It is a birthright of all who have had the pleasure of growing up knowing their grandmother that when go to her house, you get to eat a bunch of stuff you are not allowed to eat at home. My own grandmother’s house was no exception. Oh, she would pretend to oblige my mother’s wishes regarding our nutrition but we all knew that anything goes once we were left by ourselves. “Ice cream just has milk and eggs in it. You’re allowed to eat those, aren't you?” Not everything in Grandmother’s kitchen was wondrous so you had to be careful as some new things weren’t so pleasant. Grandma’s particular brand of ketchup bore no resemblance to the one we used to at home and the gelatin in her pantry was marked ‘plain’. WTF? And I still don't know why her scrambled eggs were so awful. How do you mess up scrambled eggs?
But then there were the other items we didn't get at home that really rang my bell. LIke Wonderbread. Do I have to say more?
Upon my arrival I would take an immediate inventory of the butter cookies she kept in the freezer (because I liked them that way) and the See’s chocolates she kept in her living room cabinet. She preferred the dark chocolates but my young taste buds preferred the milk chocolate kind so she usually bought the boxes of mixed to oblige us both.
One particular visit when there were no milk chocolates, my 9 year old self had to settle for one of the dark chocolates. You know what? I liked it better! Who knew?
It was an early lesson for me to try new things and challenge assumptions of what I liked and what I didn't like. Tastes really do change as you get older. Yeah, I know. Pushing yourself to take the leap out of your comfort zone from milk chocolate to dark chocolate isn’t all that astounding and doesn’t take much courage when I look back on it now but I was 9 years old! What do you want? Sashimi? I also managed to enjoy grandmother's favorite coffee ice cream after I polished off my preferred chocolate chip. That said, not all of my grandmother’s attempts to grow my palette were met with as little resistance as I offered Mary See.
One summer day my friend Mark and I came in from playing outside and we asked her if we could have a piece of candy. I suppose I wanted to show off to Mark the sweet life I was enjoying at Grandma’s. Chocolate just for the asking! Much to our disappointment she was all out of chocolates but offered us a piece of “candy” instead. She held out one of her home made candied grapefruit peels. I had never touched the stuff before but I had seen her make it from time time to time.
I had seen her make it in her kitchen from heaps of used grapefruit peels and it disgusted me. She would then pack it up into tins and jars and give to her lady friends after keeping a jar for herself. My grandma cooks her garbage to make stuff that little old ladies like to eat. It was weird but I could forgive her because she also kept frozen thin mints in her freezer, because I liked them that way. But that day she was offering it as a poor substitute for real candy. Blech. Of course I tasted a piece so as not to be rude. It was sweet and bitter at the same time and unmistakably citrus. But it was peel! Nope. I was determined that I didn't like it. "Its not candy, its garbage", I thought.
Tastes change and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. These were made with the leftover peels from some blood oranges I had juiced for a sorbet back during citrus-a-paloza. The peels sitting there on my counter reminded me of my grandmother and that stack of grapefruit rinds she couldn’t bring herself to throw. The more you repeatedly blanch the peels the less bitter they become. I did the full three rounds and they came out smooth and orangy...a much better version of those jelly candies. Grandma probably preferred hers with only one or two blanches.
So decided to give this recipe a try and see my tastes changed. She was right about coffee ice cream after all. And you know what? I did.
Candied Blood Orange Peel
- 8 Morro Oranges or 6 Valencia or navel oranges
- 4 1/2 cups sugar plus extra for rolling
- 1 1/2 cups water
Cut tops and bottoms off of the orange and score the orange into quarters, cutting down only into the peel and not into the fruit. Peel the skin and pith of the orange in large pieces, use the orange for another recipe. My juicer juices quite close to the peel but I still needed to take out the membrane by scraping with a spoon. Cut the peel into strips about 1/4-inch wide. Put the orange peel in a large saucepan with cold water to cover, bring to a boil over high heat. Then pour off the water. Repeat 2 more times. Remove the orange peels from the pan.
Whisk the sugar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8 to 9 minutes (If you took the sugar's temperature with a candy thermometer it would be at the soft thread stage, 230 to 234 degrees F.) Add the peels and simmer gently, reducing heat to retain a simmer. Cook until the peels get translucent, about 45 minutes. Resist the urge to stir the peels or you may introduce sugar crystals into the syrup. If necessary, swirl the pan to move the peels around. Drain the peels, (save the syrup for ice tea?) Roll the peels in sugar and dry on a rack, for 4 to 5 hours. Store in airtight canning jars or Tupperware with extra sugar in the jar.
They are a natural dipped in chocolate or use them by stuffing a dried date with a piece of orange peel and almond, then dip the entire thing into dark chocolate.