Sunshine in a bottle

So, the mandarincello is ready.

After a week of steeping the de-pithed skins in vodka, most of the aromatic volatiles in the skins have migrated into the spirit, giving it a lovely sunny yellow colour and a strong aroma of mandarin.

I made a simple sugar syrup with half a cup of castor (superfine) sugar and half a cup of water, heated gently till the sugar was fully dissolved, and then cooled. I strained the spirit back into the bottle it came in, and then poured out about a quarter cup of the mandarincello to make space for the syrup. At this point, it’s still quite harsh-tasting, with a bitter back-note. Some might like it this way, but I prefer a little more fruity sweetness. So I added a tablespoon of the cooled syrup, shook the bottle gently and then tasted. Not bad, but not quite enough. Another tablespoon, and it was nearly there. So I added a final half tablespoon, and it was spot on. Yum! It both tastes and smells like fresh mandarins.

With the remaining syrup, I added the quarter cup of spirit, to give a mandarin-flavoured syrup with a small amount of alcohol in it. I’ll use this warmed, to pour over a cake, or add lots of soda water and ice for a refreshing drink with only a hint of naughtiness.

Look, give this a try. It’s not rocket science. If you have an excess of lemons, oranges or mandarins, use the skins to make yourself a bottle of sunshine, and in the case of oranges and mandarins, roast the fruit in the oven with a little sugar or honey and water to end up with delicious warm fruit to put on your cereal, yoghurt or icecream. If you don’t grow your own, I’d suggest using organic, non-waxed fruit to avoid adding wax or pesticides to your bottle.

Now, where’s my mandarin cake recipe…?

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Harvest

This year, it’s the turn of our mandarin tree to go bonkers.

Ponkan Mandarin fruit (Citrus reticulata)

It’s not a surprise, really, it’s a variety that’s well known for fruiting in alternate years. Last year, it was the mangoes that cropped spectacularly, but so far they’re showing no sign of flowering. The mandarin tree is smallish and tucked away in the corner, and I hadn’t even noticed flowers on it. A few months ago, I saw a load of dark green marble-sized fruit on it, and briefly thought “woo hoo!” and then promptly forgot about them again, till just a few weeks ago, when the now much larger fruit started to change colour. Usually, we wait till they start to fall of their own accord or the lorikeets start decimating them before we pick the fruit, but so far, there have been only two windfalls and no bird or fruitbat activity, so we decided to get out there and do battle with the green ants for them.

With green ants in the tree (and boy, are they IN the tree!), there’s a technique for picking the fruit without getting bitten a lot. You take a bucket half filled with water, a pair of long handled loppers and a grabby thing (you know what I mean, the doohickey you use for getting things down off high shelves). You grab the fruit with the grabber, cut it off with the loppers and dump it straight in the bucket of water, which drowns any ants silly enough to have come along for the ride. It sounds elaborate, but is a much more pleasurable experience than having the vicious little buggers run off the fruit, up your sleeve and then bite you hard on parts you can’t get at easily. Repeat till the bucket is full of fruit and water. Once in the kitchen, you remove any leaves and stalks, and then toss the water with the ants outside so the insect-eating birds can have a feed.

The fruits are huge for mandarins (my hands are not particularly small), the skins are very loose and easy to peel, and while there are usually half a dozen pips in each one, the flavour and juiciness is so fresh, intense and wonderful that you really don’t care! I’ve been busily looking up recipes for mandarin gelato, I’ll be making my mandarin syrup cake (minus the apricots) the Husband’ll be taking a couple of these to work in his lunchbox each day for a while, and I may freeze some juice and purée for winter consumption.

And that’s only the first crop. We have at least six more to go 🙂