In my house, we have been watching a lot of Alaska: The Last Frontier of late, and some days I dream about being a homesteader. The TV show follows the story of three generations of hardcore homesteaders living in the harsh Alaskan frontier, growing, raising, hunting, or gathering everything they need to survive long, snowy winters.
I do love the gauzy dream of growing your own food and knowing where it all comes from. I can picture harvesting crops and making delicious meals, complete with a rustic backdrop. In actuality, this is a challenging and sometimes severe reality to live. There often isn't room in the daydreams for crop failure, pests, harsh elements, or the general labor of farming.
This is more than likely why I love U-Pick. We swoop in at the end, circumvent the hard work of keeping the plants/trees healthy, fed, watered, protected from harsh elements like sun and frost, and reap the benefits for a little money, plus a fun afternoon in the orchard picking.
Beautiful citrus will pop up at the farmers markets over the next few months or you can channel your inner gatherer and make a trip to The Farm at Agritopia to take advantage of its U-Pick. Stepping into the vibrant green orchard, you become intoxicated by the perfume of fresh citrus. Orange bulbs droop from the branches, weighing the trees down, begging to be plucked and brought home to the kitchen.
Now that you have sacks of blood oranges, lemons and grapefruit, what to do with these lovelies?
Preserved or pickled citrus: A time-tested necessity before we had big-box stores offering produce year-round. Preserving citrus used to be how you were able to extend the life of your citrus during the off-season. The salt and time soften the skin of the citrus, making the entire fruit edible. In addition to salt, you can add other spices to flavor your citrus. At the end, it curbs the bitterness of the citrus, replacing it with a floral, salty, and almost tingly taste. A great addition to finish a dish or used whole in a slow-cooked Moroccan stew.
Marmalade: I love marmalade. It is my favorite way to preserve citrus. English muffins and marmalade are my go-to breakfast. Mixing and matching different citrus gives me the ability to play with some of my favorite flavors. There are a few different ways to make marmalade, but it's pretty basic in composition. Cut citrus. Add sugar. Cook to delicious perfection. Eat.
Some recipes call for dissolving sugar, removing from heat, then allowing the citrus to soak overnight and soften a bit before cooking the marmalade. Cook to 220 degrees, utilizing a plate and spoons placed in the freezer to test the doneness of your marmalade. There are tons of marmalade recipes out there. Play around with them to find which yields your favorite result.
Cake: I adore citrus in cake and love making it the main flavor in a dessert. If you've been hitting up the movies this holiday season, you may have noticed a clementine cake in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I'm crossing my fingers that citrus cakes become the trendy pastry dessert of 2014. Punch up a vanilla cake recipe with citrus zest. Use a citrus-infused simple syrup to moisten a cake. Make a curd, and fill a cake. Add zest and/or juice to the frosting.
Smoothies: If you don't follow Chef Gwen on intsagram, get to clicking on the follow button. Chef Gwen is the smoothie queen, and I often find myself waiting to see what her morning smoothie holds. Most recently, clementines + caramel + rosemary! I was drooling. Definitely on my must-make list.
Curd: Take away the pie and just leave the curd. I put this on my toast in the morning, add it to my yogurt for snack, spoon it over ice cream after dinner. It's refreshingly tart, the perfect dessert condiment.
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I give credit where credit is due, and I am definitely in awe of farmers. Maybe I'll try my hand at urban farming and backyard chickens before I sell our brand new house and move to the country. Or perhaps I'll just go sit in the orchard at Agritopia farms with the chickens. They'll probably talk me out of it.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.