ORANGES IN JANUARY
A recent grocery run for citrus reminded me how much I love January fruit, but how much I loathe packaging. Selecting a mesh bag of Cara Cara oranges with a hole on the bottom was a surprise, but not a deterrent. Sheepishly attempting to catch the bouncing oranges in my outstretched arms, citrus circled my sneakers, highlighting the fact for every shopper within six feet. Selecting a bag of oranges tightly secured in plastic, and a three pound clamshell of Stem & Leaf Mandarins, was in my opinion, a positively Olympic maneuver. Or it would have been, had I not sideswiped a neighboring clamshell, watching in horror as six pounds of stems, leaves, and mandarins plummeted into my shopping cart. Choosing the “I like my fruit that way” high road, I made a beeline for the socially distant check out. Awash in citrus, waiting patiently on a small yellow circle, the cashier beckoned but not without a look that said, “Oh, so that was you in produce…”
Particularly in January, when citrus is plentiful, peeling an orange unleashes more than fragrance; it invites nostalgia. Oranges conjure the jarring wake-up call of a Sunbeam juicer on a sleepy morning. The tartness of Pixy-stix wrapped in orange and white striped paper straws. A bottle of Fanta or Nehi soda, with its cavity-inducing effervescence and its indelible orange tint. The sweetness of orange from a stick of Fruit Stripe gum, or the burst of sugared ascorbic acid meeting cold water, morphing into something called Tang. Enjoying a Creamsicle on a blistering summer afternoon. Perhaps the most memorable but least palatable orange memory from my youth was something called Aspergum, a medicinal Chiclet, orange-flavored chewable aspirin, administered by my mother for that January sore throat. A different kind of medicinal orange, a thimbleful of Cointreau or Grand Marnier, reminds me of a piece of furniture; my father’s mahogany bar. An imposing piece with a weighty mirror on top and a double doored cabinet below, when opened, revealed a complex fragrance of sweet and smoky spirits.
Oranges, unlike lemons, don’t often make their way into pie shells. Freshly squeezed orange juice, while bright and sweet by the glassful, often yields a lackluster pie filling. One thing to consider is squeezing more orange juice than the recipe calls for and reducing it down to the proper amount, concentrating the flavor. Another trick is to add a splash of fresh lemon juice to the orange juice, which adds a hit of brightness.
On this cold January day, with a handful of empty tart shells cooling their heels in the freezer, I opted to fill them with orange chiffon. The orange flavor is heightened with the addition of reduced orange juice, Cointreau, and plenty of orange zest. Yes, there’s gelatin involved, but just enough to hold the filling together. And for some of us, adding gelatin to a pie filling is far less dramatic than a trip to the market for citrus.
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