Mesquite in the Spring

This mesquite tree is in Mineral Wells, Texas in the nearby fossil dig pit. The leaves are just now budding out.

One time while out in the woods, I kneeled right on a fallen mesquite thorn–it slid right under my kneecap. About 45 minutes later my knee was hot and hurt. A few days later I went to the doctor when I couldn’t walk without wincing.

I learned that there is such a thing as an infection of the synovial fluid in a joint. I wish I had discovered this without a personal experience.

My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave

face-in-a-cave
Ivy

My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave. Don’t know when she got there. Don’t know why she would stay. The glint of her eye says she might once roamed free. But, she has no voice and could never tell me.

_______________________

Sometimes I see very cute faces in things, like last week when I was behind a Jeep without its spare tire. He had a really goofy smile.

But every now and then I see a freaky Cave Demon. GAH! Burn it with fire!

For your reading pleasure, see Jiangang Liu’s IgNoble Prize  for researching what happens to the brain when you see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Lemon Drop Marmalade

Small Tree, Adapted to Austin

This citrus is not a native to Austin. However, it is well-adapted to the central Texas region in that it tolerates our heat, cold, and varying moisture. It is also very unlikely to become invasive, which is a major concern when you introduce a non-native species to your yard. It’s cute, too. Why plant some blah bush or non-native decorative tree (stupid crepe myrtles) when you can have this crop plant be just as cute…and edible?!

The Lemon Drop is a kumquat-lemon hybrid. I think I read somewhere that the hybridization developed in south Texas. Kumquats do well here, too. I don’t think you’ll find as much use for a kumquat as you will a lemon drop, though. The lemon drop fruit is far more fragrant and much larger. And I always have felt that kumquats are “aspirational” fruits. Like, you buy it with all the hope in the world that this is the year you totally get kumquats and enjoy them. Yeah, then there they sit.

The recipe I have below should work for most types of citrus. This year, I had a sufficient crop and could experiment with methods of removing the bitterness from the rind while maintaining the texture of a true marmalade.

How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade

And you if you are here searching for “How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade,” I am sad to inform you that it’s too late once you’ve cooked it. Lost cause. You’ll need to give it to someone who likes the bitterness. Or find a use other than spreading it on toast. I’m certain you are disappointed to read this! I’ve been where you are. Oh man. Really. I even tried taking out some of the peels. And boiling/draining the remaining peels I used. Didn’t help.

Just start over with a new batch.

Now, if you are just having problems getting the marmalade to set, there are many ways to help that problem, and you can find good advice all over the place. But not for bitterness.

How to AVOID Bitterness in Marmalade

This I can help you with. I tried several methods of bitter-removal. Here are a few options:

  1. Slice fruit thin, perhaps with a mandoline. Soak for 2 days. My result? One year, I picked the fruit young and green. It had very little pith, so this worked fine to plump up the skin. The pith is the bitter part. Soaking a thick pith did nothing to remove the bitterness.
  2. Boil and drain the skins a few times. I read that on My Persian Kitchen. It helps, but I feel like when you totally remove the pith, you lose the texture. I also feel like I lost a some flavor.
  3. Grate zest off, squeeze out juice, chuck the pith. Have I made this batch yet? No. Why? This won’t be the texture of marmalade! Some kinda jelly or something maybe. I think I will make lemon curd.
    TL/DR version
  4. Cut off rinds (with a knife, not with a peeler or grater), keeping some pith on them. Slice rinds up thinly, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain. You will still have some bitterness, but it won’t be unbearable.

RECIPE/PROCESS

I don’t follow strict recipe guidelines. Sometimes, this results in disaster. Usually not. The most important thing is to FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS WITH THE PECTIN YOU BOUGHT. Yes, you can technically cook a marmalade without pectin. But we are removing bitter pectin here.

My preference is a tart jam/jelly/marmalade than doesn’t have a cloying sweetness. I’m not afraid of sugar, I just don’t like sticky, sweet jams. I use a low-sugar pectin and depend on my own taste buds. It’s a forgiving pectin, thank goodness.

1. SOAKING

Very helpful to cut down on cooking time. You can plop your fruit in a bowl for a couple of days to soften the peels. You can also slice your fruits up entirely and soak them in their juices–if bitterness is not a problem for you.

3. PEEL/GRATE/SQUEEZE

Again, depending on how you want this to come out, decide on how much pith to keep. You’ll need some for texture. Then squeeze your juice out.

RECIPE PROPORTIONS

I have read so, so many recipes with all kinds of proportions. 4 oranges EIGHT CUPS OF SUGAR. Criminy, Ina Garten. A good set requires a proper proportion of acid, sugar, and pectin. By using a low-sugar pectin, you have flexibility to avoid the sugar overdose. You will have plenty of citric acid, so no worries there. When you are cooking, use the lowest sugar amount recommended by the pectin manufacturer and bump it up from there if you can’t get it to set. Here’s the deal: This is not an exact science since you’ve probably removed a great portion of the pith, which contains the pectin necessary to make a good set.

3. PROBLEMS WITH SETTING

Oh dear, yes. This is going to happen when you are taking out much of the naturally occurring pectin. You are going to have to test that marmalade after the first round of pectin to ensure you’ve got anything near a set. You may have to go ahead and add more sugar and pectin. That being said, it seems that letting the marmalade sit around for a couple of weeks really does help achieve a firmer set. Unless you have a soupy mix–that needs to be reprocessed.

4. MY MEASUREMENTS

My successful batch had 6 cups of juice, peels with some pith (boiled to remove bitterness) and 2 rounds of pectin + sugar. The first pectin application did not set. I can’t tell you exactly the amount of sugar to use–you have to read your pectin instructions. How many jars did this make? I can’t recall. I make small 4 oz. jars to give away and some pint ones, too. I don’t think marmalade would set well in a large quart jar.

5. OTHER INGREDIENTS

I have seen recipes which call for water as an ingredient. I don’t want my flavor or texture weakened, so a hard pass on the water. I also don’t add butter to my jellies/jams to control frothing. I skim froth off if it is a problem. I also saw a recipe with baking soda in it, and I am not sure how to take that. Spices? Sure, go ahead. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to try that. You might end up with a chutney if you put too much in. But chutney is good, too.

Foggy New Orleans (Christmas 2016)

Christmas Day in New Orleans this year was extremely foggy. I got to see fog creeping across the river and head to the downtown area. It was eery! And moved a lot faster than I thought it would.

I decided to take a few pictures of the bridge being completely covered in fog while I had the chance.

ih10-bridge-foggy-web
IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

I focused on the foreground to add some interest and color to the scene for the second set of pictures I took. I had a hard time controlling the view since it was not easy to simply break a branch here in there. The terrain of the river bank was a it rough.  But I got a few I was satisfied with.

ih10-bridge-new-orleans-fog-web
IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

More Moss!

Here’s some more pretty winter moss in Austin, Texas. I took these at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. 16 years in this city, and I never heard of the place until I was researching places to find fossils. My son has a science fair project, so….

I’d feel bad not knowing about the preserver but my husband is from Austin and never heard of it. I think we may need to get out more.

I “underexposed” (AKA exposed for the sun on the moss) these for a dramatic feel.
moss-in-light-web Continue reading “More Moss!”

Edible Landscaping: What to do with so many peppers?

Lemon Drop Tree: Marmalade

Small Tree, Adapted to Austin This citrus is not a native to Austin. However,  it is well-adapted to the central Texas region in that it tolerates our heat, cold, and varying moisture. It is also very unlikely to become invasive, which is a major concern when you introduce a non-native species to your yard. It’s cute, … Continue reading Lemon Drop Tree: Marmalade

Austin Tea Blend

Proportions 40% Turk’s Cap flowers 50% Bee Balm leaves 10% Mexican Tarragon Native Plants I have experimented with Turk’s Cap for a few years–with entirely mediocre results. I think this is finally a winning recipe. I treated it like a hibiscus flower and dried it for tea. All three ingredients are native to Texas. Turk’s … Continue reading Austin Tea Blend

Why limit your peppers strictly to the garden? There’s no reason why you can’t plant hot peppers as annuals in your landscaping beds. In Texas, they grow easily in the blazing sun and don’t having rampant pest issues. And they are perfect for xeriscaping.

The habanero pepper is a nice choice because of its cute, wrinkled bright orange fruits. That would be a nice addition to an ordinary flower bed. I also recommend the chili pequin bush, a Central Texas native, because it grows very happily in our climate and spreads, or volunteers, with ease.

IDEAS!

I’ve got practical uses for all hot peppers–other than using fresh in salsas. To a certain extent, you can substitute one pepper for another in most recipes. Now, mind you me, don’t go putting the same weight of habaneros in a hot sauce as you would jalapeños. Unless you like burning your innards!

  1. Give them away to neighbors/coworkers/whoever. Seriously, this is the most efficient way to get rid of them. Not very fun, though. But it builds goodwill. :/
  2. Habanero Hot Sauce! Chile Pequin Hot Sauce! 
  3. Jalapeño jelly. I think I go through 1 jar a year. My coworkers and friends appreciate the gifts, though.
  4. Habanero jelly. I’ve seen recipes for making jelly with straight peppers. I haven’t tried that yet. I prefer to mix them with fruit, especially peaches.
  5. Pickling. My preferred method of preserving peppers.
  6. Fermenting. Not as gross as it sounds, I swear! If you’ve had Tabasco, you’ve eaten fermented hot peppers. Here’s a recipe from a home cook.