Few things make my heart happier than a bowl full of citrus fruit sitting on my kitchen bench. Even though citrus grows incredibly well here in New Zealand, particularly in the North Island, there is something about the colours that just scream sunshine, even on a cloudy day, and the fragrance every time you pass by, that transports me to infinitely more exotic places. And then, when that bowl of citrus fruit actually happens to be 6 kilos of Seville oranges, well I am transported directly to heaven. Also often known as bitter oranges, and rightly so since they are far too sour to eat, these make hands-down the best marmalade. They have a very short season, and you generally will not find them in the shops - leastwise not here in New Zealand. However, if you are lucky enough to know someone who is in the know (thanks Mairi) you may be able to get your hands on some. You are going to have to wait another year now to do that though, as that very short season I mentioned just finished last week. I have a number of projects planned for these babies, which of course I will share with you, including marmalade, bitter orange curd, burnt orange ice cream, and a bitter orange sorbet. I've also read that the juice of Seville oranges is often used for marinading meats in a variety of Caribbean cuisines - so a bag of these will be headed to the freezer to take out for juice during the year.
As I've been telling you over the last couple of weeks, the I Heart Cooking Clubs group is now cooking with the gorgeous Tessa Kiros, and our theme this week is From the Orchard. Well I've got to tell you that whilst most of my friends over there are in the midst of autumn (fall to them), and no doubt enjoying an abundance of fruit hanging from the trees, here in New Zealand it is spring. That means that you sure won't find much dangling from the branches here. Right now, although strawberries are beginning to show up regularly at the market, fruit trees are laden with nothing more than promise, in the form of blossom. So this box of Seville oranges, which appear briefly here from September through to mid-October, could not have arrived at a better time.
When I holidayed in Greece earlier this year, I found some wonderful little coffee shops in Athens to sit and while away an hour or two. It was a common sight, in many of these coffee shops, to see huge jars on the counter full of beautiful fruits preserved in thick, sweet syrup: cherries (both sweet and sour), figs, grapes, bergamot, quince, my favourite - bitter orange, and many more. They are called "spoon sweets" and, as the name might suggest, they are usually served on a teaspoon alongside a good coffee and a glass of cold water. You can also buy the spoon sweets in jars in most supermarkets there, and I developed a real liking for having the bitter orange for breakfast on top of some toasted bread and mizithra. Needless to say, when I came across Tessa's recipe for Preserved Fruits in Sugar Syrup in the Falling Cloudberries book I couldn't wait to try it.
This was a really fun preserve to make - I would definitely do it again - and I can't wait to try some of the other fruits now as they come into season. I am only sharing the instructions for doing the oranges here, but Tessa's book also includes recipes for cherries, green plums and figs.
Seville Orange Spoon Sweets Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Tessa Kuros in
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
2kg bitter oranges
400g (14 oz) caster sugar
450 ml (15 fl oz) water
You will also need:
piece of baking paper
Wash the oranges well in warm water, and dry thoroughly.
Using a good peeler, peel off the skin of the oranges in long strips. Try to leave behind as much of the white pith as you can - you want only the thin skin. If you find that your peeler takes off too much of the pith, then just lay the strips on a board, pith side up, and remove with a sharp knife. I peeled my strips from the top to the bottom of the oranges, and got 6-8 strips from each orange. If you prefer you can go around the circumference, in which case you will end up with fewer but longer strips, which you will cut in half.
Put the strips of peel into a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the strips have softened and are pliable. Remove from heat and drain. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
Starting at one end, roll each strip of peel up quite tightly, and using a needle thread onto a length of cotton, as though you were making a necklace. Keep the pieces close together - this helps the strips to stay in their little rolls while they are being boiled in the syrup. Although a little fiddly, this is fun and really quite therapeutic - also all the oils that come out of the orange peels will make your hands feel and smell amazing.
Put the sugar and water into a pan, along with the strained juice from one of the oranges. Stir constantly until the syrup comes to a boil, then carefully drop in the necklace of orange strips. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the surface with a circle of baking paper (to keep the necklace submerged in the syrup), and simmer for about 45 minutes.
Remove the "necklace" from the syrup to a clean bowl. Allow to stand for a few minutes until cool enough to handle, then slide the orange rolls off the thread into a sterilised preserving jar.
The syrup will have thickened up a bit during the cooking, but you can keep simmering it for a little longer if you want it to thicken some more. When you are happy with your syrup, pour it into the jar until the peels are just covered.
Once cool, refrigerate, and use within a month.
By the way, once you've harvested the peel for this recipe, don't discard the rest of the oranges - they are precious. Juice them and store the juice to use for marinades, sorbets, or dressings. Alternatively, you can put the whole oranges into a bag and into the freezer, and then just pull them out when you want to juice one.
If you would like to get to know Tessa a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Falling Cloudberries and many of Tessa's other great titles available from Amazon or Fishpond NZ.