When I was a child In Virginia I would find an orange in the toe of my Christmas stockings. Sent by Florida relatives, that orange would bring on a season of relishing fresh juice, squeezed by my mother in a bulky orange press; sliced oranges with a little sugar sprinkled on them for a snack; and eating quartered oranges as we played.
Charleston brought me the pleasure of growing my own citrus, abundant enough to cook and gift with. And I’m not alone. The tree in our back garden is bursting with oranges; our Meyer lemons, though puny and not very happy, are ripening. There are two local grapefruits from a neighbor on the kitchen table and my friend Beth brought me kaffir lime leaves that included two limes. On top of that, my friend Janie came out with an orange book, tempting me in sweet ways, as well as introducing me to a salad dressing I didn’t know.
Children no longer get oranges in their stockings, but the whole family can relish what is made with the fruits of our city. Cathy Nutatis and Cris Cain joined me for two days of testing marmalade recipes, making lemon Buerre blanc, salad dressing, eating Cathy’s orange bread and more.
A few guidelines: Valencia and other thin-skinned oranges usually weigh more as they have more juice. Naval oranges have a thicker skin and a thicker pith.
Marmalade has been a pleasure and a challenge to make since my days as a student at the London Cordon Bleu, and Charleston oranges are tricky, in part because there are many varieties that grow here. The key to making marmalade is that it is thickened with a natural pectin developed from the peel and white pith of the citrus fruit and the seeds. The oranges in my garden (an unnamed variety) are medium-skinned, more thin than thick like a naval, but there is a very thin amount of the white pith between the skin and the flesh. My friend Cris Cain’s oranges (also unidentified), come later in the season with more bitterness, have a thinner skin but more pith, and seem more like Valencia oranges than mine. And all the oranges have different amounts of seeds.
The newer recipes I read, newer than in my books and that I learned in London, seem inclined to stress the ease of cooking the marmalade in one sprint, where I have always split the process in two. We were interested in testing the two methods of cooking them, and experimenting with my oranges and a few that were store-bought. (The first fruit to ripen was so high in the tree we had to hire someone to pick them, so they cost far more than what came from the store.) I’ve made marmalade several times in years past with Cris’ oranges, so we were also interested in comparing the taste and setting quality.
By the end of our two days of cooking, we had all decided the two-day method is easier for us as it breaks the time into more manageable segments. It also meant less cooking time and “waiting around time” as the oranges get softened by sitting overnight in water rather than boiling without sugar.
Tip: A small cutting board that enables you to catch the juices is a help. The pith (the bitter white part) of the orange may be scraped off or not, depending on your taste and how thick it is. The thicker the white is, the more bitter the marmalade will be. When less than a 1/2 inch I leave it on as taking it off is arduous. If the pith IS removed, it should be added to a square of cheesecloth and used in the cooking of the marmalade, along with the seeds, which aids the marmalade in gelling.
4 Valencia oranges
1 medium-large lemon
Sugar, as needed
Wash, rinse and dry jars.
Slice the oranges and lemon in half, and then slice each one into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Cut a large square of cheesecloth. Save the seeds and move them, along with any pith or odd trimmings, to the cheesecloth and tie, discarding only the cores.
Chop the remaining fruit. Move to a nonaluminum container with a lid and soak the lemons, oranges and cheesecloth in water to cover, approximately 4 to 5 cups, for 24 hours.
To prepare the marmalade, place 2 saucers in the freezer for testing purposes. Measure the fruit and water. Add 3/4 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit and water, along with the cheesecloth and seeds, and move to a heavy, wide nonaluminum lined pan.
Heat the orange and sugar mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Brush down the sides of the pans with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent sugar crystals. Bring to a boil and boil steadily 20 to 30 minutes or up to several hours, depending on size of pan and density of mixture, until a light copper color, at 218 to 220 degrees if using a cooking thermometer. Spoon a little of the mixture on one of the saucers from the freezer and return it to the freezer briefly to cool down; then push the mixture with your finger until it “crinkles,” or leaves a soft trail. If it is not thick enough to leave a trail, bring the fruit back to a boil and test again in a few minutes on the second plate.
When ready, gently squeeze the remaining liquid from the cheesecloth using the side of the pan and discard the bag. Allow the marmalade to rest for 20 minutes.
- Many recipes called for boiling the oranges whole for an hour, before slicing them and continuing to cook the sliced oranges. I found it every bit as satisfactory to slice the oranges, soak them overnight, and then cook them with the sugar. But do what is easier for you.
- The sugar, like any sugar syrup, needs to be dissolved before the mixture starts to boil to prevent crystallization. The large amount of acid helps in preventing crystallization, however.
- Use a heavy wide pan. I use an old copper jelly-making pan I purchased years ago, thinking it would be too big, but in fact it was just right.
- Never double a jam or marmalade recipe unless you are willing to experiment. Jams “change” when made in large amounts.
- The marmalade thickens as it cools, and even gets thicker once in the jars, so don't overcook.
- To distribute the fruit evenly, continue to turn the closed jars until cool.
Cathy Nutatis ‘s Orange Tea Bread, Three Ways
This bread freezes well and makes a welcome addition to holiday breakfasts and brunches. Wrapped and tied with a ribbon, smaller loaves can be a ready gift to have on hand for unexpected guests.
Orange Poppy Seed Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooking oil
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup orange juice (see cook's note)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup poppy seeds
2 tablespoons grated orange peel, measured lightly (see cook's note)
Cook's note: One large navel orange should yield enough peel and juice for this recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9x5-inch loaf pans.
Combine the first four ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the eggs with the oil, milk and juice. Add this to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix with a whisk until smooth. Do not over-beat the batter. Stir in the extracts, poppy seeds and orange peel. Divide batter equally between the pans. Bake for approximately 55 to 60 minutes or until a tester comes out without any crumbs attached. Smaller loaf pans also can be used but the baking time will need to be adjusted accordingly.
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix until completely smooth. Glaze should be easily spreadable. If not, add a few more drops of orange juice or water.
Allow the loaves to rest in the pan for 5 minutes. Spoon the glaze over the warm loaves, running a knife along the edges so that the glaze runs down the sides. When the bread has cooled off enough to handle, remove from the pans and allow to finish cooling on a rack.
- For Orange Pecan Bread, omit poppy seeds and almond extract. Add 1 cup toasted, chopped pecans.
- For Orange Chocolate Chip Bread, omit poppy seeds and add 1 cup chocolate chips or 1 cup chopped semi-sweet chocolate.
Adapted from Jamie Schler’s book, “Orange Appeal” we served this over fresh-picked lettuces from The Citadel’s sustainability program.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoonfuls red wine vinegar
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk the mustard, vinegar and pepper together until smooth and blended. Whisk in the orange juice in a slow steady stream until emulsified; whisk in as much oil as desired.
Buerre Blanc (White Butter Sauce)
A white butter sauce is very versatile and is an amazingly delicious sauce with vegetables, seafood, poultry or meat, a very good replacement for hollandaise and béarnaise, which both require eggs. This sauce became popular here in the early 1970s but had been made in France for some time. While the thought of attempting to make a butter sauce can be daunting to some, it’s worth the attempt as it is so luscious. Even a failed white butter sauce will taste scrumptious stirred into vegetables, rice or grains. The main thing to remember when making this sauce is to be careful not to overheat it. While heat is needed to melt the cold butter, too much heat — as in boiling — will cause the sauce to break. A little practice will make perfect; finding the right pan and heat may take a few tries. Restaurant cooks use the “apron” of their stovetops, which maintains an even heat, to keep warm. Even if the sauce breaks, it is usable and may even be “saved” according to the directions below.
2/3 cup lemon juice or white wine
2 shallots, minced
1 1/2 cups butter, cut in 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Combine lemon juice or wine and shallots in a small- to medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons. If it is less than that, add water.
Turn heat to low and whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. If what looks like oil appears in the otherwise creamy yellow sauce, remove the pot from the heat and set it over ice, or add a little water or crushed ice to the sauce. Cooling it just a little might save the sauce from breaking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If the sauce is too tart, add a little water, more butter, or granulated sugar to correct. Serve right away, or cover the top with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and leave at room temperature.
Many times it will reheat just topping the hot food. To reheat the sauce, add a little of the cold sauce to a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk sauce until it thickens, adding additional small portions of cold sauce to the pan, whisking continuously, until the entire sauce is reheated.