Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the champagne. The champagne definitely improves the orange.
– Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Etymology: From the Sanksrit nagaruka or naranga
Area of Origin: Asia (thought to be China and Northern India)
Oranges tickle our senses with their delightfully refreshing scent – we are never far from citrus candles that keep us going through the long hours. Even better, these cheery orange treats enable us to savor a taste of summer in the midst of cold, as in the United States, this is peak season for a bounty so desperately needed to shake off the chill (and germs). In appreciation, we have seized the opportunity to give ourselves – and you – a boost of healthy late-winter refreshment.
Happily, oranges are an extremely versatile ingredient, as they can be eaten as-is (peeled by most, but not always!), squeezed for juice, candied or roasted with meats. The zest, or rind, can be used to liven up everything from spice rubs to cakes to cocktails. The pith, which is the bitter white part of the rind, should always be discarded, as it packs a powerfully bitter punch.
It is believed that a very sour variety of orange grew wild in China before being embraced and transported to Europe by the gastronomically adventurous Romans. As international trade flourished, sweeter varieties found their way from India to Africa, then Spain and southern Italy.
During this time of wanderlust, citrus fruits were found to prevent scurvy, so European sailors were smart to plant them along trade routes where the trees would flourish in warm climates. When Christopher Columbus made his second voyage across the Atlantic, he sailed with a stash of citrus seeds that were planted in Haiti and the Dominican Republic; Ponce de Leon then brought them to Florida. Orange, lemon and lime trees can now be found in the Caribbean islands, Panama, Mexico, Brazil, and in California, Florida and Hawaii.
Orange trees are known as Citrus sinensis, and the oranges themselves are considered berries, as they are produced from a single ovary, have numerous seeds and soft flesh.
Aside from their use in foods, the essential oils of oranges are also used as a refreshing scent in perfumes and as a grease-cutting agent in household and other cleaners. Orange blossoms are used to produce orange blossom water, predominant in Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as in orange blossom honey – one of our favorites – which has the subtle taste of oranges imparted by the orange groves in which the beehives are placed.
Though sweet oranges are the most popular, they are grown in varieties from sour to sweet (see types below).
They are called this for a reason, you know. Have you ever looked at the bottom of the orange? It looks like, well, a belly button. These oranges are the result of a mutation in which the “navel” is actually an underdeveloped twin orange. One of the leading varieties of oranges, navels are almost always seedless, have a thick rind and deliciously sweet flesh. California Navel oranges typically arrive to market in mid-November to mid-May, but their peak season is from February to April.
Valencia oranges (also known as Murcia oranges) are very sweet, and typically used for orange juice production. They are a late-season fruit, and can be used in replacement for navel oranges when they have gone out of season in late spring.
Seville oranges are very tart, and best known as an ingredient in marmalade. They can also be found in compotes, and are used to flavor liqueurs. Grown in the Mediterranean (originally in Seville, Spain), these oranges have a thick skin and a high level of pectin.
Blood oranges have become quite fashionable in culinary circles given their unique appearance, and can often be found in recipes that would commonly use Seville oranges. The streaks of red in the fruit evoke trickles of blood (we realize this description is not terribly appealing), and though the streaks are caused by anthocyanin (a pigment), the reason for the pigment’s appearance in the fruit is unknown.
The essential oils from bergamot orange rinds are used to create the delicate, renowned citrus flavor found in Earl Grey Tea, and are used in perfumes, aromatherapy treatments and confections. The fruit is actually a cross between a pear lemon and a Seville orange, and can be found predominantly in Reggio Calabria (the land of Jennifer’s heritage – she’s quite excited about that). The fruit itself is sour, so we recommend sticking with the rind.
The wee mandarin orange is petite and sweet, and can often be found canned in sweet syrup.
We love oranges in our desserts, so there is no shortage of options this month. However, we’ve also included a lovely conserve from the Pastry Princess, as well as a refreshing citrus tea rub from Chef Ming Tsai.
Orange & Lavender Conserve
Fennel, Orange & Zereshk Salad with Fig Vincotto
Chilly Drunken Orange “Creamsicle”
Basil & Orange Ice Cream
Vanilla Citrus Crème
Citrus Tea-Rubbed Halibut
Green Tea & Orange Mousse Cake
Spiced Cranberry & Orange Relish
Ever After Cocktail
Blood Brothers Cocktail
Vanilla Sea Cocktail
Sparkling Melon Soup with Orange Flower Creme