Oranges (Πορτοκάλια)

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Oranges hold a special place in our hearts.  It’s true!  They may be just another citrus fruit to many, but to us they are representative of warm and sweet moments from our childhoods.  A winter fruit in Greece, and quite popular in the Peloponnese,  where our parents are from, our mother and father learned the value of a good orange at a young age.  They had orange trees near their homes which were brimming with delicious and nutritious fruit, particularly special when there was little other fresh produce available to them.

Unlike our parents, we grew up in Canada.  Here the climate is wonderful for producing maple syrup and hockey players, but not oranges; in Canada, oranges are picked at the grocery store.   Still, regardless of where you get them, oranges are packed with vitamin C, soluble fibre, potassium and other good stuff; powerhouses of scurvy-preventing goodness.  And they are orange, which is the favourite colour of one Mia Kouppa daughter. Bonus.

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Winter in Canada is beautiful, and cold. One of our fondest childhood memories is coming home after spending hours outdoors tobogganing or building snowmen and snow forts with our neighbourhood friends.  We would climb the steps to our apartment, frost clinging to our lashes, and our mother would help us climb out of our snowy winter gear.  After piling everything into the bathtub so that it could dry, we would sit on the floor in our narrow hallway, in front of the old electric heater which was meant to warm the entire house. The heater was as tall as a door, and about as wide, with a grate in front of it which would release the heat.  We would often squeeze the ends of our mittens into the grate so that they could dry quicker, in case we wanted to go out again later.  On the carpeted floor, in front of the heater, our mom would sit with us.  Sometimes she would offer us warm milk, but usually she would offer us oranges.  She would peel the orange herself as we regained the feeling in our cold fingers.  She would remove all of the pesky membrane that we hated, and she would offer us the orange, segment by segment. The littlest orange segments she would call babies, and those always seemed to be the sweetest pieces.  It would take a long time to eat one orange. Between bites, we would talk about our day; who had built the biggest snowman, who had been hit with the  most snowballs.  It was all very unhurried.  We can appreciate now, being mothers ourselves, that our mother most likely had a million things on her mind, but in those moments, it truly seemed that the world had been reduced to those few carpeted square feet in front of the heater.

In most parts of Canada, it’s Family Day today.  We have loved preparing this post as it has given us the opportunity to share, and reflect upon, this simple family memory which is still so vivid.  We are also blessed that Mia Kouppa has given us an opportunity to spend more time together, as sisters, with our parents, while making new memories.  We hope that you all have fond memories to reflect upon too, and that you are creating new and beautiful ones as well.

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Ways that our parents use oranges:

Freshly squeezed orange juice

When we were young, freshly squeezed orange juice was not as readily available in the grocery stores as it is today.  Or, maybe it was, but our parents never bought it.  Instead, they would buy oranges, roll them on the counter to soften them up a bit, and they would juice them manually in order to offer us fresh juice.  They even had a very fine sieve that they would pour the juice through in order to remove the pulp which we found disagreeable.  We never got more than about a half cup at a time (there were three of us after all) but it was the sweetest thing we could imagine.  It was only in preparing this post that we realized we ourselves have never juiced oranges for our children.  We’re going to change that!

Dried orange peels

Our parents use a sharp pairing knife to carefully, and in one piece, remove the peel of an orange which has been thoroughly washed.  They then hang these orange peel strips in cool, dry places for several days.  Once thoroughly dried they will keep for a very long time.  These orange peels are used in several recipes which we will be sharing in the future, such as their homemade sausage and certain koulourakia (cookies).  Alternatively these dried orange peels can be used in tea, like chamomile and Greek mountain tea.  Small pieces can simply be added to the boiling water used to prepare the tea.

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Candied orange peel

To make candied orange peel, cut slivers or pieces of peel, trying to avoid any (or most) of the white part. Boil the orange peel in a small pot of water.  Drain.  Repeat this process with a fresh pot of water, and then drain again.  Finally,  in a small saucepan combine 1/2 cup fresh water and 1 cup white granulated sugar.  Bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves and then add the orange peel.  Allow to gently simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the orange peels from the syrup and store in a jar, which can be kept in the refrigerator.  These candied orange peels are delicious on top of some Greek yogurt and can even be included in many of your favourite cakes, to change things up a bit.

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