Sweet little orb
Oranges, with their juicy segments and tangy zest, can be savoured not only as fruit but also as chutney and pickle
Ratna Raman Delhi
It is that time of the year, when pleasure comes in small bursts of citrus energy. Sunny afternoons invite us to sit with a small basket of oranges and amicably work our way through countless sections, with or without salt. Alternatively, on a day away from the home fires, the crush of official schedules is ironed out by mobile orange vendors whose accessible fruit carts beckon invitingly with oranges that make for great afternoon revitalisers.
Yet, the recesses of our minds have been greatly overwhelmed by the seasonal mango that grows everywhere and the perennial banana, now growing in defiance of geographical markers in non-coastal, prone to extreme cold, North India. The mango and the banana demand and receive their patriotic due because they are of Indian origin.
Being less well-known and having travelled from China to North-east India, and subsequently being well-received in Europe and the Americas, the orange often loses out on its cultural capital as an old Indian inhabitant.
No, I hear the orange-lovers shriek: “We have pledged our alliance to the orange! It is a delicious, low-calorie fruit, easy to carry, not too unkind on the wallet, and available by the cartloads on the streets of New Delhi in vibrant green and glistening shades of saffron.”
Of course, they have a point and finely nuanced cultural additions such as orange jelly, jujubes, candy, colas and ices and orange cream biscuits underline the fruit’s intrinsic appeal. Wenger’s orange chocolate biscuits, the occasional orange-coffee cake, candied orange peel and orange marmalade speak of the world-wide attraction this fruit commands.
It was surely the orange that inspired the Tropicana empire to spread its beverage tentacles world-wide, juicing up competitors Real and otherwise. Terry (originally Irish chocolatiers) makes delicious chocolate in three colours, white, brown, and dark. All three colours follow the shape of the orange fruit right down to its segments. Pop one segment into your mouth and the ‘genuine orange oil’ added to this chocolate will immediately transport you to an orange chocolate heaven, from which departure can be indefinitely delayed by eating more orange-flavoured chocolate segments.
All these consolations notwithstanding, the orange still gets short shrift. The lovely dimpled exterior of the orange, from which cellulose gets its name, is used to traumatise women with wonder-bodies worldwide, creating unfair associations with the fruit. This is a trifle disappointing, especially as the hapless orange even dons our national colours in order to woo us. The outside is green or orange or both and the insides are pithy white. The orange segments, cut in circles, simulate the effect of a stylised chakra.
Meanwhile, our Prime Minister has travelled far afield to check out horticultural advances enhancing the nutritional value of the banana. While he must be commended for pursuing singlehandedly his commitment to the quality of fruit imbibed by the poor Indian, one wishes he had thought it through and recognised the significance of the orange as the average fruit consumer’s option.
Possibly, it is a good thing after all, because we eat the orange fruit to increase levels of Vitamin C and immunity, not levels of national hysteria. An old song, “Lemon Tree”, sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, among many other singers, comes to mind. The song declares that “the lemon tree is very pretty and the lemon flowers are sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat”. This song charmed hearts and minds although at that point the entire world was guzzling lemonade in great quantities.
Luckily for us in India, we have consumed all parts of the lemon from time immemorial because our grandmothers seldom listened to pop songs while pickling all manner of edible food. Much later, health experts in the West went into a tizzy of research to conclude that the entire lemon should be eaten because the peel is bursting with immunity-raising propenols. Now we are advised to juice the lemon along with its peel. To propel us into doing so, the skin of the lemon is called ‘zest’, a quality also associated with vibrant energy for living.
Having run down the lemon tree and discovering that the fruit of the orange was sweet, the songsters in the West fell silent. This was not the case in India where our grandmothers invariably made optimal use of nature’s produce. Kaffir lime leaves continue to flavour soups and rice. The leaves of the wild lemon or the citron, ground together with red chillies, salt, asafoetida and tamarind, are rolled into balls, which are eaten with rice or dosa. Each household has its own recipe for this pickled leaf called Vepalalkatti, also sold in small grocery shops in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Orange flowers are an exquisite cream in colour. The tree’s understated flowers form a light white covering on the ground and the air is redolent with a citrusy fragrance. The peel of the orange also has abundant zest. However, juicing the entire orange with its peel for drinking would prove a sorry exercise.
The orange peel is also choc-a-bloc with nutrients, oil and fibre. Candied orange is made with the peel. Orange peel, dried in the sun, is ground into powder and used as exfoliant. Orange zest makes for great cakes with cranberries and orange juice icing. In fact, a whole range of fruits, cousins of the orange and lemon, referred to as citrons, grow in different parts of India. The turange (Himachal Pradesh), the galgal (North India), the narthangai (large citron) and kadarangai (small citron) grow in abundance in South India and are pickled in their entirety. Only the seeds are discarded. The bitter-sour fruit is cut along with its rind and salted to make a popular dry pickle of great medicinal value. These are great palate cleansers, providing Vitamin C and aiding digestion, and are a popular remedy for nausea, dyspepsia and all manner of runny stomachs.
A recent trip to Dharamsala introduced me to a large citrus fruit that looks rather like the galgal, in yellow and orange shades, and grows everywhere. A friend identified it as duranj and offered fond reminiscences of sunny afternoons spent eating the fruit after separating its peel and adding jaggery, salt, coriander leaves and chilli powder to the chopped middle section, making it an all-time fresh citron salad favourite.
Orange peel can also be used, much in the way we use lemons – in their entirety, by pickling all of the rind. One reason to do this is the fact that orange peel weighs as much as the pulp and nowadays fruit vendors in New Delhi sell them by the kilo instead of by the dozen as was customary until recently. It hurts at today’s prices to purchase smaller bags of fruit, and throw away half of it because we have been conditioned to view orange peel as disposable waste. It is time to change this and use thick and thin skins of orange to make pickle
This will enable cartoonist Bill Leak to add oranges to his repertoire of sketches while explaining how climate change affects India and Indians. He can simultaneously enlighten fellow Australians and the rest of the world about India’s extensive pickle and chutney range. More significantly, orange pickles and chutney will add and extend the Indian flavour palate, advancing further the national directive to “make in India”. Farmers selling smaller non-Nagpur oranges in Kerala and those selling kinnoos in North India will no longer feel threatened by the poor market response at present. They can begin to manufacture orange chutney and pickle and put up this delicious produce for sale online.
You need the peel of three oranges, sliced in long slivers or cubed according to preference. Boil with salt, 50 gm of readymade tamarind paste (although fresh tamarind pulp extracted at home makes it more delicious and adds better colour). Add around 75 gm of jaggery, and whole cloves and cinnamon bits. Raisins, cranberries and pieces of chopped dates are optional. Add freshly crushed pepper and chilli flakes as desired. Very soon the cooked peel and other ingredients will give the appearance of a thick chutney. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container. The orange segments can be eaten while making the chutney or added to the chutney as an additional garnish before serving. Deseed in either case.
Orange Peel Pickle
Made with thinly sliced peel of oranges or kinnoos. Use an entire lemon to distribute its tartness over the peel of an entire orange. Each whole lemon must be cut into very small pieces. Put the chopped lemon fruit and orange peel into a dry glass jar. Add a teaspoon of salt for each lemon and a tablespoon of vinegar for an entire orange peel. Shake well, cover with lid and store for two days. Traditional pickle masala made at home works well when tossed over the marinating lemon and orange bits in the jar. This is usually left for another two days.
Baedekar’s and Brahmins lemon or mango pickle masala has made life much simpler for the do-it-yourself culinary types. A 100-gm masala pouch can be used to spice and flavour a kilo of salted pickle; 50 gm of this masala can be introduced into a 500-gm jar filled with chopped orange peel and lemons, untouched by hand. The pickle will be ready for consumption after another two days. For purists who need their oil, allow one teaspoon of mustard seeds to splutter in a tablespoonful of gingelly or mustard oil, and add a pinch of asafoetida. Allow to cool and pour into the pickle jar. Your bottle of glowing orange is now ready for consumption. Serve with plain or stuffed paranthas. Stir into hot or cold long-grained cooked rice and relish this all-new orange-lemon rice. Garnish with roasted peanuts and chopped coriander. Works well as an accompaniment to curd rice too.