THE GREEK CONNECTION – MEANDER ORNAMENTS, WORRY BEADS AND ORANGE PEEL SPIRALS or THE PORTOKALI THEORY
I can’t tell you why I always think of Greece and my family in Edessa every time I have an orange in my hands. It must be the feel of sun and mesmerising aroma of scraped zest of orange skin… Or just the irresistible feeling that I have in my shopping bag a kilo or two of fragrant suns. Yes, the coupling of oranges with sun and Greece in summer is somehow an oxymoron on its own as this is a winter fruit. But I am happy to remember my visits at my Aunty Elpida in Greece at any season!
There is something else that inevitably takes me through the maze of overtones about oranges and Greece. My family has been passing down a wonderful recipe from my grandmother Sophia of an orange peel spoon sweet and every year when the nice Cara Cara oranges are in season, we make again another batch of this delightful preserve.
Ok, let’s get my thread and needle and get ready for the ritual of orange peels threading. Here comes the story as long as Ariadne’s Thread that helped her and Theseus get through the labyrinth and I’ll tell it from needle to the end of the thread.
You wonder what exactly is the Greek Connection. Bear with me, I’ll tell you. Besides the few metaphors I threw above, this beautiful preserve is made of rolled orange peels in spirals. Just like the beautiful spirals on the ancient Greek frescoes, or just like an ornamental meander symbolizing the sea waves or the circle of life on a fringe of a classic Hellenistic marble bas-relief.
And there is one more thing that I can’t stop smirking about when I roll up the orange peels and thread them into a necklace. Their beautifully shaped orange beads are just like the ambers of the worry beads that old Greek men toss between their fingers on a late afternoon stop at the café shop while having a game or two of backgammon.
I call this chain of visual associations The Portokali Theory. In Bulgarian and in Greek “portokali” means oranges.
Again, my family recipes are not top secret and trademark. However, every step in them has a big reason to follow and that’s why I don’t spread my wings to experiment. I take my time to respect and obey this recipe as Mamma and her sister Aunty Olga explained every little detail to me and I know that they have tested it already.
I hope you give it a try and if you stay strict with the instructions, you will enjoy some wonderful fragrant sweetness and delight of orange peels.
Grandma Sophia's Sweet Spoon of Orange Peels:
Orange peels from 4 large or 6 medium oranges with thick skin that peels easily. Make sure you use the thick skinned easy to peel oranges like the variety Cara Cara.
1 kilo of sugar
1 litre water
Juice from half a lemon
Wash and gently grate the zest from the orange skin. Collect the zest in a clean jar and cover with a spoonful of sugar. It will last in the fridge for about 3 months and you can enjoy a wonderful fresh essence for you baking and sweets. Zesting is important part of the preparation as it helps the peels to be more flexible when rolling them and they will not break. This also helps remove the bitter part of the orange peel.
Divide and peel the orange in 4 main peels. Gently peel and then half them. You should have about 8 ribbons of peels. Starting from the thicker part of the peel, roll them in a shape of snail and thread them as a necklace on a cotton thread. This is important to give the peels the shape and to get them set in spirals. If needed, roll the thread around each bead to keep them snug.
Hang the necklaces to hang and dry overnight. The drying makes the peels set in good and firm shape.
The next day get your jars clean and sterilized ready for the preserve.
Remove the threads from the orange peels and place them in big pot. Cover with water and bring to boil; discard and drain the water. Repeat 3 more times. After the fourth time set the peels aside and start preparing the syrup.
In a big deep pot prepare the syrup with a litre of water and 1 kilo of sugar. Boil gently and occasionally check for the right thickness – a drop of syrup should hold as a pearl and will not spiel runny.
When the syrup drop holds in a firm pearl-shaped drop, pour in it carefully the orange peels and continue boiling for another 15 minutes. Again do the checking of the syrup thickness.
Few minutes before you from the stove, add juice from half a lemon. Remove from heat, skim the froth and let it cool down. When completely cool, spoon it carefully in the sterilised jars and store them in cool and dry place till the time you have a reason to spoil yourself with sunny bite of orange peels.
Till our next get-together,
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