I spent my early childhood years in the grey flinty midlands of England; before we came to Australia as ten pound tourists, I was lucky enough to be taken on holidays to Italy to see the sunshine for more than a few days at a time. One of my strongest memories of these holidays is the orange juice, nothing like the tangerine coloured, re-constituted anaemic cousin I was used to, this juice was blood-red, and wicked looking, with a flavour unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was of course the juice of the blood orange, aranciata rossa in the beautiful melody that makes everything sound better in Italian...
Increasingly over the past few years the flavour and colour of blood orange has become more familiar to us in Australia, in everything from mineral water to granita to salads; now we have our very own fresh supply, courtesy of RedBelly citrus in the Riverina, and for me, in country Victoria, the brilliant initiative of Farmhouse Direct.
The pigment which so startled me as a child comes from anthocyanin, which is very rare in citrus. Most commonly found in berries such as blueberries, flowering plants and red wine - anthocyanin is one of the most powerful phytochemicals in the plant world, known for their anti-oxidant, anti-aging and anti-obesity properties, and 150 times more powerful than Vitamin C alone. And it seems that certain Australian climatic conditions are extremely conducive to growing this variety, with latest research showing that our fruit has significantly higher levels of anthocyanin than their Sicilian forebears! A particular combination of freezing winter nights and hot summer days stresses the trees and forces the development of these powerful substances within the fruit.
I ordered a box of the oranges and set to work juicing, eating and making blood orange and blood lime curd (blood limes will be the subject of another post), all of which were delicious. Then, with the last of the fruit, I decided to make cordial for the first time ever - and how ridiculously easy it was! In fact, I can't really call this a recipe, more like a process, as there are only three ingredients and two steps involved. But I can assure you it's well worth trying... as for the results, use as for any other cordial with water, mineral water or soda. Or, if I can hang on to it long enough, it's going to become my summer version of scroppino, a wicked Italian concoction of granita or sorbet and vodka, topped up with sparking wine - salute e vita - health and life!
Zest the oranges with a zester or a microplane and set aside. Then squeeze the abundant juice from as many oranges as you choose - you'll be amazed at the high yield. Place into a saucepan and weigh - add an equal amount of sugar to juice, and heat gently - don't boil (if you have a thermometer 70C is about right) otherwise watch closely and remove just as the small pre-boil bubbles start to appear at the edges of the saucepan. Stir gently to ensure that all the sugar dissolves.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool, add the zest and balance the sweetness by adding citric acid or lemon juice, a little at a time so as not to upset the flavour, tasting as you go.
Bottle and store in the refrigerator, shake well before using.
If you would like to order oranges or other products, see www.redbellycitrus.com.au or follow them on Facebook or Twitter @redbelly_orange ; or search for blood oranges on Farmhouse Direct - be quick - the season ends mid-November!