In stylish eighteenth-century cities like Philadelphia, candied lemons and oranges were arguably among the most elegant and desired of sweetmeats. Nearly every cookery book included recipes for them. Confectioners shops, too, regularly offered these candied jewels to patrons who maintained a great fondness for the costly, imported citrus fruits, which became even more expensive once cooked in sugar. In fact, the great number of recipes for candied lemons and oranges are in keeping with the number of advertisements that mentioned these items. Most were similar to those of Philadelphia confectioner Patrick Wright, who commonly listed "orange and lemon chips" (another oft-used term for the same during the period) among his jams, marmalades, and cakes (Pennsylvania Gazette, August 9, 1775).

Today's methods for candying citrus differ little from those of the eighteenth century. The whole fruit or the peel alone was briefly boiled in water and strained numerous times before being cooked in a series of sugar syrups. This was primarily important for oranges, for those most available were commonly the imported Seville variety from Spain and more bitter than other types. Even today, regardless of the type of citrus used, successive boiling is recommended to dissipate the bitter oils before candying.

The eighteenth-century candying process does differ slightly from today's techniques, however. Whereas period recipes instruct the syrup-cooked pieces of fruit to be simply left to dry, most contemporary confectioners suggest tossing them in granulated sugar after the drying process. This keeps the pieces from sticking together and cloaks them in a glistening sugar coating.

Makes 4 cups

  1. 8 oranges or 12 lemons
  2. 6 cups granulated sugar
  3. 4 cups water
  4. 4 cups granulated sugar, for coating
  • Using a paring knife, carefully remove the rind from the oranges or lemons in 2-inch strips. Try to leave as little pith on the peel as possible. Scrape any remaining pith from the peel with the back of the paring knife.
  • Place the oranges or lemons in a medium-size saucepan, and cover with cold water. Place the pan over high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Strain and rinse the peel under running water. Repeat the boiling, straining, and rinsing process three more times to remove the bitterness from the peel.
  • In a medium-size pot, add the orange or lemon peel, 6 cups of sugar, and water; stir to combine. Using cool water and a pastry brush, wash down the sides of the pot, making certain no crystals of sugar remain. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook the syrup until it reaches a temperature of 260°F on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and allow it to cool to room temperature. Cover the pot with plastic wrap, and let the oranges or lemons steep overnight at room temperature.
  • Strain the oranges or lemons from the syrup and arrange them atop a wire rack. Cover generously with 2 cups of the sugar. Turn the peels over, and repeat the process with the remaining 2 cups of sugar.
  • Let the sugar-coated peel sit out for 8 hours. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks at room temperature.

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