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!