Dear Readers. there is something almost shocking about cutting into an orange and discovering flesh the colour of liver rather than the expected citrus hue. In fact, the marketing of the fruit has included changing the name to ‘Sicilian red orange’ and ‘ruby orange’, among other synonyms. It’s interesting that some websites refer to the orange having a ‘raspberry flavour’ – I wonder how much this is the influence of the colour, rather than the taste itself? I realise now that I should have done a blindfold taste test to see if there was actually any difference.
Blood oranges are red because they contain anthocyanins, the same pigments that we see in blueberries and black rice. They are protective against low temperatures, and blood oranges tend to be grown in areas where it’s cold at night. The flesh of blood oranges actually gets redder as the pigments accumulate during cold storage.
Blood oranges are thought to be the result of a natural mutation, and there are three main varieties. The Sicilian ‘Moro’ variety is thought to have originated originated in Syracuse at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and is said to be the reddest of all the red oranges, with flesh that is nearly black and pink rind. The variety has been given Protected Geographical Status, which means if you’re calling an orange a Sicilian Red Orange it had better come from Sicily or else. My oranges are the Sicilian variety, and very nice they were too, though my delight in them was tainted by the realisation that most Sicilian Red Oranges are harvested largely by immigrants from West Africa, who live in tin shacks on low wages and who are subject to constant harassment and ill treatment by their bosses and the local population. I shall be writing to the people who provide my fruit and vegetable box to ask about the provenance of the fruit.
Then there’s the Tarocco, also Italian but without such deep red flesh. The name is said to have come from an exclamation of wonder by the farmer who first discovered it. It’s said to the sweetest of the varieties, but I rather like the hint of sourness in the flesh of citrus. There is evidence that most fruit and vegetables have been bred to be sweeter during the past thirty years – who can remember the mouth-puckering sourness of old-school grapefruit? These days we barely need the brown sugar.
But I digress, as usual.
And finally we have the Spanish Sanguinello, which has flesh which is orange with red streaks. It can be harvested from February, but can stay on the tree right through to May.
As you might expect, you can use blood oranges for all the things that you’d use a normal orange for, with the added bonus of that pretty pink tinge. You can make marmalade with them, although if you’re like me, you’ll add some Seville oranges to big-up the orange flavour. You can make orange and almond cake with them, or pop them into a salad. You can do what I just did and whoosh them up in a smoothie. I think they’re good with oily fish such as mackerel, although again they can tend a bit too much to sweetness. And I once had a blood orange icecream in Venice that was possibly in the top ten most delicious things I’d ever eaten. This website has some fabulous recipes if you find yourself juggling with some blood oranges in a hesitant way. I love the way that the author has added a lemon to the ice cream recipe to add sourness.
And finally, a poem. This is only tangential to a blood orange, though one is mentioned. It’s one of those poems that has an obligatory moment of silence at the end. See what you think.
He opens his eyes to a hard frost,
the morning’s soft amnesia of snow.
The thorned stems of gorse
are starred crystal; each bud
like a candied fruit, its yellow
picked out and lit
by the low pulse
riding in the eastern trees.
What the snow has furred
to silence, uniformity,
frost amplifies, makes singular:
giving every form a sound,
an edge, as if
frost wants to know what
snow tries to forget.
And so he drinks for winter,
for the coming year,
to open all the beautiful tiny doors
in their craquelure of frost;
and he drinks
like the snow falling, trying
to close the biggest door of all.
Photo One from https://theviewfromgreatisland.com/blood-orange-ice-cream/