Andalucían oranges. Seeing those golden orbs of sunshine that casually hang from the tree-lined streets like heavy jewelery is the signal that I have begun my holiday. It’s a physical release. The weight drops to the earth and waits for me at the airport to pick back up again for the journey home. But during the few December weeks I spend in Andalucía, to get away from the consumer driven, alcohol fuelled Christmas overindulgence, I can bathe in their golden orange glow. The pace of my life can slow down.
They look beautiful but they are bitter. You should beware of eating them. Exotic. Decadent. But bitter. The Moors who occupied Spain from around 700AD, introduced them to provide shade from the heat of the southern Spanish summer sun and to bring beauty to the urban scape. Why aren’t urban planners as considerate these days?
Facts and figures. In Seville, 14,000 orange trees decorate the streets. It is reported that those bitter oranges hang happily until they are harvested and sent to England to make marmalade. High in pectin, they are perfect for marmalade. In past times, springtime was when orange blossoms were turned into perfume. In between times, they provide shade and beauty. Living, breathing street furniture.
Marmalade is my ultimate spread. It is the only suitable sweet thing to smear on toast. The bread has to be sourdough. It has to be toasted to just past the point where the bread turns a golden caramel colour. It has to be slathered in butter. Good, creamy butter. Then, a light slick of orangey translucent marmalade. I pick out the pieces of orange. I don’t have anything against lumps; I never buy shredless marmalade, but I always have to remove the bits. Two pieces of toast made in this way and eaten with an oversized mug of Earl Grey tea is the perfect start to a day. If the day starts like this, it usually gets better as it goes on.
The streets of the pueblo blanco I return to every year are lined with both orange and lemon trees. The village nestles in the foothills of the Sierra de Lijar. It dates from Arabic times. Paragliders and Griffon Vultures circle the ridges, silhouetted against the aqua blue of the sky and the cafes in the plaza bustle with old men and paragliders from all corners of Europe.
Orange varieties. Navalina and salustiana grow around the house that I stay in. Out front, there is a mix of both varieties. Salustiana are less bright, but better for juice. There are also a couple of mandarin trees. They’ve been planted in rows. There has been some consideration of landscaping. The ground around the base is weeded, making sure that the trees get the maximum nutrients from the soil.
At the back of the house. The trees are planted in a more haphazard manner. They grow in the shade of the house. Maybe it’s the same logic that applies to the bush planting method for grape vines, allowing the roots to burrow deep into the soil to find water in during hot, arid summers. Here there are lemon, orange and grapefruit trees.
My morning ritual. Once the sun is up, at about 8.30am, I head straight to the terrace at the back of the house and stand soaking in its rays and whatever heat they provide. It varies. Some mornings the sun is generous, the rays warm, some mornings it hides behind a cloud for a long time. Then I wander between the trees, picking a few lemons, more oranges and always one grapefruit. I always forget to bring a bag and pile up the citrus in the fold of my t-shirt.
Back in the kitchen, I slice each fruit in half and then begin the process of juicing them on the plastic lemon squeeze. I slowly press each half over the ridged dome and watch the juice and pulp flow down the grooves, the pulp collecting in the tray as the juice escapes through the gaps. I feel the flesh give way beneath the pressure of my fingers and over the course of ten minutes or so, a pile of perfectly shaped half shells, orange on the outside, white on the inside with little flecks of pulp and pith appears. It is satisfying to empty the bowl of the juicer into the jug and watch the deep orange pulp flecked juice slowly fill the jug. The process continues with the lemons and the pink grapefruit. A little stir and the morning cocktail is ready.
Moscatel Naranja. I bought a bottle of this in a shop airport on the way home because I couldn’t find it in any of the grocery shops in Malaga. It is a sweet, dessert wine, made from the Muscat of Alexandria grape variety. The dried, bitter peel of cachorreñas oranges is macerated and distilled in alcohol for 60 days and then added to produce Moscatel Naranja. It has the traditional jasmine, orange blossom and honeysuckle floral notes of Moscatel, combined with a citrusy hit of orange.
Until last year, I had an aversion to dessert wines. Much too sweet. Then I went to Rome and visited a winery in Frascati where I tasted a smooth, honeyed dessert wine that had a very dry finish and decided that dessert wines were worth spending more time with.
Moscatel Naranja is from a hundred-year-old winery located in Malaga province. It is smooth, holds back on the sweet and has a slightly bitter after hit.
A recipe. One summer I visited Gerona, in Catalonia. I had spent the day wandering the streets and sat down in a café on the edge of town to have a drink before heading back to my Airbnb. I don’t normally drink coffee at the end of the day, but being on holiday, all the normal rules go out the window. On the menu was an orange cinnamon latte. The flavour of orange was sweet and heady with just a background note of cinnamon.
When I got back home, I tried to recreate it. I would add drops of orange flavouring to the water in my little moka pot and sprinkle some ground cinnamon in amongst the coffee. And the way it always is, when you try to recreate a food experience from a holiday, it never matches up. The experience is always coloured by the environment, the weather, the time of day, the people you were with and the view you were looking at. So this is the experience that inspired this recipe. An attempt to re-experience the Andalucían winter sun on a cold January evening in Liverpool.
100g chocolate (of your choice, a nice 70% works well)
2 cups milk (of your choice)
4 tbsp Moscatel Naranja (or another orange liqueur)
Whipping cream to top and some shavings of chocolate
Keep a couple of squares of chocolate for the shavings. Take the rest and melt in a bain marie. Once the chocolate has melted, add the milk and heat through. Add the Moscatel Naranja and stir through before filling two mugs and topping with a dollop of whipped cream and chocolate shavings.