…or Beautiful Naga Ranga.
…which is to say, Beautiful, though Fatal, Indigestion of Elephants.
Ancient Malay legend holds that there was a time when humans did not exist and animals ruled the earth. They could talk, think, and act like people. One day, a rather edacious elephant came upon a tree brimming and bending beneath the weight of hundreds of delicious, plump, brightly colored fruits. Greedy with lust, the elephant ate every last piece of fruit until his belly exploded with the enormity of his indulgence. Years later, when humans were formed, a man was trekking through the wood when he came upon the skeleton of an elephant. To his great delight, a giant, beautiful tree, speckled with thousands of exotic fruits, grew out of the elephant’s stomach. Observing the obvious misfortune that brought about such a wonderful tree, the man called the fruit Naga Ranga. Fatal Indigestion of Elephants.
The etymology of the orange is a strange one, indeed.
Last week, I ate about twelve oranges within three days. My orange lust was propelled by an oncoming cold that turned into a full-blown flu. Hoping the vitamin C would shorten the impact, I asked my mom to buy a few oranges. She came home with two bags full. I chose a plump, dark colored orange from the first bag. Popping my nail into the waxy skin, it peeled off easily. I poked my finger into the middle where the orange segments came together and pulled them apart. Each wedge was perfect, faintly orange and opaque. Bad oranges pull apart like a ragged mess, juice squirting and guts falling out of the thin, delicate inner skin that holds each segment together. These were good oranges. Plump, juicy, and sweet. I grabbed a second one, this time for pleasure, not vitamin C.
I’ve been thinking a lot about individual flavors, lately. To get lost in the taste of an ingredient by itself, raw and unapologetic, is a beautiful thing. Orange is an exotic flavor. It is sharp and clean, resfreshing and bright, acidic and sweet. When a food is enjoyed it its pure state, it absolutely must be of the highest quality. There is nothing to mask the imperfection. Winter is orange season, and the oranges right now are almost perfect.
I say almost because nothing’s perfect. I mean, think of the elephant. Delicious oranges were the source of his gluttonous death. Something good is mired by something bad. Yet, the good wins in the end. It always does, doesn’t it? A new, even greater orange tree blossoms from his stomach, overcoming it’s source of death. Oranges aren’t perfect, but they are surely miraculous. Let’s explore why that is, shall we?
Oranges are in their prime during winter. I know I already said this, but think about it once. What is also at it’s prime during winter? The flu. Oranges vs. the flu. It’s rather convenient that a single orange gives our bodies its necessary amount of vitamin C for the day. Since vitamin C builds the immune system, I’m pretty amazed that our best fruit for combating illness happens to taste the best during the season we are most vulnerable to a germy attack. God is clever, isn’t he?
Oranges zap your tastebuds with a sharp burst of acidic awesomeness. Even bad oranges are super flavorful. I don’t know about you, but when I have a cold, I can hardly taste anything. But eat an orange, and you’re going to taste it. It makes itself known. Personally, I’m convinced that the sprightly juice of oranges gives me energy and hope when I’m under the weather. A splash of tropical bliss.
Oranges have magical peels. …Really? Like, really? Yes, really. Not only does the outer skin protect the lush, pulpy fruit on the inside, but it can be used for both edible and topical uses. Orange zest adds lovely fragrance and a hint of citrus to dishes both savory and sweet. It can be zested in longer strips, boiled in sugar water, and rolled in sugar to make candied orange peel. It has been used through the centuries in perfumes and facial products. It’s oil does wonders for furniture, giving wood a slick sheen. What’s more, the scent can be used to ward off pesky bugs like mosquitos. And we cannot forget that the peel is unique in its gorgeous color.
Then, there’s the fact that oranges come pre-packaged into neat, bite-sized wedges. How convenient, right?
God really is clever.
When I was little, I’d eat a bowl of oranges while watching Nickelodean. My mom would always peel them for me, probably hoping to save the kitchen from a massive explosion of orange guts. When she’d hand me the bowl, I’d observe which wedges looked the juiciest. Then I’d proceed to eat them from most pathetic looking piece to the most lovely looking one. I’d pop a wedge in my mouth horizontally, bite down, and suck all the sticky nectar out. It was bliss.
I often forget how blissful fruit can be. It’s easy to get excited about apples baked in a pie, but on their own? With oranges, we drink a lot of orange juice, adding sugar to “enhance” the flavor. Eventually, the raw fruit seems boring. I gotta be honest, eating fruit has always been somewhat a chore to me. I try to get excited, but I’m not. The problem is intention. Am I forcing myself to eat an orange because it’s healthy? Cool fact: In Italy, fruit is the dessert of choice. Dessert. Frankly, I’d be pissed if someone slapped a bowl of oranges in front of me after dinner. Where’s my sugar-laden cake or fudge-drenched ice cream? What the Italians know that I don’t is that fruit is the perfect pallet cleanser, and what’s more, it does have sugar. Natural sugar. Eat an orange with intention. Eat it slow and concentrate on the flavor. You’ll be amazed that something so good even exists.
Now that my flu’s gone, I’m still eating lots of oranges. I especially like to eat them with my favorite fruit. Blueberries.
Oranges and blueberries. Orange and blue. Opposite colors on the color wheel. Fierce and calm. Fire and water. Beautiful unity. Not only in color, but in taste, too.
Where oranges are a little sour and super sticky, blueberries are cool, sweet, and somehow, rich. Normally, I’ll pop about three or four blueberries in my mouth with each orange wedge. This time, I tried seasoning the blueberries with orange zest.
Flavoring fruit with fruit.
Somehow, the zest sweetened the blueberries. At the same time, there was a deep, citrusy undertone. It didn’t mask the berries; it brought out a side to them I didn’t know. The berriness was enhanced, and that’s about the best description I can give.
Flavoring tea with scraps.
Why not use every bit of the fruit? There’s been a recent trend to return to the primal undertaking of using every bit of meat from an animal. Everything from the organs to the blood to the eyeballs. It’s all good… seriously! Many people around the world still know how to cook and enjoy the nasty bits because it means saving money, respecting the animal, and carrying on tradition. Now, I feel a little silly calling people to respect fruits and vegetables, but I’m going to. Using celery in a homemade soup? Rip the leaves off the stock and throw them in a salad. Peeling an orange? Throw a piece of the skin in your tea and let it saturate the herbal liquid with it’s citrusy sweetness.
When we get more in touch with our ingredients and their unique flavors, our cooking and eating gets a lot tastier, a lot deeper.