The smell of oranges (in all its guises) is guaranteed to awaken a swirling mass of memories within me….. which is ironic because my feelings towards actually eating them are decidedly ambivalent. But I love the smell. And their zest. And orange blossom. And of course, their colour. Eating segments of orange liberally sprinkled with salt reminds me of long, hot summers in Bahrain. Oranges are in season and we used to buy them from the box load in the market. At home they would be used to top up the ever-present jug of orange juice, its sides beaded with condensation due to the gently clinking ice cubes.
My father used to come home for lunch every day. This was easy because his work was only a two minute drive away. He would enter the patio door five days a week at exactly 12pm where his lunch would be waiting for him on the dinner table. Always soup or a sandwich lovingly made by my mother. And to follow during those sticky summer days, a plate full of cold orange segments dusted with salt. And he always left one for me, knowing I was peeping at him from the back of the door, just waiting for him to get up from the table so I could hoover up his leftovers.
I never remembered thinking that eating salted oranges was unusual until we were served orange segments for dessert at boarding school. To the horrors of the other girls at my table I calmly let fly with the salt cellar until even the housemistress asked what on earth I was doing. I then took great pleasure in the looks of consternation that arose every time we had oranges for pudding. When we moved to Mexico a colleague handed me a slice of orange covered in salt and chilli flakes. No wonder I loved Mexico – these guys knew how to eat an orange.
My adventures in orange continued into my first year of university. The tales I could weave of those years require multiple blog posts but lets just say I was lucky enough to have my student flat situated next to two incredible people, one of whom is now considered family. As our days mostly consisted of smoking cheap cigarettes, drinking tea and watching Ready Steady Cook (lovingly abbreivated to RSC), we decided one day to emulate the frenetic creativity of Ainsley Herriot. Or rather, KK (my sister from another mister) decided that it was time to elevate our usual dinner of crisps and takeaway pakoras to a proper home cooked meal.
“What’s that smell KK?”
“What? Sounds rank.”
“It can’t be – it was on RSC. Red Tomatoes made it. They won.”
“How do you make it?”
“Pour rice in a baking dish and cover it in orange juice. Then oven it”.
“It’s raw. And tastes of orange squash. You made orange squash rice. Is it supposed to be a pudding?”
“No. It’s supposed to be eaten with curry. It’s Indian apparently.”
Imagine burnt, raw rice soaked in Tesco Value orange juice and a chicken stock cube. If this dish won then Green Peppers were robbed. Also, it was about as Indian as this.
“KK. The only way this is going to be happen is if we get drunk.”
“I’ll go get the cider.”
Orange blossom is equally nostalgic for me. Before YM and I decided to move to Mexico together we decided (showing unusual foresight for us) that it would be smart to see if we could spend more than a weekend in each other’s company. A cheap holiday to the south of Portugal was booked for the Easter holiday. We would stay in an apartment in Albufeira and rent a motorcycle to explore the countryside. Luckily, the holiday turned out to be a success. It was my first time on the back of a motorbike (and not being in charge!). The feeling of freedom was amplified by constantly teetering on the edge of what seemed like certain death as we wound up mountains and down to sun-baked beaches. The countryside was adrift in white orange blossom and the scent pervaded every inch of our senses.
It was a wonderful holiday. Especially when we we stopped for coffee in a tiny mountain village one particularly glorious day. Treating ourselves to espressos and a custard tart in the pretty little cobbled square, we lazily people-watched as the sun warmed our faces. I then noticed a small white marquee set up in the corner. After paying for our coffees we decided to wander over and poke our noses in. To our amazement the marquee was refrigerated and contained what must have surely been the most impressive Passion of the Christ scene carved entirely from butter! Butter Mary! Butter Jesus! Buttering hell – we’d never seen such an array of biblical figures, almost life size, their anguish portrayed through the medium of dairy. Fantastic.
So to celebrate all things orange I decided to amp up Nigella’s clementine cake with my own little twist…
You will need:
- approx. 375 grams clementines (I don’t really know the difference between all these small sweet, peelable oranges. I don’t know if I used a mandarin, a satsuma or a clementine. It tasted fine so I guess – go with whatever you have lying around!)
- 6 large eggs
- 225 grams white sugar
- 250 grams ground almonds
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 75g dark chocolate chips
Put the clementines in a pan and cover with some cold water. Bring them to the boil and then cook until they are really soft and look like they have collapsed (about an hour and a half for me). Do keep checking on them as you will have to keep topping up the water.
While this is happening, blitz your almonds to form a fine meal. Try not to blow up food processor. Preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190ºC/375ºF. Butter and line a 21cm / 8 inch Springform tin.
Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half and remove the pips. Dump the clementines – skins, pith, fruit and all – and give a quick blitz in a food processor (or by hand, of course). Try not to blow up food processor again (harder then it sounds).
Beat the eggs by hand in a separate bowl
Gently beat in the sugar.
Fold in the almonds and baking powder, mixing well.
Stir in the pulped little oranges
Finally, throw in your chocolate chips.Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for an hour, when a skewer will come out clean; you’ll probably have to cover with foil or greaseproof after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool, on a rack, but in the tin. When the cake’s cold, you can take it out of the tin. This cake definitely needs maturing so control yourself until the next day. Trust me. The dense, moist texture is beautifully complemented by the rich chocolate and bitter orange. But only if you wait…