If you find it hard to believe that fruit and vegetables can suffer the indignity of fashion trends — particularly here in Australia — take a look at blood oranges. Ruby-fleshed blood oranges were popular in Australia back in the 1920s — that is, until they went out of fashion. So much so, in fact, that most growers removed the trees. Fortunately they have made a comeback and Australian orchardists are now growing blood oranges in quantity.
In the 1960s, the elder statesmen of the Mancini family, Vito Leonardo Mancini and Guiseppe Barbagallo, established orange orchards in Griffith, NSW. The tradition continues through third generation family members, brothers Len and Anthony Mancini and their cousin Vito, who market Blood Oranges under the Redbelly® brand. Redbelly Citrus is the only producer in Australia dedicated to the production and supply of the blood oranges, including new varieties not previously marketed in Australia.
Vito Mancini, remembers his first encounter with a blood orange, 'As a boy, I was always fond of my grandfather Guiseppe’s back yard. Walking in and around always excited me by seeing what vegetables were planted and what fruits were in season. What always amazed me was a tree grown in the chicken pen with three different citrus varieties: a lemon, navel orange and a mysterious red-fleshed orange that I had never seen before, neither in our orchards or in the shops. Nonno (grandfather) told me distinctly that this was the fruit of Sicily and the best orange that can be grown for taste and for health.'
Len also remembers his grandfather, Vito Leonardo, bringing home boxes of oranges and inviting him to slice them. 'The first time I cut them as a very young boy and saw the blood coloured juice coming out of them I was shocked and a little frightened. Nonno thought that was pretty funny. It wasn’t long though before I was hooked on them, even as a kid.'
Blood oranges have one defining characteristic: a crimson-red pigment in the flesh, as well as a red blush on the rind. This crimson-red pigment so adored in the blood orange comes from the blood oranges unique ability to produce Anthocyanins — health-giving phyto chemicals commonly found in blueberries, cranberries, eggplant skin, and other such red/blue/purple coloured plants.
Fresh blood oranges make for delicious snacks due to their thin skin, few seeds and sweet, raspberry-like flavour. They can also be poached or grilled, or used in desserts or salads. In Sun Drenched Cuisine (Ebury 1987), Marlena Spieler suggests an ambrosial dessert of sliced oranges and strawberries with honey, orange-flower water and cinnamon. A combination of blood oranges and navels would be perfect.
Early season blood oranges have a distinctly tart finish and, as such, they team beautifully in dishes such as my smoked duck breast with blood orange, walnut and truffle. One of my favourite festive recipes features blood orange marmalade as a glaze for Christmas ham. Mid-late season blood oranges have less acid and as a result have a more subtle flavour in which their berry like properties begin to dominate the flavour profile of the fruit. This makes them perfect for cooking or processing into cakes, flans, sherberts, ice creams, jellies and enjoyed fresh on top of pavlovas and as a delicious garnish other dishes.
Blood oranges are also excellent for juicing. Use them 'straight' or add one or two blood oranges to two litres of navel orange juice to bring up the colour beautifully. When you're shopping for blood oranges, select those which are firm, orange-red in colour and heavy for their size. Note, the fruit will keep much longer stored in the fridge.
Note: thank you kindly to the team at Redbelly Citrus for sending me a box of exquisite-tasting blood oranges!
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy blood oranges? Have you ever cooked with them and were they sweet or savoury dishes? Do tell.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.