The Case of the Bloody Orange
The wonderful thing about nature is that it reminds you that somethings are ephemeral. Unless you cross the equator and turn winter into summer in the same day (which the wife and I recently did on our trip to Patagonia… thus my long absence), nature makes you wait for things to come around again. Things like blood oranges that I just squeezed and made into the most delectable balance of sweet and tart sorbet this weekend. But before I tell you why you need to go out get yourself a bushel of bloods, I thought you should know about how I first came to know the peculiar orange.
The year was 1971. It would be years before I even became a lustful thought in my parents’ minds. Spring had just arrived and the first tulips were in bloom. Or maybe it was 1968, no 1969. Yes, February 3, 1969. The Vietnam war was raging, the Tet Offensive launched days earlier. Johnny Cash had just taken his the Folsom Prison Blues to the Folsom Prison. And my father-in-law had just received a plumb assignment oversees. He’d be heading to Amsterdam along with his new wife and two dogs. Ah Amsterdam, where they put mayo on fries and sell space cakes on every corner according to John Travolta. Oh Amsterdam, with it’s canals, windmills, tulips, bicycles, Rembrandts, and Farmer’s Markets.
But before we continue, it might be instructive to tell you a little about my in-laws. You see the wife and I met in college, and I had known her older brother. I first met the in-laws as the nice guy down the hall from their son who freeloaded along with some of the son’s friends for a parent’s weekend dinner at the nice restaurant in town. One day that morphed into the guy who’s dating their youngest daughter. And that’s when strange things started happening. They begun to forget my name. And somehow how, their smiles turned to suspicious grins. What were my intentions anyway. But I stuck around, and somewhere along the way, I proved myself worthy of having my name again… in the kitchen of all places.
You see, back when I was eating my iceberg salads (or refusing to eat them,) growing up, my wife was enjoying endive and radicchio with her butter lettuce and pear vinaigrette. After their yearlong sojourn in Amsterdam, the in-laws returned to New York where they brought their new European culinary sensibility. They ate salad after dinner and had three cheeses for dessert. They were drinking Rhones before they were commodities, having lavish dinner parties with their friends inspired by Julia Child. And just as our relationship began over fine food on that parents’ weekend dinner, it was over the gastronomy that we connected, and somehow, my name came back to them.
Flashback to 1969, or ’72, or whenever the in-laws landed in Amsterdam where the locals rode their bicycles to the market with their straw baskets to shop for the week. And so my mother-in-law made her maiden journey one Wednesday afternoon into the sprawling local farmer’s market without knowing a word of Dutch. She picked up some fennel, celery root, and italian parsley for a winter salad. And some oranges, make that a half dozen oranges. Back at home she chopped the fennel and celery root in razor thin slices, tossed it with the italian parsley, some toasted pumpkin seeds, and then came the oranges. She cut into the first orange, and the flesh was a deep crimson hue. Rotten, she thought as she tossed it in the garbage. The next orange was a ruddy red, followed by one with a ruby tint, then a wine colored tinge… she worked her way through the entire bag of oranges deciding never to go back to the little old lady who sold her rotten fruit. Of course these were ripe blood oranges, but what was a girl from New Jersey living abroad for the first time supposed to know about blood oranges.
Flashforward to one of the in-laws elaborate dinners, closer to the days when they started to re-remember my name, and I had already loosened my belt a notch from the artery busting food they’d plied the wife and I with, when the wife’s father brought out a selection of sorbets and gelatos. While we had in the past made ice cream together, he figured it was easier to make nice with the local italians around the corner who gave him the stuff that never makes it into the main freezer. And feeling that I should cut the richness of a Julia Child student’s meal, I opted for the deep red blood orange sorbet. It was the perfect refreshing blend of sweet and tart, and a crystalline red that just glowed in the dish. My palette cleansed, I was ready for some of that pistachio gelato too, since I had learned early in life, always make room for the finer things in life. Or to quote my precocious nephew, I have two stomachs: one for dinner, and one for dessert.
It’s been a torrid love affair, me and blood oranges. Maybe it’s their brilliant color. Maybe its their tangy zest. I just know I can’t get enough of them. Last winter I experimented with different fruit from different farms, turning our kitchen into a chemistry set, mixing up different concoctions. And the winner always… The Friends Ranch from Ojai. So this weekend, I picked up four pounds of bloods and turned my food processor into a juicer. Then comes the magic: you add 1/4 cup of sugar per cup of juice to the mix (made into a syrup with some reserved juice) and throw it into your ice cream maker (I subtracted a 1/4 cup of sugar this time because the juice was on the sweeter side)… Fifty minutes later, presto — the little men and women inside the ice cream machine that have been working overtime churning away for you pop out sorbetto. It was the first blood orange sorbet of the year, and I couldn’t believe I had to wait so long. So hurry to the market while the bloods are still in season and what ever you do, never, ever, waste a blood orange!