Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Foraging Report: Candied Orange Peel

Urban foraging can be a lot easier with a toddler along for the ride. You might think a two year old would be more trouble than help in gathering fruit, but that's only if you don't calculate the cuteness factor. When we talk to neighbors to get permission to harvest a tempting fruit tree we've noticed just across a fence, my friend Wendy is the one who knocks on the door, fruit picker in one hand, baby in the other. They are the perfect team, impossible to refuse.

We recently took a walk around our neighborhood pushing the stroller in search of oranges. Now is a great time for most citrus and we knew of two trees that were loaded with fruit. We knocked on the door, and the woman who answered was more than happy to let us harvest from the huge tree in her backyard - it meant less cleanup for her.

"I don't think they're very good, though," she said doubtfully. We'd just sampled one of her oranges that was hanging over the sidewalk, however, so we weren't worried. It was delicious.

We run into this kind of comment frequently - people don't think their fruit is any good. I was puzzled by these statements for a while, until I decided that people must have tasted them out of season and then written them off. It's sad really, how common this seems to be, and it really comes down to a fundamental disconnect that many of us have with the seasonality of the plants around us. We don't know which varieties we have in our yard, when is the ideal time to harvest them and what purpose the fruit was bred for (is the orange meant to be eaten straight, juiced or used in a marmalade?).

We walked around to the backyard, where rotting oranges were strewn all over the patio and winter garden. One of us would use the fruit picker, while the other kept tabs on Corvis, Wendy's toddler. He started throwing the rotten fruit, so I came up with a game where he lobbed the moldy oranges into the chomping mouth of the green bin, to his delighted cries of "Yucky orange!" It worked like a charm and the clean patio probably made the homeowner very happy.

We ended up with bags of oranges that day, destined to be juiced and the peel candied. The stroller is another reason that children are great foraging companions - you're already equipped with a shopping cart to carry home your haul. We stowed the bags in the bottom compartment and headed for home, feeding Corvis orange sections as we walked. 

Candied Orange Peel Recipe
adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook
(which is a fabulous cookbook by the way, from local jam-maker Rachel Saunders)

4 sweet oranges
4 1/2 c. white sugar (I used 2 1/2 cups, which seemed to work fine)
2 cups water

Cut the oranges in half, juice them and then cover the peels with cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and repeat the process one or two times depending on the bitterness of the peel (you're leaching out the bitterness with each water change).  Drain and fill one more time, but this time cook until the halves are tender, for 30-60 minutes. Drain and cool.

When cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop out the inside of the orange, leaving a thin layer of white pith attached (see photo). This process is way easier than trying to cut off the pith before the peel is cooked, which I have done before for a different candied orange peel recipe. Then slice the peel into 1/4 inch wide strips. 

Cover the strips in a saucepan with 2 cups water and the sugar, making sure the peel is submerged.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a soft simmer. Cook without stirring until the edges of the rinds appear somewhat translucent and the liquid becomes a syrup, with thick bubbles around the edges. Turn the heat off and cool the rinds for 30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the peels to a wire rack. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, carefully separate them and spread them out evenly. The rinds should dry 1-2 days, after which you can toss them in sugar. I ended up using them to make my Homesteading Exchange chocolates, with a sprinkling of dried rose petals on top.

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