My favorite time of year for Louisiana produce is Satsuma season. There is a large, shiny vintage citrus juicer that lives proudly on display in my kitchen like a piece of art. For most of the year, it looks down haughtily and scoffs at the more commonplace kitchen tools. Then when the fi rst Satsumas hit farmer's market stands here in October or November, the juicer gets put to work, elegantly squeezing every drop from halved citrus fruits, until there's nothing left but a stack of half circle citrus-peel shells destined for the compost bin.
This year, because of Hurricane Isaac's effects on Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana citrus is going to be more scarce than usual. The LSU AgCenter estimated that 64 percent of the state's citrus crop was affected by the storm, which will create a shortage of fruit at New Orleans farmer's market this fall and winter. With that in mind, I know that I'll be squeezing every last drop out of the season, and the fruit, that I can.
One of the ways I plan to extend the citrus season this year is to make candied citrus peels and Satsuma-cello (like the famous Italian liqueur limoncello, but made from Satsuma peels instead). This way, not only do I still get to put my juicer to work and enjoy fresh-squeezed, local juice (and mimosas!), but I also get to enjoy citrus-enhanced candy and liquer that lasts months after the last Satsuma is harvested from Louisiana's trees. And my family and friends get interesting holiday gifts.
The only one who loses is my compost bin.
Candied Citrus Peel
5 pounds Louisiana sweet oranges, blood oranges, or grapefruits or a mix of all washed and dried (Satsumas are so thinskinned that I've never tried using them - they might fall apart) 8 cups sugar
1. Halve and juice citrus (I save peels in the refrigerator for a few days until I've juiced 5 lbs of citrus). Place peels in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, then drain. Spread peels on a baking sheet, rack or cutting board and let sit until cool enough to handle.
2. Scrape out the white pithy membranes with a large spoon and discard, then cut peels into strips and set aside.
3. In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring 8 cups water and 6 cups sugar to a boil. Add peels, then reduce heat to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until peels are tender, sweet, and translucent, 3 hours(!) Drain peels and spread on wire racks set over baking sheets. Let sit until dry, at least 8 hours or overnight.
4. Toss a handful of peels with remaining 2 cups sugar. Shake off excess sugar and put in an airtight container, then repeat with remaining peels. *Finished candied citrus peels keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. To make a really decadent holiday gift, dip the fi nished candied rinds halfway in dark chocolate and let dry - I have to give those away as gifts because otherwise I can't stop eating them.
I really wanted to showcase some local produce at my wedding last March, but by springtime, Louisiana citrus season has past. So I decided to make this for toasting. People enjoyed it so much that most of it was consumed during the cocktail hour, and some out of towners smuggled it into their checked baggage and took it home.
20 satsumas 1 (750-milliliter) bottle vodka 1 (750-milliliter) bottle everclear 5 cups sugar
1. Zest Satsumas with a zester, or carefully peel with a vegetable peeler avoiding whites and pith (a microplane grater makes quick work of this task), keeping the fl esh for juicing or eating. Place Satsuma rind zest in a large glass pitcher or 3-qt. jar and pour vodka and everclear over. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 7 to 10 days.
2. Make a simple syrup: bring sugar and 5 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved - just a few minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until cool, about 30 minutes. You should have 5 cups of simple syrup, but may not use all of it.
3. Pour Satsuma-alcohol mixture thorough a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another pitcher. Discard the Satsuma zests. Add 4 cups of the simple syrup and stir.
4. At this point, it is best to gather a friend or family member to consult for tasting. Some people like a super sweet concoction like a true liqueur and if so, would add more simple syrup at this point. But I like a more drinkable version, so I would taste, then add one cup of water. Continue to taste and adjust sweetness as needed.
5. Pour Satsuma-cello into re-sealable bottles or Mason jars. Seal and chill before serving and enjoy!