Last Wednesday morning, as we received our weekly delivery of California produce, the wind was picking up and the clouds were grey and churning – a sure sign of snow on the way. As we hurriedly brought in the fresh greens, jewel-like lemons and first-of-the-season strawberries, the juxtaposition between the impending New England storm and spring produce from California was increasingly apparent. Unpacking a box of Moro blood oranges from Rancho del Sol, I was immediately hit with a rich, balsamic fragrance that was only matched in richness by the oranges’ bright ruby appearance. Having yet to preserve any of this season’s citrus fruit, I immediately decided to snap up a pound to juice and candy.
With access to such amazing citrus for only a short amount of time, I began with the intent to extend the season as long as possible by preserving the fruit in some way. As early as the 16th century, Europeans have employed candying as a method to preserve fruit for storage through the winter or for fruit destined for use in sweets and cakes. Seasonal fruits such as oranges, apricots, cherries and lemons were candied in honey, and later, with sugar after the Crusaders returned to Europe from the Middle East bearing what is now a kitchen staple. Marrons glacés, or candied chestnuts, are a confection originating in Northern Italy that are still widely popular today, especially around the holidays here at the shop. With that in mind, I decided to try my hand at simple candied orange peels. With an impending blizzard, a pound of Moro blood oranges from Rancho del Sol, and a several cups of sugar in the pantry at home, I was ready to begin.
The most time-consuming step of the process was cutting away the peel from the actual fruit. I found that slicing the orange in half, and then cutting out the flesh made it easier to cut the peel into the desired strips. The peels were then blanched three times to remove bitterness.
Here, the blood orange peels are simmered in a syrup of sugar and water. While I used a ratio of 1:1 (sugar to water), you can always use more or less of either depending on your personal taste. When the peels were finished, I simmered down the leftover syrup to be used in the future for cocktails and other libations.
As the peels simmered away on the stove, they became increasingly translucent and a lovely fragrance filled the kitchen. Turning off the heat, I pulled them out of the syrup and tossed them briefly in a bowl of granulated sugar. After shaking off the excess sugar, I set the orange peels on drying racks, as depicted in the above picture.
This winter, Formaggio Kitchen has received an amazing array of citrus from Bill and Linda Zaiser of Rancho del Sol. A gorgeous, 36-acre plot of land among boulder formations and ocean vistas, Rancho del Sol is located in the foothills of San Diego on virgin, organic land. Growing citrus in the mild, warm climate of Jamul was a natural decision, and it was important to both Bill and Linda to grow and harvest in a sustainable fashion. The Zaiser family cultivates over 10 varieties of citrus, carefully allowing fruit to mature on the branch for a long as possible. Citrus is thus harvested at peak ripeness to maintain ideal acid to sugar ratios even after shipping long distances. Here at the shop, we were first introduced to their crops with the arrival of Kishu tangerines, an instant hit with staff and customers alike with its miniature size, perfumed sweetness and zipper-like peels. From then on, we’ve been enamored with their Sorrento lemons, Limequats and Kumquats, Blood oranges as well as Meyer lemons. I expect to see most of these citrus fruits (with the exception of the incredibly short-seasoned Kishus) through the end of March.
While I eagerly anticipate the arrival of spring and New England grown fruits and vegetables, I will sorely miss these edible winter jewels from our friends on the West Coast. But for the time being, I’ll be stashing marmalades, candied peels and preserved lemons in my cupboards to last until next year.
Candied Blood Orange Peel
1 cup blood orange peels (roughly 1 pound oranges yields 1 cup of peel)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
Using a sharp paring knife, slice the oranges in half and smoothly cut the peel from the oranges. Carefully remove excess pith.
To remove bitterness from the peel, bring a few cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. When it reaches a rolling boil, add the peels. Remove after 30-45 seconds, then submerge into an ice bath. Drain and repeat up to three times, then pat dry.
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil, whisk frequently. Add the peels, and then lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer the peels in the syrup for 30-40 minutes, checking often to ensure the syrup does not evaporate and burn off. When finished, the peels should be soft, translucent, and bright in color. If they are very chewy, simmer for a bit longer until they reach the desired texture. Turn off heat and let cool slightly. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove the peels and transfer to a drying rack. Let dry for 3 to 4 hours or overnight. If you’d like to coat them in granulated sugar, do so before drying.
If desired, melt 4 ounces of dark chocolate. Dip each peel into the chocolate, then set on a rack to dry. Place in refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight to set. Enjoy!
Emily Shannon is a cooking enthusiast and is a produce buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.