Nothing puts the bite into winter like Seville oranges. Fragrant, pungent, inedible. Traders brought them from China to Spain almost a millennium ago. At first, they were treasured for their aroma. Maidens would cup them in their hands to release the heady smell and orange blossoms are still part of a Spanish brides bouquet.
Rich in Vitamin C, they were one of the treasured spring grasses which helped combat scurvy. Although too bitter to be readily eaten, Sevilles were often served with sprinkled sugar. A traditional medieval treat involved splashing a little rum or gin on sweetened orange halves and grilling them. In Britain, Seville oranges are a key ingredient in the potent Dickensian punch called a smoking bishop.
Unlike the Navel, Valencia, Jaffa or other similar sweet tasting oranges, Sevilles are only available for a few weeks at this time of year. Most of this fruit still comes from Spain and most of it is sold in bulk to Britain where it is made into marmalade. This is a shame because the flavour and high acid content can work so well in other dishes. In Ecuador these oranges are used instead of limes for ceviche. In any dessert calling for oranges, Sevilles will give much more flavour than sweet varieties.
I still like them best in marmalade. The word marmalade, by the way, is Portuguese and means quince jam since quinces were commonly used. Now Seville oranges have replaced them. Here is our recipe. It makes about 6 pint (500 mL) containers.
Wash 7 Seville oranges and 2 lemons. Slice them as thinly as possible. Remove the seeds and put these in a bag made from a clean piece of j-cloth or cheesecloth. Soak the sliced fruit and the seed bag in 16 cups of cold water for 24 hours. Simmer everything in an open pot until the peel is tender and the mixture is reduced to 11 cups. (The easy way to do this is to first fill the pot with 11 cups of water and make a mark on the outside of the pot, then add the rest of the water, oranges and seeds). Remove the seed bag and squeeze the liquid in the bag into the pot. Discard the seeds. Add 9 cups of sugar to the pot. Boil this to a gel stage (220 F). It should take at least 30 minutes to reach this temperature.
For a smaller quanitity, the proportions for each orange, are 1 cup of sugar and 1 2/3 cups of water. Simmer this until it reduces to 1 1/4 cups.