My citrus trees are on overdrive. When I moved to this house, nearly ten years ago, it was clear the previous owners were into growing their own fruit and vegetables, a task I would have gladly carried on were I not the most incompetent gardener and for the small matter of a very demanding job that left me no time to coddle zucchini and lettuce.
The vegetable enclosure was thus dismantled but the fruit trees managed to prosper in spite of me. I have not bought a lemon in ten years,and, right about now, the orange and mandarin trees, grown into adulthood, are providing me with an extra workout – it helps they are perched on an unforgiving hillside.
For the first couple of years, I made marmalade but the thought of peeling, scraping and de-seeding so many mandarins is unappealing, even on the longest winter afternoon. Orange juice from the blood oranges, upside down cakes, baked fish with citrus and the like have all graced my table of late. But I am running out of ideas and my occasional guests are tired of being forced bags of mandarins when they leave.
My brilliant sister suggested I make “mandarinello”, the mandarin version of a limoncello. For once I eschewed the internet and whipped out my grandmother’s handwritten recipe books, of which I have become the official keeper. They are the go-to for traditional family recipes and, despite the beautiful ink calligraphy and their romantic look, their directions are often scant and leave a lot to the imagination. One day I will try each and every recipe and will transcribe them for the family, if nothing else to put a stop to panicked transatlantic phone calls such as “How much parmesan in the Imperial soup?” (my mother. every winter. as we all make this soup only once a year).
If you have extra mandarins, here is how you put them to good use. Buy nice bottles and you can make pretty gifts too. All you need is a dark corner and a couple of weeks of waiting.
The method for limoncello would be exactly the same but using lemon peels.
4 to 6 mandarins
3 C vodka (possibly 100%) or, if you live in Europe, 95% proof alcohol – divided (700 ml)
2 C granulated sugar (400 g)
1 3/4 C water (200 ml)
- Remove the peel from the mandarins with a sharp knife or peeler, without removing the white part.
- Put the peels in a clean 1 Q (1 L) bottle or jar and cover with 1/2 C of vodka. Close the bottle and let infuse, in a dark place, for 48 hours.
- Dissolve the sugar in slightly warm water and add to the infusion together with the remaining vodka.
- Let rest for a minimum of 8 days to 2 weeks.
- Strain, re-bottle and place in the fridge.