advance, and has put a piece on caramelized citrus in this week’s Times Magazine. He’s such a copycat. So if you want a slightly different take on candying your citrus, check out his piece. The Kitchen Goddess is quite the trendsetter, don’t you know?

Candied Kumquat Slices

Makes about 1½ cups, plus syrup.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
15-20 kumquats, sliced and seeded (seeds saved if you plan to make marmalade)

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together the sugar and the water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the kumquat slices and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to simmer the fruit, stirring occasionally, until the syrup thickens slightly, 10-15 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, remove the kumquat slices to a jar and add enough of the syrup to barely cover. Save the remaining syrup separately. Cool the syrup and kumquat slices before storing in the fridge.

Serve on plain yogurt, cottage cheese, or vanilla ice cream, or try some on bruschetta with goat cheese or an aged gruyère.

Candied Meyer Lemon Slices

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3 Meyer lemons, thinly sliced and seeded

Combine the water and sugar in a medium-sized (10 inches wide) skillet, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the lemon slices. Reduce the heat and simmer the fruit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally..

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the lemon slices to cool in the syrup to room temperature. Move the slices to a rack (sprayed with PAM) to dry somewhat. (The slices won’t actually dry, but you can layer them in a plastic container and store them in the fridge.)

Triple Citrus Marmalade

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 1999.

Makes 4-5 cups.

Kitchen Goddess note: This recipe needs a day of rest between assembling and cooking, to let the natural pectin in the seeds do their work.

1½ pounds citrus fruit (I used kumquats, Meyer lemons, and sweet limes)
4 cups water
4-5 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons French ginger liqueur (or whatever flavor you like)

Special equipment: small cheesecloth bag or a piece of cheesecloth with string

Slice the fruit thinly (about ⅛ inch wide), and save the seeds in a small dish. For the larger fruit, you may want to quarter the fruit before slicing it.

Put the fruit into a large saucepan with the water. Tie the seeds into a cheesecloth bag and submerge it with the fruit. Cover the pan and leave it for 24 hours at room temperature.

The next day, remove the bag of seeds and squeeze it to get as much of the pectin (that jelly-like substance you’ll find surrounding the bag – it’s what promotes the gelling in the marmalade) as you can into the fruit mixture. I used a lemon squeezer to press it.

Bring the water and fruit to a low boil over medium heat and cook it 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in a cup of sugar per cup of fruit/water, and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook another 15 minutes.

Test the readiness: While the fruit is cooking, stick a small saucer into your freezer. When the 15 minutes is up, dribble a teaspoon of the mixture onto the plate and let it rest for 2 minutes. If it gels, you’re done. If not, crank the heat back up and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Ladle the mixture into jars. If you want to keep them longer than a couple of weeks, process the jars as you would for any jam or jelly. Take a look here for the Kitchen Goddess’s modus operandi on preserving. Jam or marmalade in properly processed jars will keep at least a year.

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