Many people who live in ground floor flats all over Palma never have to buy oranges because they have a garden with a couple of trees that provide all the oranges they’re ever likely to need during the season.
They usually have more oranges than they can handle, and as most Majorcans are extremely generous when they have a surfeit of oranges, or any other fruit, their friends and companions at work receive bags of fruit as seasonal gifts.
I’ve already had two bags of superb oranges from friends at Ultima Hora, our Spanish sister paper, and the season has just got underway. Home-grown oranges have something that’s always in their favour — they are always extremely juicy.
The oranges we buy at supermarkets can also be brimming over with juice, but sometimes you’ll come across a dry one (or two) in a batch. That never happens with the oranges friends grow in their own gardens.
Oranges are one of the best fruit buys during the winter months. They are absolutely fine now and as the winter progresses they will become even better.
The orange is one of the fruits we associate with Spain and it plays an important part in the Spanish economy. But although Spaniards hold it in high esteem, few of the country’s cooks have been inspired by it.
There is no Spanish dish I know of in which the orange has a major role similar to that in the French duck à l’orange.
The juice of an orange is frequently called for in fish and meat recipes, but it is simply a walk-on part for the orange.
Orange juice is added to all kinds of Spanish pastry, and to good effect. Most of Majorca’s lamb pies known as panades are made with pastry that contains a glass of orange juice.
Orange juice also finds its way into custards and flans, giving these desserts and others a pretty colour and a delicious flavour.
Some Spanish housewives give the orange a more important part to play in flan dishes. Prepare an egg flan mixture according to your usual recipe, using as much orange juice as possible.
Pour the mixture into caramel-doused flan moulds and bake them. When the flans are cold, unmould them on to the top of very thin slices of orange and arrange them on a serving dish, using thin halves of orange to decorated the platter.
These oranges slices can be fresh, but for a more elaborate effect drizzle them with diluted caramel. They can also be sautéed in butter and finished off with Grand Marnier or another orange-based liqueur.
Spaniards love candied fruits of all kinds, and oranges are ideal for this kind of treatment. If you’re adventurous and frequently use candied orange peel for cakes and desserts there’s no need to buy it at specialist stalls in the Mercat d’Olivar — you can easily make it yourself.
Candied orange peel recipe
For 500 grs of orange peel you will also need 300 mls of water in which to boil the peel with 1 tsp of lemon juice and 400 grs of sugar.
Soak the peel in water to cover for 48 hours, changing the water several times. Drain, and put the peel into boiling water to cover and simmer until tender. Drain, and reserve 300 mls water to which you add the sugar and the lemon juice.
Simmer until you have a clear syrup.
Add the peel and gently cook for about 45 minutes. Let the peel cool in the syrup before transferring it with a fork to wide jars. If the syrup looks a bit thin, simmer uncovered until it thickens. Then pour the syrup over the peel and seal the jars.
Simple cooked dessert
Oranges feature in this simple cooked dessert. Slice the end off some unpeeled oranges and cut them into slices of about one centimetre thick. Melt some butter in a big frying pan and sauté the orange slices over a medium heat on both sides until they are starting to scorch.
Transfer them to a flat serving dish and dust with ground cinnamon to taste. Serve immediately. If the oranges are not very sweet, sprinkle sugar to taste over each slice.
Some Mallorcan I know convert the orange into a simple DIY tabletop dessert that calls for deliciously sweet oranges and a glass of good red wine. This dessert is a way of doing something different with the last of the red wine.
Wedges of peeled oranges are gently squeezed between thumb and forefinger and dropped into the glass of wine. They are stirred with a fork, left for five minutes or so, and then the wedges are fished out with the fork.
Ideally, the wine should be sipped with some crunchy petits fours biscuits. The wine must be a goodish one.
Mallorca’s oranges are extremely good and are among the best in Spain. The best come from Soller and Fornalutx. A walk around these areas when the trees are heavy with their juicy fruit is an unforgettable delight.
The orange tree is unusual in that the fruit shares the tree with the waxy flowers that will be the next season’s crop. So we get the visual beauty of the tree laden with fruit, while the air is heavily scented with orange blossom. It is one of Nature’s gifts to our senses or sight and smell.
Oranges and the Mediterranean are so intimately linked it sometimes comes as a surprise that they are not natives of the Med — the orange, in all its varieties, came from China where it was a wild fruit.
The Crusaders took bitter oranges into Italy from Palestine and the Arabs later introduced the orange tree into Spain, the south of France and east Africa.
All oranges in Europe up until about the first half of the 17th century were bitter ones and they were very much a status symbol.
The higher up the social scale one went, the more one found bitter oranges. They were on the dining room table and were used in the kitchen. The full crop of bitter oranges from an orchard in Granada is bought by Buckingham Palace — to make marmalade, of course.
The distillation of orange blossom was used by the wealthy to scent baths and also as an eau de cologne. In the kitchen it was used to flavour all kinds of dishes, but especially desserts.
Italy’s Medici family, whose cooks were the world’s finest at that time, had such a passion a for oranges that they used them as a heraldic symbol: the five golden balls in its coat of arms are oranges.
The first sweet oranges didn’t reach Europe until the 1630s and they came from China via Portugal. It was from these trees that all sweet oranges have descended. The sweet orange was soon much more popular than the bitter variety, although a huge bitter orange crop is still harvested in southern Spain, mainly for the British marmalade market centred in the Scottish town of Dundee.
Sweet oranges at first were only for the very rich. For the man in the street, and in cookbooks, an orange meant a bitter one.
In cookbooks up until the early 19th century, the word orange always refers to a bitter one. In later books you find references to ‘Portugal’ or ‘China’ oranges…these are the sweet kind.