After I’d made the marmalade, the cake, the jug of juice, the ice cubes and eaten my weight in segments, I had yet more of Redbelly Citrus’ gifted blood oranges to make the most of. I have quite a few fruit preserving and sweet making books that I’ve collected from my forays to the Lifeline Bookfest over the years so decided to leaf through them for inspiration. Surprisingly, there aren’t too many orange recipes other than marmalade but as I read, a plan formed. Why not make an orange paste or cheese, similar to quince paste or damson cheese?
Fit For A King
Quince paste and other fruit pastes and cheeses go back hundreds of years as way of preserving fruit without refrigeration. In 1841, Ann Strickland wrote in ‘Lives of the Queens of England’ about Lady Lisle in the court of King Henry VIII offering a ‘gift consisted of quince-marmalade and damson-cheese… and proved to be acceptable to the royal epicure, that he craved for more’. There are quite a few mentions of damson cheese and marmalade in despatches about King Henry VIII so he was obviously mad for it. And it showed. In its simplest form, fruit cheese is a jam that has been further cooked and reduced to a thick paste ‘as hard as cheese’. It is usually set in a mould or potted in small jars and cut like a cheese, to accompany cold meat or (of course) cheese. In Spanish speaking countries it is known as membrillo and in Portuguese, it is known as marmelada. It is one of the original sweetmeats.
In recent years, quince paste has once again become fashionable in Australia thanks largely to the efforts of Maggie Beer. Maggie lives in South Australia, in the Barossa Valley and quinces grow wonderfully well there. What no doubt started as a way to preserve an excess of quinces turned into one of Maggie’s most popular products and is on cheese boards all across the land. I usually buy my quince paste from Pennisi’s ‘Continental Deli’ in Balaclava St at the Gabba. There, you can buy enormous flat tins of it, imported from the South American countries. Either quince or guava dulce de membrillo will set you back less than $10 for a 600g tin. Incredibly good value compared to those tiny little pots and you don’t need to be parsimonious when you’re including it on a platter for a party. But how about making some yourself?
Recipes, Recipes Everywhere…
I needed to adapt the recipes I had as damsons, plums, quinces and even pears have a higher ratio of pulp to juice whereas oranges are more juice than pulp. There’s scant information on the internet. I could find only two references to orange paste, one from the Montreal Gazette of 1939 and one of a group discussion board. You can imagine what the most popular return was when I typed ‘orange cheese’. That stuff they put on hamburgers in the USA. So, I freestyled it. The paste took a lot longer to reduce than traditional recipes and I put this down to the higher volume of liquid at the start of the cook. The resulting paste is consistent in texture with any other fruit paste or cheese I’ve tried, with an intense sweet orange flavour burst and a hint of bitterness from the pith and skin. I had hoped for a ruby paste as I was using blood oranges however whilst the juice was red, the inclusion of the skins muted the colour to a burnished orange.
This paste is extremely easy to make and you do not need any special equipment other than a blender. All you need is time and the ability to keep on eye on proceedings as the paste starts to reduce and thicken up.
Blood Orange Paste
- 250g whole blood orange, skin scrubbed in hot water
- 250g blood orange juice
- 300g sugar
- 500ml water
- Heat the blood orange juice and whole orange chopped into rough pieces (skin, pith and seeds included) in a saucepan with 500ml of water.
- Simmer for approximately 1 hour until the orange skin is soft. When skin is soft, add sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Allow the mixture to cool slightly and process on high in blender in short bursts until the whole orange is pureed into the juice. (be careful when blending warm liquids as pressure can build and steam can escape)
- Return the puree to the saucepan and bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Simmer mixture on low heat for several hours until it has reduced and thickened, stirring on a regular basis.
- When the mixture has thickened to the consistency of thickened cream or tomato sauce, turn the heat off. The mixture will thicken further as it cools.
- Allow to cool slightly and then spoon into sterilised jars (tips here – at the bottom) or prepared mould or container.
I set the blood orange paste in two different ways. The first was into small Ball Mason jars with a lovely quilted pattern that looks like cut crystal. With a swing tag, they will make attractive gifts. The paste was spoonable into the jars and thickened as it cooled. Over time, it will darken and firm up even more and will keep almost indefinitely if preserved and sealed correctly in sterilised jars.
The second way was to pour it into a shallow container and to let it cool and air dry. I could have used a small tray or cake tin but I happened to have a thin ply cheese box from a recent soft cheese purchase, so I used that. I lined the box with some baking parchment, poured the paste in and loosely covered it. After a few days, I turned it out to take a look and could see it was already drying out and darkening. Helped along by the very dry weather we have been having. When it has firmed up a little more, I will put the whole box in a zip lock bag and store it in the fridge. The paste in the box makes an interesting addition to a cheese selection.
No matter which way you store the paste, over time you may see some small sugar crystals on the edge of the paste. It is fine to eat. This is simply the paste crystallising as it is exposed to the air – you need to eat it faster!