Orange Blossoms

I’m a child of the North. I’ve never walked through an orchard of orange trees, with their heady perfume, but I’ve read about it. Perhaps some day. I do know that it is nothing like the same sort of stroll through a blooming apple orchard. Apple blossoms, fleeting delicate petals that begin to fall almost as soon as they open, have a beautiful scent that is as elusive as their blooming season in a year of hard frost. If you ever have the chance to walk by a tree on a warm spring morning, when the hum of bees turns the orchard into a symphony, you’ll never forget it. 

Oranges bloom through the whole season, and their waxy, thick petals are far more enduring than those of apples. Their scent, too, is famously potent. Enough that it is used in perfumes, cookery, and cosmetics from time immemorial. This, I have worked with, both in blending fragrances, and discovering tiny blooms on a potted tree with delight. As I’m exploring the world through food, I recently bought two little bottles. One of rose water, one of orange blossom water. I put them in the baking cupboard, and then… I didn’t know what to do with them. 

Dorothy Grant and I had been talking about tagines, and as I tend to plan the big meal well in advance, I decided that I’d take the Saturday Supper of the North Texas Troublemakers to the Mediterranean. Specifically, North Africa and Morocco. Chicken tagines (yes, plural, as there will be a dozen or more folks eating with us), tabbouleh, couscous, pita, hummus… and a baklava and a melon mint salad for dessert. 

The baklava is very much like the one I did for CV Walter’s ETWYRT, only I did the syrup by heating together honey, lemon juice, a cinnamon stick, and then stirred in a teaspoonful of rose water before pouring that over the hot pastry. The little bit of rose may or may not come to it’s own, with all the lemon and honey going on there. 

The melon salad, though! 

I was a coward.

The recipe I was using, out of Tagines & Couscous, called for: 

  • 1 honeydew or gilia melon (I used a Crenshaw, or Golden, Melon), cut into small pieces
  • 1 bunch of mint leaves, chopped finely (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)
  • 2 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp honey (if desired)

I got to the part, after balling my melon and julienning my mint, where I opened the bottle of distilled essence of orange blossoms. I sniffed. I stood there for a long moment, measuring spoon in hand, and I muttered to myself “half that.” 

I added one tablespoon. I’ll come back later to tell you if that was a mistake! I didn’t add the honey, this was a lovely ripe melon and quite sweet on it’s own. 

I shall continue to explore options for orange blossom water, as I think it can be a interesting, and to my taste buds, exotic addition. With caution! It is intensely floral, in a way that is often associated with soaps and perfumes. Which means that it should be used sparingly, for a melodious note, or it could overwhelm the sense of the eater. 

These sorts of flavors, of spices and ingredients, have the power of transportation. From the world we know, like mine of the apple orchards, to a world we might only have read and dreamed about. Perhaps, also, a trip back into memories when served to those who have been there, and eaten there, as three (at least) who will join us for dinner tonight have been. This is why I love to cook!


4 responses to “Orange Blossoms”

  1. Robert Gregory Evans Avatar
    Robert Gregory Evans

    I spent my teen years living in Florida orange country, an area that was productive up until a notorious freeze in the 1920’s, after which it went into decline. I’m guessing it could be productive again, given “global warming.”

    Trivia: in Florida, groups of orange trees are referred to as a “grove.” Californians refer to a group of orange trees as an “orchard.”

    Orange blossom is intoxicating, but night-blooming jasmine is even nicer, which I didn’t discover until I lived in Spain.

  2. Kathleen Sanderson Avatar
    Kathleen Sanderson

    Citrus greening may prevent the Florida orange groves from ever fully returning, unless, perhaps, someone can find or develop a variety that’s resistant to the disease.

    Citrus blossoms do smell wonderful. We had a potted orange tree when you were small, Cedar (I think it was probably actually a calamondin), and it scented a large room when it was in bloom.

  3. I grew up in SoCal, where there are still quite a few orange trees in backyards. They do smell wonderful in the spring. I’ve never tried orange blossom water, though. The classic “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” by Claudia Roden, which is a great read, does have some recipes using it.

    1. Oh I shall look that one up, thank you!