Fumiko Kikuchi, the soon to be 97 year old Mother of my dear friend, Yuri, has been making delicious marmalade from the fruitful natsu mikan tree in her magical Tokyo garden for years. It was what Yuichi, my sweets-loving husband, lived for each year. (She should open a shop in Paris and sell it, he always told her!) We planted our own natsu mikan tree at home, which grew quickly and bore fruit generously. But I never dreamed of trying to emulate Kikuchi san’s natsu mikan marmalade.
Instead, I opted for candied peels that I never tire of cutting and simmering, because I adore them myself, and am proud to give to friends something I have made myself. I too often rely on giving what others have made!
This year, we didn’t have enough natsu mikan, so I foolishly asked my friend whose tree had borne 100 fruits last year, if she had any extras. Sadly she said that there were only 30 on her tree this year, so I forgot about my request. But she didn’t and last week, true to her thoughtful ways, she arrived in Blue & White with a huge shopping bag so heavy she could barely lift it. And herein lies the tale.
Yuri had felt badly that she couldn’t spare any fruit, so she mustered up her courage and went to an adjoining and unknown neighbor’s house whose tree was large and laden with fruit. Her heart pounding, she rang his door bell and a very old man with a slightly grumpy look on his face, appeared and asked her what she wanted. In all those years of living next door to each other, they had never met. She explained that her friend wanted to make natsu mikan peels and she wondered if he was going to use his fruit. She had waited til late in the season to make sure that he wasn’t. The garden was a jungle and clearly hadn’t been touched for years!
He said help yourself. And just come in to the garden freely. You don’t need to ring the bell, he said as he teetered unsteadily on his wooden geta to show her the tree.
She waited to go until Sunday when her husband could help her, and give courage. He carried the ladder. She climbed it! And like monkeys, she said – not such young ones at that! – they picked every mikan they could reach ! There were many more than 20 big fat natsu mikan in the heavy bag she brought.
When I heard the story and the dangers my friend and her husband had subjected themselves to for love of a friend and love of natsu mikan, the fruit tasted that much sweeter, and the old old friendship that much deeper.
RECIPE FOR CANDIED NATSU MIKAN PEELS
4 or 5 Natsu Mikan
2 ½ cups sugar
Cut the natsu mikan peels into thin slivers with a sharp knife.
Place in a thick pan filled with cold water.
Bring to a boil over high heat and blanch for 5 minutes.
Drain the water, cool and repeat three times.
Save the fruit inside for jelly or marmalade
In the same pan, combine 1½ cups of sugar and 1 cup water
Bring to a boil over high heat. Let it become slightly syrupy then add the peels.
Simmer very gently until peels become translucent and they have absorbed the syrup. Stir frequently to keep from burning.
Drain the peels, and let them cool.
When cool roll them in the remaining cup of sugar – you may need more – on a flattish plate – and spread them to dry on a rack with parchment paper underneath
Let them dry for 4 or 5 hours, or overnight.
Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.
It works for yuzu, grapefruit or other thick skinned citrus fruit.
But there is no recipe for a friendship like that.
Just great good fortune!
Above is the recipe for these golden peels.