One thing that will never become ordinary to me about living in California is the abundance of fruit trees growing everywhere. Most everyone I know has some sort of fruit growing in their yard and just this weekend as we were strolling through the neighborhood, we saw figs, persimmons and bananas all during the same walk. We have a mandarin tree in our backyard and an orange tree in the front. I knew it was going to be a bumper crop this year when the tree in back was heavy with green fruit in November. I have watched the dimpled, thick-skinned orbs slowly turn from green to orange and beg to be picked for a few months now. We were throwing around the idea of picking all of the fruit a few weeks ago and then there were the bees, and we didn't want to engross ourselves in a big project like that while there was a whole lotta swarmin' going on a few paces over.
The fruit itself is a bit too sour to eat straight but I had big plans to juice them and add a little something to sweeten it up. On Saturday, after lunch, we pulled into the driveway and rather spontaneously rolled up our sleeves and dug in. We certainly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, as we ended up with about 50 pounds (or more) of fruit. The tree was prickly too, leaving lots of scratches and dirt all up and down my arms, many times, I had the thought of getting my gloves, but I just kept motoring through. On by one, we picked each little juicy orange. I hadn't anticipated how oddly satisfying it would be to clear the tree of all of its fruit.
As you can imagine Rylie thought it quite fun, this little exercise of removing all of the apples from the tree. She prefers to call oranges apples. We've mentioned that they are actually called oranges many times, but she dances to the beat of her own drum, ya know?
Once we decided that we had harvested all of the fruit that we could possibly get from the trees, and it was about 2 hours after we started, I gathered up a big basket of oranges and went inside to get to juicing - by hand.
After several hours, and not making the slightest dent in our supply, I had filled a 4 quart pitcher. The juice is certainly bitter but we experimented with different sweetners and we added a bit of sparkling water and made a pretty refreshing drink reminiscent of Orangina. We picked up some basil yesterday and we have yet to experiment with a basil orange ade. The rest of the juice I packaged up for friends and neighbors.
After that I looked in this book for more ideas to use up all of this citrus that we now had on hand. I had brought some lemons home from Mandy's tree on Friday, so I decided to make an orange and lemon marmalade.
Somewhere around the third orange, I realized that marmalade is a pretty labor intensive venture. Once you julienne all of the zest, you then have to segment each orange away from its membrane. I plodded through, it was late, and I was to the last bit which is boiling the marmalade to get it up to 220 degrees and then Rylie woke up. I went in to lay with her for a while, thinking my marmalade would be ok to just boil away on the stove unattended (??) When I returned, the marmalade had scorched and made a giant mess out of my favorite enamled pan. It was all I could do to scoop the quickly hardening black goo into the garbage and leave the pan to soak overnight. The memory of the marmalade debacle followed me around like a black cloud all day Sunday. After a long and arduous struggle between a sponge and my blackened pan, I tried again today and this time I got through to the end.
I'm not sure how many more batches of this I have in me, like I said, it is quite laborious. After the juice and the marmalade, I have about 40 pounds of bitter oranges and mandarins left without any real plans. Any ideas about what I should do with them?