Bitter orange-symbol fruit of Dubrovnik
All guests who were on one of our gastro tours have heard the story about bitter or sour orange.
Why is bitter orange so special and what is its meaning for the rich food history in Dubrovnik? It is one of the symbols of the City.The first written trails go far back to the 13th century when already many gardens were decorated with numerous trees of lemons and bitter oranges. They were brought from the Arabian Peninsula,
while the sweet orange was brought to the Mediterranean by Portuguese seamen from the area of present-day South China already in the 16th century. During the 19th century almost every house with the garden had at least one tree. Finally, at the beginning of the 20th century there was a written rule that every newly wed couple should plant five trees of agrums and after the first born baby three more, and with every new one three more. Therefore it is not surprising that we now have in Dubrovnik and surrounding areas more than three thousands of bitter orange trees. Nowadays it welcomes visitors in the gardens located at the western and eastern City gates, particularly in autumn and winter when the evergreen branches of the bitter orange trees become heavy with fruit. In the past and even today the main decoration for special occasions such as
Christmas or Saint Blaise Day are laurel garlands garnished with the orange fruit.
It was for centuries the main gift to the neighbours, friends, carolers, and sick people to bring more peace, health and cosiness to their home. Specially famous were the oranges from the islands of Elaphiti which are situated western from the city. Their fruit is enriched with salt that gives them a
distinguishing scent and taste. From the domestic organic oranges people have been making arancini – sugared orange peels, zest was an indispensable ingredient for cakes and biscuits, liqueurs,aromatic marmalades and syrups. Well known are also medical benefits of consuming the fruit or
leaves and flowers. Tea made from bitter orange leaves calmed the nerves, facilitated digestion and was used for cleaning wounds. The flowers of the bitter orange tree are used to produce essences for aromatherapy and the leaves have long been used for medicinal purposes. In fact they were first used in Asia where the plan originates. In Chinese medicine herbal preparations made from bitter
orange leaves and fruit rinds were used to treat intestinal problems, including constipation. The large quantity of this precious fruit is, unfortunately, still not used sufficiently as it could be.
Except for Dubrovnik, there is also the city of Seville which is even more famous for its bitter orange. 14,000 trees are decorating its streets and you can feel their scent on every step.
Calabria, Italy, is world famous for bergamot orange, which is a hybrid between lemon and bitter orange, now widely used in the perfume industry and also it’s best known for the flavor it gives to Earl Grey tea.
Recently I read one article about Menton- a small village in France that made branding with the lemons that grow there. In normal times in mid of February they have Lemon Festival. After grey colors of January each year they turn their city to the yellow color and everything is dedicated to lemons: decorations, dishes they serve in restaurants, even the china they sell as souvenirs. It attracts thousands of people around the world. We are quite sure we should do the same. It could
become a major event in Dubrovnik area together with the carnival that happens at the same time.
Some things are just in front of our nose, we just have to grab it and use it for good purposes.
Bitter orange jam
1 kilo of oranges
1 kilo of sugar
½ l water for cooking seeds
Wash bitter oranges thoroughly. Remove the peel and soak in water for 24 hours. Remove the seeds from the pulp (orange flesh) and boil (for about half an hour) in 1/2 litre of water. Refrigerate in a covered glass bowl for 24 hours. Slice the pulp, cut the slices into halves, add sugar and keep in a
covered bowl at room temperature for 24 hours. After 24 hours, cut the orange peel into small and thin strips. Strain the boiled seeds (using plastic strainer), rinse with water, and add 1/2 litre of
water. Mix the water in which the seeds were boiled with the orange pulp (orange slices cut in halves mixed with sugar) and the orange peel strips. Put the mixture to boil and cook for about thirty minutes stirring occasionally. Pour the hot jam into glass jars (previously heated in the oven at 70°C).
Cover the jars firmly, turn upside down and leave for about 15 minutes in order to sterilize the jar covers with hot jam.
This recipe is created at the Deša Humanitarian Society, a many times gold medal winner at Croatian
jam and marmalade contests. They are big promoters of bitter orange and one of the organizers of Bitter Orange festival which is held at the main square in the Old Town beginning of February.