An orange is a yearning.
For me, it’s recalling my Israeli childhood living in a small moshava (rural agricultural community) tucked amidst the orange groves of Israel’s HaSharon region, on the old road to Haifa between Kfar Sava and Hadera.
The moshava was associated with the orange groves…and its namesake prison. That was the time before Israel made the leap into the high tech “empire” it is today. Now red rooftops dot the land where green and orange did then.
In young Israel, children were taught to revere the tapuz, the Hebrew acronym for tapuah zahav or golden apple. Those were the days when Israelis took pride in the crates of Jaffa oranges that made their way across the sea to all corners of the earth, or so we thought.
A well-known commercial sang “the oranges, the oranges are worth 1000 percent more than gold,” a twist on Naomi Shemer’s song. A cold front was cause for national alarm about the fate of the orange trees, not just the current crop.
Oranges were everywhere in Israel in the 1960s. The groves that surrounded the moshava and flanked the road I took to school everyday. The orange packing plant, where many of the locals, including my mother, worked in shifts round the clock. For a little girl, who lived at a time when traveling overseas was a rarity, oranges sparked her imagination as ambassadors of sort to the world beyond her shores.
We found many uses for oranges. We ate the whole fruit and even nibbled on the pith. There were different ways to peel an orange, and we strived to master them all. Using a knife to peel from top to bottom in a circular motion required dexterous maneuvering. We felt triumphant when we ended up with one long, intact strip of peel.
The way we squeezed juice out of an orange was quite unique. While no doubt this method would offend modern day sensibility, we could enjoy it being a generation closer to nature. Rather than use a juicer, our method involved rolling the fruit under a bare foot, while applying gentle pressure until it softened; then poking a hole in it with a finger and squeezing and sucking the juice straight up.
Looking back, one of the ironies of the time was that we ate lots of fresh oranges in winter, but year ‘round our meals included mitz tapoozim, a chemical-laden, sweetened orange juice.
Oranges are still a mainstay in Israeli cuisine, far beyond the famed orange chicken or orange cake from Israel’s early years. As it happens, Israel’s birthday, Mother’s Day and National Candied Orange Peel Day (yes, there really is one) are all celebrated in May. Three good reasons to offer a recipe for candied orange peel in honor of my country’s birthday and to pay homage to my mother.
Preparing candied orange peel for Tu b’Shevat is still a rite of passage of sort for Israeli preschoolers. Using all parts of the orange fits Israel’s tsena, or austerity mentality. As a preschooler, I found candied orange peel to be too bitter.
Years later, in my Washington kitchen, after I mastered the making of this candy, I found that the bitterness can be washed away, and the golden, tangy sweet can take me back to the shores of childhood. I can smell the sun kissed “golden apples” that peeked at me from in between the dark green branches. This treasure trove of orange in my pantry is worth more than its weight in gold.
Come see Leah demonstrate making malawah, a Yemenite bread, on Sunday, June 9, at 12:30 pm at the community-wide Israel@65 celebration.