December to March are very colourful months around the Costa Blanca, before the oranges in the groves are harvested and sent to market. As you walk past, you catch the scent of the rapidly ripening oranges, and if you’re like me, you’ll probably be tempted to try one, or take a couple home for freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning. And that’s okay – as long as the grove isn’t fenced off, that is. If the grove is fenced, that’s because the owner doesn’t want you to go in there making free with his oranges.
I tend to look for windfalls, which are not collected with the others but just left to rot in the ground. That way I feel I can enjoy the fruits of the groves without taking the bread out of the farmer’s mouth, as it were. The orange groves are also a good source of kindling for the fire, so an afternoon walk with Paddy can be both enjoyable and productive.
If a scrumping expedition in the groves is a bit too much for your conscience, there are so many oranges around that they are ridiculously cheap. Local markets are selling them for €2 or even less for a five kilo bag at the moment. If you’re wondering what you can do with a big net of oranges – other than juicing them or making a Buck’s Fizz – here are a couple of ideas to help you take advantage of the sweet, juicy, think-skinned oranges that are everywhere around the Costa Blanca right now.
If you think it’s a bit of a chore to chop up all that orange peel to make marmalade, you can cheat and make it in a food processor, because the skin is so thin on the oranges around here, there’s no need to separate the pith. Here’s how to do it.
Sterilise the jars before use by placing on a tray, without lids, in a low oven for 15 minutes. Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to cool before filling with marmalade.
Ingredients (For 7 – 8 jars)
• 1 kilo oranges
• 1750 mls water
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 2kg Demerara sugar
• ¼ tsp powdered ginger
• 2tbsps Licor 43 (optional)
Wash the oranges and cut into chunks, removing any pips. Place in a food processor and whizz for a few seconds. You need a pulp with small chips of peel in it, not a purée.
Place orange pulp, lemon juice, water and ginger into a large preserving pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Leave the pan uncovered and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. While this is cooking, place a saucer in the fridge to chill. You’ll see why later!
Keeping the heat on low, add the sugar and stir until it’s completely dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring the marmalade to a rolling boil for 10-15 minutes. There should be bubbles breaking over the surface all the time.
Check that the marmalade has reached a setting consistency by spooning a tiny amount onto the chilled saucer and returning it to the fridge for about 3 minutes. The marmalade should wrinkle when pushed with a finger. Boil the marmalade for a little longer if necessary.
Allow the mixture to cool a little to ensure peel is evenly dispersed. If there is any scum on the top, skim off the worst, then stir in a knob of butter. Add Licor 43, stir and ladle into sterilised jars. You can eat your marmalade as soon as it sets, but if you can be patient for a week or two, the flavours will be better blended.
Here’s a recipe for preserving oranges in syrup. These can be used in savoury or dessert recipes, or simply serve them up with ice cream. Try them with pancakes and yogurt for breakfast with a difference. They also make a lovely food gift.
The ingredients listed below should give you 2 large jars of oranges, but it’s simple to adjust the quantities up or down, according to your needs. I prefer to use brown sugar, as it gives a better flavour and colour. You can adjust the quantity of sugar if you wish, but make sure you reduce or increase the water in proportion to the sugar.
• 4 large oranges
• ½ cup of lemon juice
• 2 cups brown or white sugar
• 4 cups water
• Cinnamon stick and a few cloves (optional)
• 1 tablespoon Licor 43 for each jar (optional)
Rinse the oranges to remove any dust or sand from the skins, then slice into ½ rounds. If you’re using thin skinned oranges, there’s no need to peel them beforehand.
Place the oranges in a large glass or plastic bowl, then cover with 1 cup of water for each orange and allow to stand for 24 hours to soften the skins.
Place the oranges and water in a large pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender.
Add sugar, lemon juice and spices, if using. Simmer until oranges become transparent.
Pack fruit, syrup and Licor 43, if using, into sterilised, wide-necked jars. Seal with tight-fitting lids.
Your oranges will be ready to use immediately, but should keep for quite a while. Once jar is open, store in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.
Make the most of the Costa Blanca oranges while they are so plentiful and flavourful. Oranges are so versatile, and so good for you!