When I was a little kid, decorating the Christmas tree was a week-long event for my family. We had boxes and boxes of cheesy ornaments my parents had gotten over the years, and, in the first house I lived in, an exceptionally high ceiling that demanded and exceptionally tall tree. After going out to one of the local tree farms and selecting a huge tree, we’d bring it home, lug it inside and prop it up in the living room. Starting that night, we’d decorate a little at a time. That first night we’d put on the lights – just simple little white tree lights. The second night, we’d add our “garlands,” which were actually long strings of lightly varnished wooden beads. The third night, we’d break out the huge set of cheery red apples and hearts (which had to be retired – or at the very least moved from the lower branches – once we got our first dog…something about styrofoam and red paint is apparently delicious if you walk on four legs and bark). The following night was my favorite, because it meant we got to use the ridiculous set of Disney-themed decorations. My mom always took care to hang Tinkerbell on her little snowflake right in front of a light so she would sparkle, while I just wanted to create some ridiculous scene with Goofy. The miscellaneous decorations went on after that…two or three large boxes full of silly little knick-knacks that had been accumulating since my parents were young. At some point we’d also get candy canes on there, of course…I just don’t remember if they went on in the beginning or the end! And of course, the very last night we’d put the star on top, with a few lights propped up behind it so they’d shine out from the perforations in the hammered metal star (that thing was scary and sharp). The only thing more chaotic than the appearance of the tree itself was the day (usually New Year’s) spent putting away the ornaments (we lost more than one in the deepest branches of some of those trees…my dad would usually come back from taking the tree to the dumpster with a renegade decoration or two in his pocket).
As I got older and my parents decided to simplify their lives, they gave away or sold many of the ornaments that didn’t hold special meaning for the family. The house we bought when I was nine definitely didn’t have enough space for a giant tree, and over the years my mom decided she’d prefer just to have a teensy tree in the living room window. With my parents’ preference for all things natural, she decided to put our new (at the time) toaster oven/dehydrator to use and make some eco-friendly decorations that could be used for a few years in a row and looked absolutely beautiful on a simple little tree. I don’t know where she got the idea, but she sliced oranges into rounds (perpendicular to the sections so they looked a little like stars) and dehydrated them, then poked holes into the weakened, dry cells of the fruit and strung them up on ribbons. We tied them onto the branches with big, floppy bows and they looked almost…Victorian? I don’t know…it was very Martha-esque, and for all I know that’s where my mom got the idea in the first place. If I cared enough about the holiday to put up a tree, I’d do something like that…much more festive and creative than cheesy glass balls and glittery “icicles,” I think.
Why am I going on about Christmas trees when Thanksgiving is still over a week away? It’s all about sensory memory! (Heehee…) I have a complicated goodie I’m trying to put together, and decided to use candied orange peels in it. Of course, I had to make them myself! I based my method off of Deb‘s recipe for orangettes, except I tossed the strips with sugar instead of coating them with chocolate when they were done cooking. I’m pretty pleased with the results and it wasn’t hard at all – the most difficulty you’ll encounter is at the beginning of the recipe, when you first peel the oranges. Good knife skills (and a good knife, which unfortunately I did not have) will make that step much easier, though!
It was when the peels were simmering in the simple syrup that the memory of tying orange slices onto the Christmas tree came back. The slowly softening peels smelled just like the dehydrating slices, and made me smile from ear to ear. Christmas may not be my favorite holiday, but I can’t say no to a day whose memories are practically MADE of food.
Candied Orange Peels
1 cup water (plus more for blanchings)
1 cup white sugar (plus more for dusting)
Score the oranges with a sharp paring knife (about 6 sections should be enough) and pull off the peel carefully, taking care not to tear them as you remove them. Cut the sections of peel into thin strips and remove any excessive pith with your knife. Boil some water and add the oranges, blanching them for a few minutes. Drain the oranges and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Repeat that process, the let the peels sit for a minute as you add the 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to the pot. Simmer the sugar-water, then add the peels. Cover and cook for about one hour, checking on them often and occasionally giving them a gentle stir (every 5 minutes is a decent interval). When the hour is up, drain the peels and toss with sugar, then spread them on a wire rack over wax or parchment paper to dry. Sprinkle with a little more sugar, if desired. Once completely dry, store in an airtight container.
I was very pleased with my peels, since I had never done anything like this before. I’m pretty sure, however, that my first blanching wasn’t quite long enough, since the peels still have a little bitterness to them. They are still very tasty, and will work perfectly for what I have in mind! I’d love to try this with other citrus peels…I foresee some tasty candied citrus on my Christmas cookie plates!