Ah, the coming of the Vernal Equinox! Longest day of the year, I will eat you alive! No more will my heart yearn for warmth and a glimpse of a sliver of bright. No more will the long, cold fingers of winter seek to squelch out the sun. I have found the enemy and he is mine!
In these last bleak moments before spring shall break, I will harness the brightness of citrus as my weapon against the world.
Dramatic enough for you? Kind of how I roll. It is my cryptonite and my charm.
Citrus is that kind of fruit that peaks in the warm areas of the U.S.-right when the rest of us are shivering in our britches. I decided to crank up my Vitamin C intake by ordering a case of navel oranges from this great small farm out west called Chaffin Family Orchards. Not only is their citrus juicy and at the right price but they are careful stewards of their land, giving me peace of mind knowing my fruit is clean and organic as well as wax and pesticide free. This is critical if you are going to use the rind for anything baking or cooking related.
After eating all those oranges, I was surrounded by glorious peel. Some of the dried peel went into my personal blend of herbal tea but the rest got the sugar treatment. Orange peel candy.
Where did this treat originate? Well, the oldest published recipe I could find dates back to 1873 (page 452) in a book by Marion Harland entitled “Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery.” In this case it was a treat for the elite as sugar came at quite the price. Candied orange peels, however, have been anecdotally popular in Southern Italian cooking dating back to the 1500’s. In Sicily in particular, citrus peels were used to spice up torta di ricotta (ricotta pie), cannoli and other sweet treats.
If you are looking for a way to brighten up your winter’s day, I give you the candied orange peel. Look, less waste! Be sure to save some for the Easter pie.
Candied Orange Peels
- 6 large organic oranges
- 3 cups sugar
- 3 cups filtered water
1. Peel oranges and slice them. I like them about 1/4 an inch to a half an inch wide. I slice them on the orange and shimmy my thumb in between the peel and the orange to take it off in one piece. Be sure to remove any areas with major pith. Don’t get too crazy about this.
2. Blanch three times to remove any bitterness. This is critical. Blanching means bringing a pot of water to a rolling boil, dipping your peel in for 2 minutes (in this case). Rinse with ice cold water. Repeat. Repeat.
3. Place water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan and bring to about 230. Do not let it get any hotter or it will reach the soft ball stage. You want “soft thread” for ideal candying.
4. Boil in sugar water for around 30 minutes or until the edges begin to look translucent. Resist the urge to stir as this may introduce sugar crystals into the syrup making for a big gooey mess. Trust me.
5. Lay out to dry. Mine took four days until completely dry. Most people say it takes them 2 days.
You may eat them straight as I do, coat them in sugar to make them sparkle or dip them in chocolate. I will be saving some (I hope) for my ricotta pie for Easter. And what of that syrup? Makes a great “soda” or cocktail enhancer.