In a land where the orange (think Washington navel and Valencia) is the stuff of legend, responsible for transforming swaths of California ranchos into tidy blossom-scented groves, it's a bit puzzling to wander the market stalls and find no trace of Sevilles. Yes, it's a bitter orange, one of several varieties not for out-of-hand eating, and thus not terribly popular.
But the Seville orange (a native of the Indochinese peninsula and grown extensively in the Mediterranean) is treasured for its remarkable versatility and almost peppery orange aroma. Finding it, however, requires patience and solid friendly farmer relations: those who do still grow Sevilles usually only have a few trees and generally won't bring them to market unless requested. We did find someone willing to part with them though. Turn the page, and see a full gallery of farmers market photos here.
Joe Avatua of Walker Farms has literally thousands of trees in his orchards and has an impressive year-round selection that evolves with the seasons. Cherries and apricots abound in the early summer. A few not-too-common varieties of apples, persimmons, pomegranates, and Asian pears clog his tables in the fall. And come winter, his citrus selection explodes: gnarly Buddha's Hand citron, pink variegated lemons, nearly black and highly floral Moro blood oranges, Oro Blanco grapefruits, and a crop of Cara Caras this year that are some of the juiciest he's ever had. Out of all of those trees, only three are Seville orange trees. When asked about them at the last Pasadena Farmers Market, his eyes light up and he heads to his truck.
“I have three,” he says, smiling, handing over three small oranges. “I wasn't going to bring them today but you never know. People ask for them so rarely.”
For some of us, it's like hitting produce gold. Seville oranges may be awful for fresh eating (unless you're into that sort of thing), but those looking to make authentic marmalade and craft bitters would swoon. The Seville is packed with pectin and produces a well-balanced preserve, an almost perfect blend of sugary sweetness and astringent tang. Sure you can make a good marmalade from your more readily available sweet oranges, but you'll need to balance with other pectin-y citrus (like lemons) to get the gelling and flavor right. Plus the Seville isn't a one hit citrus. It makes a zingy marinade for both fish and beef. It's also the main ingredient for a South Indian “dry” pickle.
If you find a citrus grower willing to part with their Sevilles you might not have the flexibility to be too choosy with your crop. Still, try to select for fruit with a firm, pebbly skin and even coloring. If the fruit feels heavy for its size, this is good. Weight equals juice. And juice is great. The fruit is super seedy on the inside (we counted 25 seeds from one, racquetball-sized fruit), but seeds are great too – wrap them up in cheesecloth and cook along with the rinds to leech out their valuable pectin for marmalade. Avatua projects that he might have them on his trees for another month or so, demand and weather permitting, so expect similar timelines from other growers.
Ernest Miller, the chef at Farmer's Kitchen in Hollywood, focuses a lot of his menu items on preserves and pickles (he's a Master Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension). We asked him to share his recipe for a Seville and Blood Orange Marmalade.
Farmer's Kitchen Seville and Blood Orange Marmalade
From: Farmer's Kitchen chef Ernest Miller
Note: Recipe can be easily halved.
Makes: approximately 12 8-oz jars
5 Bitter oranges (Seville, Chinotto, Bergamot, etc. – ~1 1/4 lbs.)
3 Blood oranges (~ one pound)
2 tangerines (Dancy, preferred, but any juicy mandarin will work)
2 lemons (Eurekas, preferred)
12 1/2 cups hot water
11 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup brandy (optional)
1. Place dampened cheesecloth square in a strainer placed over a bowl. Cut stem and blossom ends off citrus. Cut citrus in half crosswise. Squeeze juice and strain through cheesecloth. Scrape pulp and seeds
from rinds into cheesecloth. Squeeze juice from pulp and seeds and tie cheesecloth tightly around pulp and seeds. You may want to use 1-3 cheesecloth squares, since 1 square may be too difficult to tie.
2. Using a sharp knife, thinly slice peel crosswise.
3. In a large, deep (the marmalade may foam up significantly) stainless steel saucepan, combine peel, pulp and seed bag(s), strained juice and hot water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until peel is tender and mixture is reduced by nearly half – about 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat and transfer the pulp bag to a strainer placed over a bowl. Press with a spoon
to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the pulp bag and add the juice to cooked mixture. Measure out 10 cups and return to saucepan.
4. Prepare canner, jars and lids. (See instructions from the USDA for safe preparation instructions.)
5. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Maintaining boil, gradually stir in sugar. Boil hard (and be alert for foaming), stirring frequently, until mixture reaches gel stage (220 degrees F), about 15 minutes. You can also test for the gel stage by removing the marmalade from the heat and placing a teaspoon of the liquid on a plate that has been stored in the freezer. Put the plate back in the freezer for 1 minute. Remove the plate from the freezer and push the edge of the spread with your finger. If it has reached gel stage the surface will wrinkle when the edge is pushed. If the mixture has not reached the gel stage after 15 minutes, continue to cook over medium-high heat for an additional 5 minutes and test for gel again. Repeat as needed.
6. When gel stage has been reached, add brandy, if using, and boil, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off foam.
7. Ladle hot marmalade into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Stir before filling each jar in order to evenly distribute peel. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary. Wipe rim. Center the lid on the jar. Screw the band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
8. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Allow to cool at room temperature. Then wipe the jars down with a damp cloth, label and store.