Happy holidays from Saving the Season!
I got a terrific Christmas present last week when blog reader Lauren Kaufman emailed me to ask what to do with bergamot. The first thing you should do is dance a little jig to celebrate getting your hands on this rare, wonderful citrus that is best known for adding its haunting fragrance to Earl Grey tea.
The bergamot, Citrus bergamia, possibly originated as a natural hybrid between the sour orange, C. aurantium, and the sweet lime, C. limettioides, but no one really knows for sure. The citrus clan is a racy, promiscuous bunch and they have cross-bred rampantly across the ages. Genetic mapping may someday unlock the secrets of citrus genealogy, but for now the distant branches of the family tree are obscured by time. We are left with speculation.
But wherever it came from, the bergamot is special. It's mainly grown around the Mediterranean for use by the cosmetics industry and tea purveyors. Very few growers in California bother with them, although Mud Creek Ranch will bring a few to the market every year. Lauren got hers from Pearson Ranch in Porterville.
Lauren, an serious amateur baker, wondered how to use her haul of 30 bergamot, and I suggested making syrup or drying the peels. I also told her that I've heard that bergamot marmalade is delicious, but when I tried to make it several years ago, my version was a bust. The bergamot flavor was so overwhelming that it practically leapt out of the jar and punched you in the face. Inedible. But, I told Lauren, I have more experience under my belt now, and I've been thinking about how to gentle the potent peels, how to create a suave and delicious preserve.
Then came the holiday gift: Lauren offered me half her fruit in the name of further bergamot research. That, my friends, is generosity. We met and she handed me a basket of perfect bergamots, see ABOVE with a navel orange for comparison. I headed to the kitchen.
Bergamot marmalade requires a multi-day process of heating and soaking the peels, so I wasn't able to cook it off until yesterday. This morning I tasted the results, and the marmalade is...delicious.
Check back soon for the recipe.