Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Orange Groves of Mallorca

The Oranges of Mallorca

In 1869, Tomas Forteza wrote the Hymn of Praise to Mallorca in which he describes the oak trees of the forests of the island of Mallorca, and the fruit trees that can be found around the landscape with particular mention of the orange groves and their fragrance. He was really referring to the area of Soller in the northern part of Mallorca where the tram running from Palma to Soller runs so close you can almost pick the oranges from the trees.

The orange trees were first planted in Mallorca as far back as the 11th century when the Arabs planted bitter oranges to decorate their courtyards and gardens. The bitter orange was also used for medicinal purposes with the peel of the orange used to sweeten the breath by chewing on it and the fragrance from the orange used to dissipate stale air from rooms not ventilated by fresh air. The juice from the orange was even believed to cure outbursts of rage.

Later, just before the mid 16th century, the sweet orange was introduced to Mallorca by the Portuguese and has been cultivated in the areas of Soller, Valldemossa and as far west as Andraitx ever since.

Harvesting takes place during the month of September when pickers arrive from the exporters and as soon as the fruit is ripe and dry on the trees [any dew has evaporated] the oranges are packed into boxes. However, as soon as it starts to rain, or the fruit becomes damp, picking must stop as to pack wet oranges will only lead to mould forming.

You will notice that the humble orange is used in lots of recipes all over the island of Mallorca. They are used in salads, meat and fish dishes, flans, ice cream, marmalade and cakes.

The following are a few recipes using this delicious fruit:

Orange Salad:
Peel 4 oranges, ensuring that all the pith is removed, and cut into slices. Arrange on a plate and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Finely chop mint leaves and sprinkle over the orange slices. Finally drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil. Leave in the fridge for about an hour before serving.

Caramelised fig, orange and goat's cheese salad:
Chef, Yotom Ottolenghi, visited the island of Mallorca and prepared the following salad at the house of the owner of an orange grove.

Over a medium heat, add 50g of caster sugar until it turns a golden caramel and then add 8 fresh figs that have been cut in half lengthways [place then in the pan cut side down]. Cook for 2 minutes and then turn them over for a further minute. Remove fro the pan and add the second batch of figs and repeat as before and again remove the figs.

Add another 50g of sugar and caramelise before adding 4 sliced oranges and cook for 1 minutes of both sides so that they take on the caramel colour. Remove and add to the plate of figs.

Take the caramel off the heat and add 2 tbsp of lemon juice, 1.5 tbsp of Raki, Pernod or an aniseed flavoured liqueur, 1tsp of fennel seeds, 1 crushed close of garlic, salt and black pepper. Once all mixed, all in 80ml of olive oil. Add a generous amount of goat's cheese to the figs and orange slices as you arrange them on the plate and then drizzle with the dressing. You can sprinkle the top with oregano and rocket and then serve.

To see the orange groves in Mallorca, the best place to be in in the area of Soller during the summer, just before the harvesting starts during the month of September.

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