Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Citrus crafts and gifts for Christmas

Still not got round to finishing (or even starting) your Christmas shopping? We have some quick and easy gift ideas for you, using citrus fruits. This month's Secret Garden Club meeting looked at growing and making use of citrus, including some great ideas for some home-made gifts.

Usually we like to look at how best to cook and eat our produce, but on Sunday, the Secret Garden Club looked at more ornamental and decorative ways of using lemons and oranges. Guests concocted a jar of refreshing lemon bath salts and made a spiced orange pomander, as well as learning how to make Moroccan style preserved lemons.

Lemon bath salts
2 tbsps Epsom salts – available from the chemist
½ tbsp fine sea salt
Zest of two lemons

A clean, airtight jar.

These amounts can be scaled up or down to suit the size of jar and the number of lemons you have. You can also add more lemon zest to make the lemon fragrance even more intense.

Mix all ingredients well. A whisk is a good way to get all the zest incorporated without clumping. Store in an airtight jar and sprinkle as much as liked in your bath for an aromatic, revitalising soak.

Spiced orange pomander
As long ago as mediaeval times people would hang perfumed pomanders up in rooms, or carry them around with them to disguise bad smells – of which there were many in the olden days.

We may not have foul-smelling rooms or bodies these days, but a spiced pomander will still fill a room, or cupboard, with fragrance and will last for years. This combination of orange and spices gives these pomanders a distinctly Christmassy aroma, ideal as gifts at this time of year. 

1 orange
A toothpick (optional)
1 cup cloves
Masking tape

Spice mix:
1tbs ground cinnamon
1tbs gound nutmeg
1tbs ground ginger (dry ginger)
1tbs ground coriander
1 tsp sandalwood powder
Orris root powder is more traditionally used as a preservative and fixative, but quite a few people turn out to be allergic to it, so we used sandalwood powder at the Secret Garden Clubas it’s less likely to cause upset.

Mix the spices together and pile into a paper bag.

Mark out the orange into quarters with the masking tape. (This makes it easier to fix the ribbon later. For less artistic types, like me, it also helps to keep the patterning neat.) If the orange peel is at all hard, make a hole in the orange first with the toothpick, then push a clove into the hole just made. You should cover the whole orange apart from the masking tape – you can choose patterns or arrange the cloves in rows. Don’t pack the cloves together too tightly as the orange will shrink slightly as it dries out. Put the orange in the paper bag with the spices and toss it so that the gaps between the cloves are well covered with spice mix.

Keep the oranges in their paper bag and put somewhere warm and dry – the airing cupboard is ideal. Turn the orange every day or so.  When the orange is hard to the touch, it’s ready - in a week or so. Carefully remove the masking tape and tie a ribbon around the orange so you can hang it up.

Preserved lemons
This is an essential condiment in middle eastern recipes, livening up casseroles, tagines or rice. Although the only two ingredients are salt and lemons, the flavour is surprisingly soft and mellow. It's so simple to make that I feel it hardly counts as a recipe - here's what to do.

6 unwaxed lemons, washed and dried (to fill a 500ml jar)
Sea salt
Making preserved lemons, clockwise from top left: slice five of your lemons into four wedges but don’t cut right through the lemon – leave the wedges attached at the stem end; next, rub the sea salt into the wedges (shown cut all the way through here); bottom right, pack the cut lemons into a wide-necked jar, and sprinkle with a tablespoonful of salt. Juice your last remaining lemon, add the juice to the jar, and top up with boiling water until full; Finally, seal the jar and leave for at least a month before using.

These keep really well and shouldn’t even need refrigerating – to be sure they’re not in danger of spoiling, use a sterilised jar. I’m told that sometimes a white lacy curd develops on the surface of the liquor, which is harmless. I’ve never seen this – perhaps I eat my preserved lemons before any such layer can develop.
Making spiced orange pomanders at the Secret Garden Club.

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