Who better to tell you about cooking and baking with oranges than someone who jokes about having orange juice running through their veins? “Orange Appeal” by Jamie Schler is a book that pays tribute to a lifelong passion for the most versatile fruit in the citrus family – the extraordinary orange.
Schler’s passion for this fruit stems from her childhood upbringing on Florida’s Space Coast near the Indian River, in an area of the peninsula known for their orchards. Looking beyond Florida’s coast and into Schler’s history, she has lived in France and Italy for over 35 years, and it shows in the recipes featured throughout the book. Going deeper into the recipes, you’ll see that the book is so much more than ingredients and instructions; each recipe tells a story of tradition, family and culture.
Melissa’s hosted Schler in our kitchen on Thursday, November 21, where attendees experienced a taste of the book through recipes prepared by Melissa’s in-house chefs. After lunch, Schler demoed a couple of recipes from the book; the Moroccan-Spiced Orange Slices in Blossom Water and the Orange-Braised Belgian Endives with Caramelized Onions. During the demo, Schler talked more about her upbringing, her current life running a hotel in Italy, and all of the fantastic things you can do with the orange.
“Orange Appeal” will forever change the way you look at the orange. We wanted to dive even deeper into Shler’s affection for oranges and reached out to interview her about her favorite citrus.
Q: I love that you’ve created a book entirely dedicated to a single ingredient – oranges. Out of all of the varieties that we have access to in the U.S., which one is your favorite?
Jamie Schler: I have to say that the Navel, sweet and juicy, has to be my favorite simply because Navels are the easiest to peel, segment and eat out-of-hand, which I do every day.
Q: Preferred savory application for oranges?
JS: I’d never cooked savory dishes or sauces with oranges before developing my recipes for “Orange Appeal,” and I have to say that it blew my mind how great oranges are in savory everything! Orange-glazed vegetables, mushrooms and root vegetables are surprisingly fabulous. But, honestly, my favorite savory recipes in the cookbook are the salad dressings!
Q: Best citrus kitchen tool to have on hand?
JS: Definitely a great zester! I use a Better Zester with an angled handle, and, more importantly, a plastic case that slides on behind the zester teeth to catch the zest! The zest doesn’t fly everywhere, and it conveniently collects in the case and stays moist until you need it. I have to also recommend a very sharp knife with a medium-length blade and a tabletop electric juicer. You are now perfectly equipped to cook and bake with oranges all the time!
Q: Are you committed to Florida citrus? If not, what other regions bring you a comparable amount of sunshine, and in what ways?
JS: I have lived in Europe for 35 years, and while I have access to Florida Indian River grapefruit, the oranges, clementines and other citrus I find in my local market are primarily from Spain, Morocco, Corsica, and, during our summer months, from South Africa. I created my recipes so everyone, no matter the orange varieties available where they live, can make every recipe in the cookbook.
Q: I love how, in your introduction of the book, you speak to being a purist as a child; only eating the fruit whole. Just like eating a taco, everyone has a different approach. Can you talk us through your peeling and eating process?
JS: First, I make sure the orange is bright orange with no bruises or mold and that the skin isn’t loose. I also make sure the orange is heavy and firm, indicating a fresh, juicy orange. Taking a sharp paring knife, I slice off the stem end, slicing about 1/2-inch or so all around the stem, then pull off the circle of the rind. Using the point of the knife, I slice down from this stem-end down towards the blossom-end of the orange, the “navel” end, making sure the knife slices through the rind, including the white pith, just grazing but not slicing into the flesh. I continue around, slicing down at even intervals, not more than an inch apart. Then using my thumb, I peel away the rind and pith, pull apart the segments, and enjoy! I eat an orange this way almost every day after lunch and after dinner.
Q: According to the “Flavor Matrix,” some surprise pairings for citrus are sage, caraway, peanut and pecan. What are some great sweet & savory pairings that you prefer for oranges?
JS: Oranges are a natural, and surprisingly delicious, pairing with onions, white asparagus, hummus, mushrooms, soy sauce and Belgian endives! Their fruitiness is an excellent balance for most spices, from Ras El Hanout, cumin, and pepper to coriander and cinnamon, creating a perfect fruit-spice harmony.
Q: Melissa’s offers access to orange varieties from all over the world; Sanguinelli, Seville, Valencia, Navel, Heirlooms, Organic, Cara Cara, Blood Oranges and Bergamot. What varieties of oranges are your favorites from Melissa’s?
JS: I’m crazy about Navels and Valencia oranges and keep a bowl of them in my kitchen for eating after every meal; they are juicy, super sweet with just the right hint of tartness, and easy to peel and segment. Navels are also excellent, alongside common juice oranges, for cooking and baking because they are usually available year-round. I love the delicate berry flavor of Cara Cara, Blood and Sanguinelli varieties, which, along with their stunning colors, are fantastic for salads or to top cakes, panna cotta or puddings, etc., or to use in glazes because both the flavor and colors add a definite WOW factor!
Q: What non-edible application do you practice with oranges?
JS: I almost never use food for anything other than eating, but oranges make beautiful pomanders for the holidays; stick whole cloves in the whole orange, allow the orange to dry, then tie a ribbon around it and place several in a bowl for decoration and its spicy, fruity, festive scent will perfume the room. Also, save the orange peel or rind in strips, dry, and use for potpourri. I’ve also read that the fragrant, repellent scent of orange peels are excellent for keeping slugs, aphids, and ants out of your garden.
Q: After completing an entire book dedicated to the orange, I’m sure you’ve had to have encountered some fun facts about the fruit. Can you share a few with us?
JS: Oranges are an ancient fruit with origins in Asia; the earliest references to the orange are found in Chinese manuscripts written around 2200 B.C. Many believe that Columbus brought the first orange seeds to America in 1493, while Ponce de Leon planted the first trees in Florida in the 16th Century. Oranges are the largest citrus crop in the world, and orange, after chocolate and vanilla, are the world’s favorite flavor! Oranges and orange blossoms are a symbol of love and were long considered the fruit of the gods. The English word “orange” was the name of the fruit for a long time before it was the name of the color.
Q: What are some great health benefits of consuming oranges in the way you do (usually twice a day)?
JS: I must start by stressing that I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, so the information I have was gathered by my own simple research. We all know that oranges contain vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant, protects cells, may boost immunity to everyday viruses and infections, and has been associated with a lower risk of some cancers. But, oranges are so much more than just an excellent source of vitamin C, they are also rich in vitamin A, vital for eye health, growth and development, and the maintenance of the immune system. Oranges are a great source of fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, improves digestion, helps keep blood sugar levels under control, and potassium, which can help lower high blood pressure and help reduce the risk of heart disease; a citrus fruit/orange-rich diet offers protection against cardiovascular disease, has been shown to have a positive effect on respiratory health, heart health, keeping hair and skin looking healthy, protecting against rheumatoid arthritis, as well as increase in blood flow … and consumption of oranges and orange juice are also linked to lower stress and increased mental well-being!
Follow Schler’s adventures by reading her blog, Life’s a Feast.
Oranges in Spiced Wine Syrup
- 6 large navel, Cara Cara or blood oranges
- 2 cups dry, fruity red wine
- 1/2 cup juice of one orange
- 1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 strip orange zest about 1/2x3 inches long
- 3 star anise
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 2 cubes candied ginger each cut into 8 small cubes
- Peel the oranges with a sharp knife, removing the top and bottom ends, white pith, and outer membrane. If poaching and serving the oranges whole, the top and bottom of each should be flat, allowing the orange to sit firmly on either end. I find that halving the oranges, cutting across the core, or cutting into 4 thick slices makes for easier eating.
- Pour the wine and orange juice into a deep saucepan wide enough co hold the 6 oranges comfortably. Whisk in the sugar and cinnamon, add the orange and lemon zest, star anise, vanilla bean, and ginger. Bring up to a boil over medium heat then reduce the heat slightly and boil for 5 minutes-it should be a rolling boil but never foam.
- Using a slotted spoon, lower the whole, halved, or sliced oranges into the boiling liquid. Keeping at a low rolling boil, continue cooking for 15 minutes, turning the whole oranges every 3-4 minutes to ensure even poaching; the cut oranges need no turning if submerged in the liquid and should cook for closer to 10 minutes. Remove the oranges to a serving plate or bowl and continue cooking the wine for just 10 minutes more until it is reduced and syrupy. Remove pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature; it will continue to thicken as it cools.
- To serve, place the oranges in a deep serving platter. Remove the zests, vanilla bean, and star anise from the syrup before pouring over the oranges. Serve each orange in a wide soup or dessert bowl, spooning syrup over the fruit. Serve with a sharp knife, a fork, and a spoon for the syrup. Top with freshly whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you like.