25 Feb Blood Oranges
I’m full of hope. And citrus. The grocery stores are bursting with mandarines, limes, lemons and even pomelos. These are just a few of the items that hopped in my cart as I cruised through the produce section on an Ontario-grey winter afternoon. Although uninvited, these guests are most welcomed. They mean there is warmth and sunshine somewhere in the world, and it’s bound to reach my small corner — eventually.
I’m currently in love with blood oranges. Even though I know what to expect, they still amaze me. When I first encountered them I nearly keeled over from fright. Long ago I recovered from the initial shock, but the awe remains.
I was in my early 20s and backpacking through Europe on little more than a wing, a prayer, and a Eurail pass. Having “done” Rome, I was about to take a train down to Brindisi to catch the overnight ferry to Greece. Everyone was doing it. Italy wasn’t the “it” place back then. Greece was. Yes, I was young and foolish, and as it turns out far more foolish than young.
I had bought some oranges, bread and cheese for the journey. An hour or so into the trek, I decided to eat an orange. Coming from a small town in Ontario, oranges were just that — oranges. We might get clementines at Christmas and mandarines in a tin, but otherwise it was Sunkist® navels or nothing.
I forced my thumb into the skin and leveraged my way to the pulp. I pulled back the rind expecting bright orange fruit. I was met with heart-stopping crimson. I had never heard of a blood orange, let alone seen one. I dropped the half-peeled fruit with what must have been a rather loud gasp and quite possibly an explicative. Had it gone bad? Was it full of poison? We backpackers were easy marks. People would drug our food, then steal our money, passports and shoes. It happened all the time — or so we had all been told.
The woman sitting across from me burst out laughing. “It’s a blood orange,” she said. “It’s very sweet. Taste it.” I hesitated. It looked like someone had injected the orange with… well, blood. It wasn’t the familiar, friendly pink of grapefruit. It was aggressive, menacing. She encouraged me again. “Surely you’re not afraid of a piece of fruit?”
I was. Terrified actually. But I’d be damned if I’d admit it. Pride won out. I put a piece in my mouth. It wasn’t bitter or harsh or any of the horrid things I’d imagined. I was divine. Sweet, tangy, intense. Familiar and new mingled in each bite.
Train Lady and I shared the second orange.
As a food writer, I feel I should make something with these gorgeous blood oranges. A preserve, a dessert, a salad, a refreshing drink. They won’t be in the stores for long and I should make something memorable. But memories don’t need elaborate recipes to stick. Memories just need a hook. My train ride proved that.
Today, I’m enjoying blood oranges for what they are. Fruit. Bright, jewel-toned, flavourful fruit.
Dig in your thumb. Peel back the rind. Watch the essential oils spray from the zest. Smell the air, the zest, your finger tips. Lick the ruby-toned juice from your hand as it drips. Take a bite. Feel the tiny seed pods burst between your teeth. Let the flavours wash over your tongue. Take your time as you enjoy the fleeting pleasure of a juicy, red, blood orange in the dead of the Canadian winter.
Tomorrow I will interfere with sugar and spice and heat. Today. I will let the fruit itself shine brightly like the sun that fed it.
What fruit or vegetable do you enjoy unencumbered?