Here’s a recipe you might want to try when fresh cranberries are back in the shops.
After discovering the joys of home-candied peel a few years ago, I have since tried my hand at several different fruits. With it being the season for mincemeat and fruit cake decorating, when I spotted some punnets of fresh cranberries on sale, I thought I’d give them a try.
Hunting around on the internet, it seems many people’s idea of candied cranberries is to dip them in egg-white and roll them in caster sugar. Beautiful and festive and twinkly-frosty, but not really candied in the traditional sense.
I also found no recipes on the traditional method of candying for these particular berries, so I thought I’d make up my own, based on the many examples of preserving recipes I’ve found in various manuscript books.
My method is a combination of the old-fashioned method of making conserves with delicate fruit, and how to make sloe gin *hic!*
This recipe takes about a week, but your active involvement is little more than an hour. Over the week, the delicate berries will gradually exchange their juice for sugar, making the cranberries more robust the more sugar they absorb, and as a bonus you’ll get a beautifully-coloured cranberry syrup.
For ease, select a pan you can get by without using for a week.
1kg fresh cranberries
1kg caster sugar
- Poke holes in each cranberry with a cocktail stick in order to let the juice out (and the sugar in). You don’t have to be too fastidious – I made about 5 or 6 holes around the middle.
- Layer the cranberries and the caster sugar in a pan – a wide pan is better than tall saucepan, for ease of gently moving the berries around later. Leave for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out some of the juice.
- Next day, heat the pan very gently to melt the sugar. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get it started – about 1/2 a cup. Shake, don’t stir – or if you absolutely have to, stir very gently. Vigorous stirring and/or heating will cause the berries to burst. Some will burst anyway, but try and keep that at a minimum by being gentle.
- Once the sugar is melted, turn off the heat, cover, and leave 24 hours. As the sugar is absorbed by the cranberries, they will gradually become more robust, but for the first day or two, you’ll need to be careful.
- Repeat the heating gently for 5 minutes then leaving overnight for 5 days. Gradually the syrup will become redder and the cranberries more jewel-like.
- After 5 days, warm the syrup (to make it easier to drain) and pour through a sieve to separate the cranberries from the syrup.
- To finish, the cranberries need to dry a little, so line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and scatter the candied cranberries over. Try and get them separated, to facilitate drying, but there will be some squished ones you can’t do much about at this stage.
- Last thing at night, put the trays in the oven and turn the heat to 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes, then turn off and leave to dry overnight.
- Repeat the drying next day – 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes then turn off and leave to dry. If extremely sticky, they might need another overnight drying (I did Friday night/Saturday day/Saturday night).
- Once only slightly tacky to the touch, they’re ready to use. I sorted mine into 3 groups: Perfect ones went back into the syrup (to keep moist) to use as decorations. I dipped a few of the not-so-perfect ones in dark chocolate, and rolled the rest in caster sugar and stored in a ziplock bag. The exploded ones I chopped and put in a jar for mincemeat.
A forgotten art in British preserving is home-made candied peel. ‘But I can buy that!’ you shriek. Yes, I know. But if you’ve ever tasted fresh candied peel made with nothing more than sugar, peel and water – you’d understand. I used to hate store-bought candied peel, and avoided anything that included it, but home-made just blows it out of the water. The explosion of citrus flavour is amazing. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can candy any citrus peel you like, and not be limited to just orange and lemon. So here, for anyone who fancies having a go, is how to do it, gleaned from 17th century manuscript recipe books. It’s not difficult or complicated, but it is a bit repetitive. But make a decent amount at one time, and you won’t have to repeat it for a good few months. Oh – and it’ll make your house smell amazing.
How To Candy Peel
Citrus fruit of choice
- Remove the skin from the fruit. Slice off the top and bottom (to make a flat surface to stand the fruit on) and then cut the peel from the sides of the fruit by slicing downwards. Keep as much of the pith as possible.
- Scrape any flesh and membranes from the fruit rind. Don’t worry if you can’t get it all, it’ll become easier after the peel has been boiled. Leave the pith intact – it’s the pith absorbing the sugar that keeps the rind juicy and helps prevent it becoming hard.
- Place the rind into a pan large enough to hold it plus an inch of water. Cover with clean water.
- Bring water to a boil and boil for a minute or two then drain.
- Rinse the peel thoroughly, and also scrub the sides of the saucepan thoroughly as well. Why? The bitterness of the peel comes from the citrus oil in the skin of the fruit. Bringing the water to the boil helps release this oil, but it then floats on the top of the water, coats the rind when the water is poured off, and also congeals onto the sides of the pan. If you don’t rinse the peel and scrub the pan well, you just end up basically boiling the peel in the bitter citrus oil, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of repeated boilings.
- Repeat until the peels are semi translucent and very tender. This will greatly depend on the type and condition of the fruit itself, but as a rough guide, lemons = 4 times, oranges = 5 times, grapefruit = 6 times.
- Leave in a colander to drain well.
- While the peel is draining, make some sugar syrup: mix 1 part water to 2 parts sugar. 500ml water to 1kg sugar is straightforward, but might leave you with a lot of leftovers, if you’re not making much peel. Not very helpful I’m afraid, but to my mind, it is better to have a little extra syrup, than have to make more once you’ve added the peels because there isn’t enough. I usually guesstimate by eye – and use non-standard measures (i.e. large mug or jug) and just measure by volume.
- Heat the sugar and water slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then bring to a boil and continue to heat until the mixture is clear.
- Squeeze excess water from the peels by pressing them between several layers of kitchen roll – or I find that using a clean hand towel works best – they’re surprisingly soggy peels!
- Scrape off any remaining flesh and membranes using the side of a teaspoon and cut the peels into 5mm strips.
- Once the syrup is clear, drop in the drained peel. Make sure that there is enough syrup to allow all of the rinds to be submerged.
- Bring syrup and rind to a boil then cover and put onto the lowest heat. Let it stew gently until the rinds become translucent and jewel-like (almost like coloured glass). Stir occasionally. This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to speed things along, it’ll just harden the peel.
- Store the candied peel in screw-top jars, making sure it’s completely covered by the syrup. This will keep it moist until required, and the high sugar content of the syrup will act as a preservative. When you need to use it in a recipe, rinse off the excess syrup and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Any excess syrup can be bottled and saved to drizzle over cakes or desserts. It will have a wonderful flavour.