A sweet and spicy wintertime preserve
Despite being distinctly un-English in origin, spices and citrus fruits have become synonymous with English wintertime. We’ve certainly got a knack for taking foreign ingredients and entrenching them in our own traditions: turkey, cranberries, potatoes—and that’s just the staples of the Christmas table. Spiced pickled oranges, therefore, while not English in origin, are certainly English in spirit.
“It’s full of tradition,” says Elspeth Biltoft, owner of Rosebud Preserves. “Using a spicy liquor is just another way of preserving exotic fruits for the dinner table.” She began making spiced pickled oranges around three years ago, because she’d “always liked the idea of simply whole pickled fruit”.
It’s proved a huge success. One of an ever-expanding range of jellies, jams, marmalades, pickles and chutneys made on-site in two 19th century converted barns in Masham, north Yorkshire, this particular preserve is difficult to define. Made with dessert oranges “it’s not bitter like marmalade”, yet the oranges aren’t ‘preserved’ in the traditional sense, in that they’re neither dried nor salted.
Fresh, whole oranges
Elspeth’s method is simple—and beautifully effective: “We wash fresh, whole oranges, then slice them up and cook them until tender,” she explains. “In the meantime we make a syrup using unrefined sugar, white wine vinegar and spices such as mace, cloves and pepper berries, and infuse the liquid with a stick of cinnamon.”
Once the oranges are cooked, they’re drained and “added to the lovely, spicy syrupy mix”, along with a splash of the cooking water—“but not too much. The pith of the orange can make it quite bitter”—before being sealed in jars. The result is a deliciously “piquant, savoury marmalade-style product with a sweet aftertaste”.
Elspeth suggests using pickled oranges as an accompaniment to seasonal game, or as a stuffing for roast ham. “If you’re roasting a ham, when there’s about 20 minutes to go, just lift up the skin and rub a layer of pickled orange under the surface to get that flavour into it,” she explains. “It’s one of my favourite ways of using it. It’s a lovely combination of flavours.”
The piggy route
Borough Market demonstration chef Jenny Chandler agrees. “I can think of nothing better to go with Boxing Day roast ham,” she enthuses. “Try using it instead of traditional Cumberland sauce, or dollop some on a pork pie. I fancy a taste in a bacon sandwich, too. Definitely go down the piggy route!”
Alix Caiger, chef and owner of Caiger & Co Catering, is also planning to use pickled oranges this Christmas. “We like using them in a side salad of pickled orange, chicory and walnuts served alongside roasted salmon fillet,” she says. “Or try mixing some through kedgeree rice to give the dish a lovely Christmassy feel.”