Mum has a lovely friend who tends to her garden, Olga. She is from Ukraine, grew up in a farmer’s family and Athens has been her home for quite some years now. The garden is certainly her territory, except perhaps for a few ‘exotic’ Mediterranean species that grow down here: neratzi (also known as bitter orange or Seville orange) being one of them
And in case you haven’t seen one before, it’s this guy:
Lush green leaves, popping orange fruit and a fresh citrus smell – very tempting! Olga was perplexed by these ‘large tangerines’ and asked mum why she hadn’t picked the ripe-looking fruit from the tree yet. I can still hear mum’s voice booming a louder than life “no!” to stop Olga from taking a bite. I hope you have not been tempted to try neratzi straight from the tree, saying it tastes bittersweet is an understatement, the sourness is pure poison. But we have a cure for this, we turn neratzia into lovely preserves. That’s ingenuity for you, turning something inedible into a sheer delight. Neratzi is in the same league as winter ‘spoon sweets’, not quite a jam but more of a peculiar preserve, as we use only the peel. As a preserve its bitterness is cooked out and replaced by sugar, leaving only the soft flesh and invigorating aroma.
I was more than tempted and grabbed a dozen neratzia from mum’s tree to make my own preserve. If you want to give it a go, here is what you will need:
- 12 bitter oranges (neratzia)
- 1 kg+ of sugar
- 1 lemon for its juice
- Kitchen scales
- A colander and tub of cold water
- Jar(s) to store your spoon sweet
Preparing the neratzi
As I mentioned earlier neratzi tastes bitter, so the flesh is going to be discarded and you will also need to gently grate the peel.
Use a zester to grate the outer peel off the neratzi without digging too deep into the pith.
Cut the top and bottom, then run a paring knife along either side to separate the rind from the flesh and make some vertical cuts to get slices, the same way you would peel an orange.
These are the pieces we use for the preserve: rind with the zest taken off.
Also we pinch each piece with a toothpick to shape it into curls. Your neratzi should end up looking something like this:
Neratzi in the pot
Back to the bitterness, you will need to boil the rinds three times, discarding the water each time.
So it’s 5 minutes boiling, then discard the water and place your neratzi in a tub of cold water. Repeat this process two more times. You are now ready for the syrup.
Use the scales to determine how much your boiled curls weigh. From twelve fruits I got approximately a kilo. For 1 kg of neratzi the best proportions for the syrup are: 1 litre of water, 1100 grams of sugar, the juice from 1 medium to large lemon.
Combine your water, sugar and the lemon juice in a pot and bring to the boil for 5 minutes.
Afterwards, throw in the neratzi curls and boil for another 5 minutes.
Switch off and remove from the hob, you should let the pot sit for 7-8 hours. I normally make this in the evening and start again the next morning.
Before you come back for the last step, have your jars ready too. To sterilise your jars: preheat your oven to 150 oC and pop them in for 20 minutes, just as you would for any other spoon sweet or jam.
Now, to finish off, bring the neratzi to boil again for 3-4 minutes. Test if the syrup is thick enough by placing a wooden spoon in the pot and lift. It should run down your spoon in thick drops. When you are happy, pour the contents of your pot into the jars and leave them to set.
Ta da! Ready to go. It’s delicious on its own and also with some thick, Greek yogurt for breakfast.
Are you making jams and preserves at all? Chutneys, perhaps? I would love to hear your recipes and see your favourites, so feel free to drop me a line either in the comments or here.