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Housekeeping Secrets of the Bachelor Hermit
Feb 24, 2012
I used to be envious of my father’s boyhood experiences growing up west of Volin in the 50s and 60s. The hard work didn’t sound appealing, but the assorted cast of characters did. I was especially drawn to stories about the old bachelors who used to populate the neighborhood. There was the hired man who washed his clothes in the cattle tank and — how do I put this delicately — eschewed both indoor and outdoor facilities in favor of the comforts of the hog yard. Then there was the neighbor across the road who thought he might have a mouse problem. He bought and set a bunch of traps…and caught 40 mice the first night. He said it sounded like a machine gun going off when those traps snapped shut. He collected the bodies in an old flour sack before disposing of them.
Now, I don't know that I should follow these examples, but it's nice to know it's an option. I have a certain admiration for folks who do things their own way, no matter how unorthodox those ways might be, so it was with great delight that I struck up a friendship with a real live bachelor hermit a few years ago. He's like an eccentric housekeeping mentor, cluing me in on things that my mother never told me about and that my grandmother would’ve been horrified by.
Lesson number one is to never throw anything away. Ever. Seriously. He’s got fruitcake ingredients old enough to buy their own booze, a collection of food containers that threatens to take over his basement, and vast stores of junk mail to be used as scratch paper. Even kitchen scraps can be reused, either as fodder for the compost heap or, in the case of orange peels, converted into candy. Turns out everything’s edible if you just add enough sugar.
Candied Orange Peels
From Classics From a French Kitchen by Eliane Ame-Leroy Carley
Peels of 4 oranges
1 tbsp coarse salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
6 tbsp white corn syrup
Soak peels overnight in cold water with the coarse salt. Drain and scrape out the white pith a bit. Cover peel with water and boil 20 minutes. Drain and repeat this step twice. In the last cooling period, cook until tender. Cut peel into 1/4 in. strips.
Combine sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in saucepan. Bring to boil, then add orange strips and simmer until translucent — about 1 hour. Do not allow syrup to caramelize.
Remove peels with a skimmer and drain on a cake rack. Roll in confectioner's sugar while still hot. Let peels rest on cake rack 24 hours to dry. The candied peels are quite good plain, and even better when dipped in chocolate. Whatever you do, don’t throw away the cooking syrup — it adds a nice, citrusy boost to drinks.