Last Saturday, when Rumpole took me to shop for fruit and vegetables at the local farmer’s market, we spied a pile of Blood Oranges. Now, Blood Oranges are a spectacular seasonal treat, only available this time of year. They are my February obsession; I have to purchase 5 to 7 of them to hold, admire the variegated peel colours and to strip, cut open in different ways and assemble for a painted study. Then wolf them down, smacking the lips all the meanwhile. They are an acquired taste. This year’s selection, which we picked up, did not have the peculiar bitter sweet tang of previous years’. But their peel was so beautiful, that I decided to make a Valentine’s treat of candied orange peel for friends and family.
Mousey has never tasted candied orange peel before. So I am especially excited that my little labours will provide a first taste ecperience for her. She may not find the flavour exactly to her liking, but it will be a first exposure to a new taste sensation.
While Rumpole was off on Wednesday evening to his weekly guitar lesson, I carefully peeled foor blood oranges. The white spongy inner membrane required cutting off. None of my paring knives were sharp enough to be up for this task, so I had to sit patiently sharpening the blade of my favorite small knife to razor conditions. That in itself is a relaxing, meditative task – honing the blade, testing it, resharpening until the perfect cutting capability was achieved.
Once the knife was capable of slicing the peel from the pith with ease, I took off my glasses, took up one quarter peel at a time and, taking a deep centering breath, made tidy work of stripping each section of peel. Since I can see up close with one eye, it was fine and calming work, that suits well my degree of sightedness.
After all the work of separating pith from peel had ended, I sliced each peel into thin slivers. Then a liquor of supersaturated sugar solution is required to be made, for slowly simmering the peelings for about three hours, in order to reduce the sugar solution considerably. I kept a close eye on this process to ensure no burning could possibly occur. The pot on the stove smelled delicious. I know this as I frequently hung my head over to sniff the citrus scent evaporating from the batch. MMM!
At the conclusion of the simmering process, I drained the sugar-saturated peels and laid the slips onto parchment covered cookie- sheets. (They sat out overnight to dry and harden.)
At breakfast, the following morning, I dredged the bits of sugared peel in a bowl of sugar. Rumpole snagged a slip and munched it with his coffee. Then he took a second sliver and pronounced it “addictive”.
During the morning, Jessica and I hiked to the local grocery store to buy some chocolate bits, which when melted might coat the ends of each sliver of peel. I came home with the dog after our walk, energized, full of resolve to do a bang-up job of coating the orange bits with chocolate.
(Now I am not a chocolate-loving person, and don’t cook and bake with variations of cocoa and chocolate. Why, the one time I ordered Mole Chicken at the Mariachi Restaurant in Tucson, on New Year’s Eve, twelve years back, I was horrified at the taste of a spicy chocolate coating on that fowl which should never, in my opinion, be treated with extreme flavours. So need I add at this point that chocolate is not a staple in my pantry or a favoured taste?)
I nuked the half the chocolate in the microwave and it came out a mess of steaming pumice textured stuff. No way was that flowing and liquid enough to coat the ends of my bits of candied peel. (I am still soaking and chipping out the bowl from the mass of vulcanized chocolate, and that, three days later.)
That endeavour being a complete failure, I settled on the tried and true double boiler method of melting chocolate. Yay! It worked.
Just at the point where I was ready to start dipping, Flora arrived at my studio door. She breezed in, uncoated herself, snaffled a candied peel, then another and yet another. So I poured her a coffee to slow her down. Instructed her to wash and dry her hands and to start dipping the peels one after the other in the chocolate.
Every fifth one she popped into her mouth and mumbled, while chewing, “God, I’m going to have to work extra hard at my spin class this evening to work off all these calories! Slap my hands, if I take any more of these to eat.”
“Just keep dipping.” I ordered her.
Flora made short work of dipping half the peels. We figured some of my loved ones and friends may have allergies to chocolate, So they should be able to partake of naked peels. She popped the chocolate coated peels into the fridge, and we sat down to discuss Gallery business and ideas for bringing in the public in numbers, over another cup of coffee.
Before Flora left to go on to the rest of her late afternoon, we packaged up the naked peels, and then the cooled chocolate ones. One batch was to go to Amy and her sons; one batch was to serve as after Valentine Day’s dinner treat for Martha’s do tonight; a group of us to eat a fabulous meal prepared by Martha, after which we will look at her photos from her trip to India over Christmas.
Tomorrow Mousey, Glagow Girl and Renaissance Man are coming to our house for Valentine’s dinner. Mousey will get her first taste of the third package of candied orange peel. Glasgow Girl gets a reprieve from having to cook Sunday dinner after working 5 evenings this past week. And Renaissance Man has a taste treat which is a blast from the past.
No trite Hallmark cards for any of us. No over-packaged commercial chocolates or flowers from far away places. Just each other’s company for pleasure, and a tiny bit of labour from me to show they are important in my life.
And, as added bonus, I learned how to and not burn chocolate. This old dog continues to keep learning.