Growing up, grapefruit was a winter fixture at our family’s dinner table. My mother served it as an appetizer, chilled and halved and topped temptingly with a maraschino cherry. We ate it with a special grapefruit spoon, a curious sort of surgical implement with a serrated tip for pulling the segments of fruit—already loosened with a special grapefruit knife—away from the pith. The ritual ended by folding the fruit in half over the little spoon, squeezing and sipping until every last drop of bittersweet juice was gone, leaving nothing but the rind.
My father loved his grapefruit—Lipitor warning labels be damned. He preferred to the childish cherry a topping of sugar, or later in his life, honey, then maple syrup, and finally, to our horror, Sweet and Low. He drank grapefruit juice every day before breakfast and liked a cold glass after a tennis game. So, it seemed fitting that when he decided to buy a house in a gated community in the California desert at age 90, he chose one with a beautiful pink grapefruit tree in the front yard.
Plundering that tree soon became another family ritual requiring specialized equipment. He showed all the grandchildren how to pluck the blush and golden fruits with a citrus picker, a long-handled contraption featuring an open metal basket at the end for working deftly into the branches and around the fruit. He demonstrated the technique: how a sharp pull and twist released the fruit unharmed into the basket for lowering gently to the ground. He acquired an electric juicer to speed up production, and a plastic carafe that he kept filled with tree-sweet, fresh-squeezed juice all winter long.
My father’s been gone nearly five years now, but that tree keeps on giving. On a recent trip to visit my mother, I found the tree still laden with fruit. I drank as much grapefruit juice as was reasonable (from that same plastic carafe), but still, I longed to bring that taste home to New York where winter is persisting. So, I packed a dozen grapefruits in my suitcase—not for juicing, but to make candied grapefruit peel—a simple, yet sophisticated treat that in every bite evokes California sunshine, blue sky desert mornings, and the memory of my father.
This recipe for candied grapefruit peel is adapted from Bon Appetit. The tender strips of peel are bittersweet with a delightful combination of chew and crunch and the ethereal rosy glow of a California sunset. The grapefruit oil produces a slightly numbing effect on the tongue.
Pink or ruby red grapefruits
Granulated sugar for the syrup and dredging
Wash the grapefruits well and dry with a towel.
Hold each grapefruit firmly on a cutting board stem-end up. With a very sharp, thin-bladed, non-serrated knife, working top to bottom, cut the peel from grapefruit, leaving ¼” white pith attached. Then cut the peel into ⅜” wide strips.
Place the strips in a non-reactive saucepan; add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, then drain; repeat two more times to reduce bitterness and tenderize the peel.
Return the peel to the pot with enough liquid to cover using a ratio of 1 C. sugar to ½ cup of water. Bring the peel and sugar-water mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until peel is translucent and the mixture is syrupy, around 30 minutes. Drain; transfer peel with tongs to a wire rack set over parchment paper and let dry uncovered for at least 4 hours or overnight.
When the peel is slightly sticky but not wet, roll the strips in a bowl of granulated sugar and place back on the rack to dry a bit more before storing in an airtight container.