Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge: To Candy Orring Pills!

Or should I say, "To Candy Orange Peels!"

For my first official "Historical Food Fortnightly" challenge I decided to do candied orange peel, specifically from Martha Washington's cookbook.  Since this is a challenge of firsts, this is the first time I've ever tried making candied citrus peel of any sort and was very curious about the process and taste.

Now, in researching this topic, I found several receipts that involve different amounts of time and instruction.  I could have done a very interesting version from the late 14th century (which involves using honey rather than sugar) but I didn't have the 9 days available to make it.  I also found an interesting one for both peel and orange segments to be preserved (to make citron) from the 1730's.  But, honestly, for a first-time-candied-peel-maker it was a bit confusing.  

So I decided to try Martha Washington's "To Candy Orring Pills" receipt from her Booke of Sweetmeats (which is the second half of her Booke of Cookery).  

To Candy Orring Pills

Take Civill orringes & pare them very thin. Then cut them in little pieces, & lay them in faire water a day & a night, & shift them evening and morning. Then boyle them, & shift them when the water is bitter into another water, & continew this till the water & boyling hath made them soft & yt theyr bitterness be gon. Then dreyne ye water from them, & make a thin sirrup, in which boyle them a pritty while. Then take them out & make another sirrup a little stronger, & boyle them a while in yt. Then dreyne ye sirrup from them, & boyle another sirrup to candy heigh, in wch put them. Then take them out & lay them on plats one by one. When they are dry, turne them & then they are done.

For this receipt I decided to use the peel from four oranges, partly because that was how many I had on hand and partly because she doesn't state a quantity of peel needed.  In fact there are no quantities suggested for any of the ingredients so this took a little bit of guess work. 

Now she does suggest "Civill" (Seville) oranges should be used in this receipt.  I didn't have access to them.  But I do understand that their peels are more bitter than typical orange peels, hence probably why there is alot of soaking and boiling.  

So I took the four oranges, cut the top and bottom off, and then made slits along the side of the peel, cutting down enough to get through the skin.  This helps to peel the oranges into wide strips, rather than getting a bunch of different sized small pieces.  I have yet to master the "peeling-an-orange-with-the-peel-fully-intact" method.  It also helped to keep the pith intact with the peel, making the peel stronger and more able to withstand the soaking/boiling it was about to go through.

I then took these thicker strips and then cut them into the size that I wanted, mainly in half.

Then I put the peels into a tupperware container and filled it with water.  Then I covered it and put it into the fridge for 24 hours.  I changed the water right before I went to bed, roughly 12 hours later.

The next morning I drained the orange peel.  It was considerably softer, not surprising after being soaked for 24 hours.

The next step in the process was to boil the peels, strain them, and then reboil them till they "hath made them soft & yt theyr bitterness be gon".  Again, very detailed.  So I decided to boil/strain/repeat three times, boiling for 10 minutes each time.  And it seemed to work.  Both my husband (the official taste tester) and I tasted the peel once it was strained the third time and it was soft and lacked any bitterness.  In fact I was very surprised that it still had some good orange flavor, even if it was a bit bland, after all that soaking and boiling.

Then dreyne ye water from them, & make a thin sirrup, in which boyle them a pritty while. Then take them out & make another sirrup a little stronger, & boyle them a while in yt. Then dreyne ye sirrup from them, & boyle another sirrup to candy heigh, in wch put them.

So this part took a bit more interpretation.  What is a thin syrup?  What is a syrup boiled "to candy heigh"?  Is this three different syrups or one syrup that is boiled down over time?  How long is a "pritty while"?!?!

So, after spending some time with my friend Google, I determined that a thin syrup would be of a 2:1 ratio water to sugar.  So 2 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar.  From there I decided to increase the sugar by half cups, judging from the fact that each syrup is a bit stronger than the last.  So the second syrup was made with 2 cups of water to 1 1/2 cups of sugar.  The third was made with a 2:2 ratio, 2 cups water to 2 cups sugar (which is the candy ratio, depending how hot you get the syrup). 

With that decided on I measured out three bowls of sugar, one for each syrup, and got the first pot of water boiling while the orange peel was straining. 

So with the first pot, I got the water to simmer, poured in and stirred the sugar till it dissolved, brought the syrup to a boil, then added the orange peels for the first sugar boil.

I decided to keep it at a boil for 15 minutes before scooping it out and making the second syrup.  There wasn't really any scientific method to it, it just seemed like a good amount of time to me.  I just hoped that it would work.

Once the first syrup boil was done I scooped the peels out and started the second syrup.  I took a small piece at this time and tasted it, wanting not only to see what it tasted like but also to see if the process was working.  I found the peel was soft but only mildly sweet, with a bit of an aftertaste that wasn't bitter but wasn't very pleasant either.  In appearance though it seemed like the color had brightened from being almost a golden yellow to a light orange.  And there certainly was more a shine rather than the flat look it had earlier.

I pretty much repeated the process with the second syrup. Added the sugar to the water, dissolved, brought to a boil, added the peels, boiled for 15 minutes and strained them a second time.

This time the color was even brighter and much more like how the orange peel looked when I first peeled the fruit.  And the shine from the syrup was even brighter.  The second peel was definitely sweeter, with no bitter aftertaste left, making it much more palatable.


So, for the third time, I dissolved the 2 cups of sugar into the 2 cups of water, brought it to a boil and added the orange peels and boiled them for 15 minutes.  This time the syrup was certainly thicker, with crystalization on the sides of the pot where the water had evaporated.  I think this is what Martha meant about the "candy heigh".

Once they were done boiling, I took each one out and laid them on a parchment so that they could dry.  I laid them with the skin down and the peel side up, figuring the peel was what needed to dry out the most.  

Now, like most of the receipt, Martha doesn't specify how long it will take to dry them.  So I put a rack over them and covered them with a towel so that they could sit out on the counter and take as long as they needed to, checking on their dryness every few hours.  I figured possibly the afternoon or evening and they would be good.

Two Days Later...

Though I checked on them several times during each day I really didn't think they were dry enough till two days later, and even then some needed to be flipped over so that the skin side would dry out too.

So this was the end product, candied orange peel!

I must say they were much shiner and orange in color than I thought it would be halfway through the soaking process.  But I found that they were quite appealing! (Ha ha ha ha!  Yeah I couldn't resist!)

As for the taste?

Well, I must say it was VERY good!  When I bit into it I was genuinely surprised at how soft the rind truly got.  It still had a some chew to it, but it wasn't hard at all.  And the sweetness was just right.  It wasn't sickening, and the orange flavor (which I had thought for certain would have been lost in the soaking/boiling process) came through enough to make you realize it is orange peel, but not over powering.

I had my official taste tester try it as well and he enjoyed it too! In fact he was very surprised at how much he did like it.  I later took it to a party with my fellow reenactors (Col. Bailey's 2nd Massachusetts) and many agreed that this orange peel was delicious and would love to have it again!

So, for the first time trying this, I think it was a huge success!  And a very cost effective way to use your orange peels, if you have the time to do it!

But this wasn't the only citrus peel I made this week!  Stay tuned for the next post! 


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