Getting Out of a Jam With Marmalade

sweet-solution-4The character of Lucia in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, started out as one of peripheral importance. I created her simply to serve in the role of head cook to John’s Aunt Prudence, but she evolved into someone much more important. Just short of handling finances, it was understood that Lucia ran the household. She also ran Prudence with a style somewhere between a tough love guidance counselor and a wise, older mentor. Lucia also came to John’s rescue in the years following his brief service during World War II. John was unable to deal with the horrors he witnessed and most specifically for the one he caused that he kept secret from those he loved.

One day over a breakfast of popovers and orange marmalade, Lucia suggested that John go on a journey taking him away from his family so he could deal with the ghosts haunting him. John’s Aunt Prudence was heartbroken at the suggestion, but Lucia knew John needed time away to heal his mind and body. Besides, she would still be in Baltimore tending Prudence more as a close friend than as an employee. Prudence would only admit if pressed to say, but her relationship with her feisty cook was exactly how she liked it.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are some nice orange marmalades on the market in upscale food shops, but nothing quite compares to the flavor of homemade orange marmalade. Not only will your house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, the taste of homemade orange marmalade on toast, vanilla ice cream, or whole grain pancakes defies any description of deliciousness.

Lucia’s Orange Marmalade

6 large oranges with thin skin

1 lemon

6 c water

8 ¼ c of granulated sugar

Approximately 14 – 6 oz. canning jars, lids, rings

Water bath canner with canning rack

Wash the oranges and lemon using a mushroom brush or another type of soft, clean brush. Cut the oranges into 1/8 inch slices. Remove any seeds. Cut the stacked slices of orange into quarters. Trim any thick pieces of rind into slivers to use. Place the oranges in a large cooking pot. Zest the lemon and juice it. Add the zest and juice to the oranges in the pot along with the water. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and maintain a bubbling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for forty minutes until the rinds of the oranges are tender enough to cut with a spoon.

sweet-solution-3While the orange/lemon mixture cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the canning jars in the water. Sterilize the jars by boiling for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lids and rings. Let everything sit until the marmalade is ready. You may need to do this in two separate pots due to the quantity of jars.

After the orange/lemon mixture has cooked for forty minutes, add the sugar and return to a full boil. Stir frequently so the sugar doesn’t burn and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the mixture reaches 223° on a candy thermometer. This process should take at least twenty minutes, but depending on your stove and/or cooking pot of choice, it may take longer. Keep a close eye on your thermometer and watch as the mixture darkens, turns glossy, and thickens. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it from boiling over.

To test the readiness of the marmalade, place a saucer in the freezer to chill. A small dollop of the marmalade placed on the chilled plate and allowed to cool should gel and move slightly. Anything runnier and the marmalade isn’t ready. Keep cooking, and watch your thermometer.

When the marmalade is ready, remove the jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars to just below the threads of the jar. Using a ladle and slotted spoon ensures that you don’t end up with too much peel or too much liquid for the jars at the end. Keep the juice to rind mixture balanced in each jar. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth and top each with a lid. Add a ring and tighten securely. You may use fewer jars than the recipe called for, but I suggest having fourteen ready just in case.

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Cooling Jars of Marmalade

Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner (approximately half full). Using the canning rack, add the jars of marmalade to the boiling water. Add additional hot water to the canner if needed to cover the jars at least one inch. Boil for ten minutes. Carefully remove the rack of jars and set on a clean towel in a cool, dry place to come to room temperature. You should begin to hear the lids pop indicating the jars of marmalade are sealing properly. Do not move for 24 hours. Refrigerate the marmalade once a jar has been opened. Unopened marmalade will last for up to six months.

Enjoy!

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Putting Your Butterflies to Bed

John Welles’s first day of school at the University of Maryland was marred by a bad case of nerves. His Aunt Prudence eased the situation by planning a large, country-style breakfast like those John used to enjoy as a boy on the farm. Unfortunately, Prudence couldn’t cook to save her life, but the rich socialite didn’t trouble herself with such minor details. Instead, she wisely placed all responsibility for any culinary success upon her brilliant cook, Lucia.

The ever-observant Lucia knew there was more troubling John than new school jitters. She calmed his distress by preparing his favorite dishes including pan-fried pork chops, fried apples, buttermilk biscuits, and fried eggs.  The following recipe for pork chops is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene. The originator of the recipe is the type of cook who doesn’t measure as she creates, preferring to cook by taste, smell, and sight. I watched closely, and being a good judge of quantity, I copy-catted her recipe for this post.

Lucia’s Pan-Fried Pork Chopsputting-your-butterflies-to-bed

2 center cut, bone-in pork chops

2 T olive oil

Approximately 1 c buttermilk

1 t honey

1 T rosemary

½ t salt

Several grinds of black pepper (I used quad-color peppercorns when preparing the chops.)

Rinse the pork chops and pat them dry. Don’t trim the fat as it will flavor the chops while cooking. You can trim them afterward if you desire.

Put 2 T of olive oil in a one-cup measure and fill with buttermilk to make a full cup. Pour into a mixing bowl and add the honey, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Whisk thoroughly.

Pour half the marinade in an 8 x 8 glass baking dish, add the chops, and pour the remaining marinade over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator at least four hours or overnight.

Coating:

¼ c flour

2 T yellow cornmeal

½ t salt

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ – ½ t cumin

¼ freshly cracked black pepper (Again, I used quad-colored peppercorns.)

Combine the dry ingredients. Remove the chops from the marinade and drain them thoroughly. Dredge them through the coating mixture on each side.

2 T unsalted butter

Peanut Oil

Bring the butter and enough peanut oil to cover the bottom of a 12-inch cast iron skillet to a medium-high heat. Place the coated chops in the skillet and fry each side for eight minutes, turning in four-minute intervals, until they are no longer pink inside and the coating is crispy.

Serve with the suggested menu items for which I have provided recipes. This recipe can be increased as needed by doubling or tripling the quantities.

Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Situation

Taking Stock of the Situation 1The summer of 1929 held a world of promise for young John Welles. He was succeeding brilliantly at the University of Maryland, had made two lifelong friends in Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, and the once competitive relationship he had with Garland Griffin turned into a romantic one unlike anything John ever imagined.

The opportunity to pamper the young woman who was swiftly becoming the love of his life occurred a few days after their visit to Garland’s home. An unexpected cold kept Garland away from John for a few days, and when he could stand it no longer, he took a crock of chicken soup to her.

Lucia, the sassy cook who works for John’s Aunt Prudence and keeps her on her toes, made the recipe for chicken noodle soup Sam’s mother, Gladys Feldman, gave her. Per Mrs. Feldman, Jewish chicken soup cured everything. Unfortunately, neither Lucia nor Gladys could predict how Garland’s secret would crash down upon John’s world, a secret for which there was no remedy.

The recipe I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene actually starts with the post Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. This recipe provides the carcass you’ll need for the stock that is the base of the soup. I highly recommend using this particular carcass as the seasoning from that recipe tastes amazing in the soup.

Chicken Stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass

2 T olive oil

12 c water

1 medium carrot

1 medium celery stalk

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 t quad-colored whole peppercorns

Remove the meat from the chicken carcass and reserve it for the soup. Break up the carcass into several pieces using a large knife or kitchen scissors. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot to medium heat and brown the carcass pieces on all sides. Be sure to scrape any browned tidbits from the bottom of the pot and occasionally turn the pieces.

Peel the vegetables and coarsely chop them. Add the water, vegetables, and seasonings to the pot, and bring to a simmer. Do not let the stock boil. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer, occasionally skimming any scum off the surface of the stock using a large spoon. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the stock at a simmer until the flavors have melded, about 1 – 1 ½ hours.

Remove and discard the pieces of chicken carcass. Pour the stock through a wire mesh strainer placed over a large crock or bowl. Do not save the vegetables for the soup as the flavor has gone into the stock. The stock can be cooled to room temperature and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three days or frozen for one month.

Or you can pour the stock into a six quart pot and proceed with making soup.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

Reserved chicken meat

2 medium carrots

2 medium celery stalks

1/2 medium Vidalia onion

1 t sea salt

1 t thyme leaves

Freshly ground quad-colored peppercorns to taste

2 c dried egg noodles

Bring the stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Peel and dice the vegetables to a medium dice. Add them and the seasonings to the pot and stir thoroughly. Return to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about twenty minutes.

In a separate pot, bring water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente. Drain them in a colander. Do not cook the noodles in the stock or they will become mushy and your stock pasty.

Shred the reserved chicken meat into small pieces. You’ll need about 2 c for the soup. Save any extra for another use.

Once the vegetables are tender, add the shredded chicken and drained noodles to the stock. Stir thoroughly and return to a simmer. Cook about five minutes to meld the flavors. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

Enjoy!

Taking Stock of the Situation 2

Pop On Over, Love

IMG_20160607_085149863[1]By June of 1948, Dr. John Welles still hadn’t overcome his experiences during World War II. The haunting memories were more than he bargained for. Further gnawing at his conscience was the fact that his service had been quite brief. The worst part, though, was the secret John brought home from the war.

In his efforts to bury the painful truth of what took place in France, John became increasingly distanced from his family and friends. They were patient and loving in return, waiting for John to open up on his own terms. All except his Aunt Prudence.

Prudence had never been one to sit back and wait for things to happen. She always made her own outcome to her satisfaction, and this was exactly what she intended to do with John. Unfortunately, her well-meaning endeavors didn’t produce the results she had hoped for. She argued with her nephew until John simply shut down. Still, Prudence never backed off where he was concerned.

Into the middle of this family struggle stepped Lucia, Prudence’s sassy cook since the days of John’s boyhood. She knew her employer turned close friend had John’s best interests at heart, but sometimes Prudence’s tactics were too harsh, especially for a man still reeling from the effects of war.

One morning, over a breakfast of popovers, Lucia offered the sage advice that helped John make the first positive decision in his life since returning from Europe. Prudence hated to admit that her cook was right, but she didn’t press the issue.

The following recipe for popovers is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The recipe has been in my mother’s recipe box since her high school home economics days. Popovers are incredibly simple to make, and they taste delicious fresh from the oven with butter.

Enjoy!

Lucia’s Popovers

1 c all-purpose flour

½ t salt

1 c milk

2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425° F

Thoroughly butter 5 – 9 custard cups. Mix all ingredients with a beater until smooth. Do not overbeat the batter or the volume will be reduced.

Fill the greased custard cups half full. Bake for 40 minutes. Resist the urge to peak or the popovers may fall. Check after 40 minutes. The popovers should be golden brown.

Serve warm with butter.

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