Ancestral Dish: Candied Peel

Let’s be frank: Candied peel (in all likelihood) is not one of my personal ancestral dishes. It involves citrus, and back in the day citrus was an expensive treat. My ancestors did not have the big bucks.

In fact, citrus was still a big deal at Christmastime during my mother’s Brooklyn childhood. So I have a hard time imagining my 19th-century immigrant forebears springing for a bag of oranges just to candy some peel.

Even so, I could not resist having a go at candied peel. (1) It’s a classic old-time confection. (2) It just looks so darn pretty. (3) Oranges have been on sale at my local supermarket.

And the taste! I’ll admit I was dubious when, after a long stretch of peeling and simmering and sugaring, I took my first bite. A revelation.

“Chuckles!” I said.

“?????” said one of the offspring, who is not familiar with this movie house candy  we gorged upon as kids.

But that’s all I could think: So this is what the Chuckles people were imitating! Those rascals. There is no comparison between the jellied replica and the real, intense thing. It’s a sharp, sweet and above all pure taste. Citrus cubed.  Bonus: The kids loved it as much as I did.

I used this recipe, from Luna Cafe. The method is the same whether you use lemons, oranges or limes. You don’t need high-level culinary skill to candy peel, but you do need a lot of patience. It’s a long-winded, frankly boring process — peeling the oranges, removing the bitter white pith from the peels, triple-blanching the peels and finally, simmering them in a sugar syrup for as long as it takes.

The key here is “as long as it takes.” Some recipes tell you the peel will be done in 15 minutes. Peel must vary wildly. Mine simmered for an hour, and that was about right. You want some give to the bite, not too chewy. Test it by removing a piece from the syrup and biting into it — if you can bite easily, it’s ready.

After you dry the peel on a rack and roll it in some sugar, it’s ready to go.

And it goes — fast. Trust me on this.