Sometimes, I like to try and imagine the days when finding an orange in your Christmas stocking was big excitement. I know I tend to fall on the overly sentimental side when it comes to the past, but there is just something so lovely about looking at an ordinary thing as an exotic treasure. Today, with our fruit flown in from Peru and New Zealand to satisfy our most out of season out of country cravings at any time of year, it might be hard to look at an orange as anything other than ordinary. But imagine for a moment being in the dead of winter without such luxuries – no grocery store bananas, no frozen blueberries, perhaps just a dwindling supply of apples put away from the Autumn. Its been months since you’ve tasted a fresh vegetable or fruit. Then, on Christmas morning, you wake to find a juicy, succulent fruit awaiting you in your stocking – it gives off an exotic, flowery perfume that nearly transports you to the sunshine and warmth of the land it was grown in – a land you might never yourself set foot in and can only imagine…
Today I find there is so much available to us and on such an immediate basis that its hard to really appreciate any one thing. For isn’t it the anticipation, the long months of waiting – that make you truly appreciate how wondrous a strawberry really is when you taste the first one in June? And when you know that something comes but once a year , it is transformed into a rare and delectable treat that you don’t want to waste any little part of.
So when citrus season rolls around in December, I try and transport myself to that time when the long journey and seasonality of this fruit made it into something quite special. I imagine the orange groves as I pick up the fruit in the grocery store, I inhale the fragrance and imagine the days of warmth and sunshine that little orange has seen (the essential oil of citrus has been found to be anti-depressant and calming, go figure!) Then, after I slice up the orange and savor it’s juicy sweetness, I carefully place the peels on a window sill to dry. I dry almost all of my citrus peels (organic of course) – grapefruit, tangerine, lemon, etc – and save them for making tea. They make a lovely addition to any digestive combination, providing a little citrusy zip that gets your digestive juices flowing nicely – I especially like them with peppermint and hibiscus. And then, if I have a nice snowy day to hang around in the kitchen, I make candied citrus peel.
I encourage anyone and everyone to try and make their own candied citrus peel – at least once! It’s quite easy and creates the most delicious treat – a fabulous alternative to all those gummy candies loaded with sugar and artificial colors and flavors that find there way into our homes this time of year. They make a great addition to cocktails, hot cups of coffee, tea or hot cocoa, and can be savored as an after dinner treat to aid digestion. Here’s how to do it:
- Place peels from about 4 oranges or other citrus fruits (the thicker the better) into a medium sized sauce pan and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring the water to a simmer, and keep simmering for about an hour, until tender.
- Drain and rinse under cold water until they are cool to the touch. With the edge of a spoon, scrape away any remaining pulp of pith. Then, cut the peels into strips that are about 2-3 inches long and 1/4 inch wide (others might be shorter or oddly shaped). Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine 3/4 cup sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently until all the sugar has been dissolved.
- Add the peels, and simmer until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed – about 1 hour.
- Transfer to a sieve or colander, and drain.
- Transfer about 1 cup of sugar onto a plate. Roll each peel in sugar, and then transfer to parchment paper to dry for 6 hours or overnight.
And then, if I really feel like being decadent….
I lovingly dip each peel into melted dark chocolate. These make great holiday gifts and make the perfect conclusion to a winter meal enjoyed with friends and family.