By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
The holidays are here and nature’s nod to this season of appreciation and celebration is the Citrus Queen herself-- the majestic orange. Its lifeline and legacy are as long as it is delicious. Cultivated as far back as 2500 BC, this juicy eatable ball with hearty bright skin originally hails from China and India where it was initially regarded as a sour delicacy. Visiting Romans in the 1st-century AD, were enticed by its exotic taste and brought orange trees from India to Europe to grow. Those disappeared, however, along with the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire.
Centuries later the North Africans introduced oranges and tangerines (from Tangiers, hence the name) to Spain. In 1493, aware that sunshine was an important component to its sweet tasting growth, Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus sailed with seedlings across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to Haiti to plant orange groves. Countries with parallel weather patterns like Panama, Mexico and Brazil soon followed and an orange medley industry was born. Californian William Wolfskill was the first American to harvest the fruit in 1841 where they became scrumptious snacks for miners of California’s gold rush. When the trans-continental railroad began in 1877, Wolfskill’s business acumen kicked into gear and he arranged transportation of oranges to St Louis. The crop also thrived in Florida where it went on to become and still remains the state’s primary commodity.
Considered the largest and most popular in the citrus family, this happy go lucky fruit has extended seeds of orange-type citrus cousins that vary in size and sweetness. These include the navel, valencia, tangerine, mandarin, clementine, blood orange and pixie. The fruit and color share the same name for very good reasons. Folklore attributes its successful growth to the yellow sun combined with the earth’s red soil and behold when those two colors are mixed, orange appears. In many cultures, whether fruit or hue, both symbolize joy, happiness, endurance, wealth and prosperity. Bursting with flavor, they are delectable on their own, as a juice, a sauce or a recipe ingredient, zest and peel included! They are also loaded with Vitamins C and B6, rich in fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Oranges are harvested in winter and this is how their tie to the yuletide began. With December being the time for giving, oranges became a desired edible gift and their segmented slices still represent the ability to share with others. The ancient European legend of St Nicholas who became St. Nick or Santa Claus claims that the former bishop threw gold coins down the chimney of a poor father’s home where his daughters’ stockings were drying on the hearth. Miraculously, the coins landed in each toe. Those coins secured their dowries to marry and from then on “stockings” or socks by the fire filled with gifts-including a citrus jewel-from Santa became a celebrated tradition. Throughout 19th-century Europe, the mandarin, clementine, tangerine or orange were treasured treats at banquets. England’s Queen Victoria, a lover of clementine’s, believed cheery citrus at Christmas encouraged joy and prosperity. And during America’s 1930’s Depression, these golden delicacies were a welcome Christmas surprise.
The most unique and colorful member of this sun-kissed lineage is the blood orange that originated in Sicily and is a profound component in Italian holiday dishes and festivities. Its orange peel exterior is a brilliant contrast to its bright “bloody red interior” that is a result of the natural anthocyanin pigment. Pierino Jermonti, this month’s Master Pastry Chef Spotlight, was born in the Italian city of Calabria and has many fond tasty memories of blood oranges. He says, “When I think of Christmas, I think of the blood oranges of my childhood. To me, they are the quintessential element for the season and perfect on their own or in a dessert! And I’m thrilled that I can now also find them in California and offer them to the restaurant guests at Terranea.”
Zing and zest make a lasting impression as a meal’s phenomenal finishing touch when Pastry Chef Master Pierino Jermonti majestically marries blood orange, tangerine, pastry crème and chocolate into a triumphant torte. Take a look at his dessert stunner! Compliments of Chef Perry and Terrenea Resort, we’re sharing this fantastic Chocolate & Tangerine Cremeux recipe!
For a pastry chef master, citrus, chocolate and sugar blend beautifully to create your own festive creamy dessert when using Matfer's Pastry Bags and Pastry Tips, Mixing Bowl, FLEXIPAT® Sheet, and Rolling Pin.
More on Chef Pierino Jermonti in the Matfer featured chef spotlight.