As the orange blossom comes into bloom in the Algarve you won't be able to miss the mass of white flowers in the orange orchards and if you are lucky enough to have one or more trees in your garden the beautiful heady smell that fills the air as you pass by a tree is a welcome reminder that spring is most definitely with us. Cut and popped in a vase the display is not only pretty but will fill the room with the beautiful scent.
Have you ever thought about saving the blossom though and putting it to good use? After all, I think most of us will admit that we let too many of the oranges on our trees go to waste so why not harvest some of the beautiful blossom and enjoy the many ways in which it can be used once turned into orange blossom water. If you’ve never used floral waters before, you may just assume they are used for desserts and something your grandmother used but orange blossom water is remarkably versatile. The smallest drop added to a familiar dish will give it a new flavour. Look into the traditional cuisines from Provence all the way to Morocco and you will soon see how many different ways floral waters add versatility to many dishes.
Here though I want to introduce you to the many ways in which you could put your orange blossom to good use and therefore I am going to concentrate on orange blossom water. Of course first, we have to make it:
First things first: once your trees are in full bloom gather up a good amount of the blossom which then needs to be dried fully before being used. The best way to do this is to lay them out on trays and leave in a sunny room or ever better conservatory until they are ready. You can bag up your dried blossom or even better, use glass storage containers for when you then need it as you may find you don't want to use it all in one go. (Make sure you are using flowers that have not been sprayed with any chemical products such as herbicides or insecticides, or the result could be toxic for you.)
To make your orange blossom water, ideally distilled water is best, but you can also use mineral water or even make your own distilled water from tap water (see note about this at bottom of blog).
Take 50g (1.7 oz) of dried orange blossom flowers and half a litre of water - for larger quantities just remember to always keep the proportions the same, so for every half litre of water, you'll need 50 grams (1.7 ounces) of dried orange blossom flowers.
Place the flowers in a bowl and cover them with the water. Stir them a little and cover the bowl with cling film so that the water is permeated with the floral aroma from the flowers. You should leave it for a day in a cool, dark place.
After 24 hours, strain the water using a cloth strainer or a muslin cloth in a sieve. Leave it to stand for at least 30 minutes to an hour and then pour it into pre-sterilised glass jars or bottles (I like the little ones with stoppers you can get from Ikea but anything similar will be perfect) Close the bottle or jar and because it’s also a fairly delicate ingredient, store in a cool and dry place or even the fridge
Below are 10 of my favourite uses for orange blossom water. Whether you try these or variations or come up with your own uses, you won't ever regret finding a use for the this beautiful blossom so in abundance in the Spring in the Algarve:
Natural calming room scent: This is such a simple way to not only perfume a room but also because orange blossom essence is known for its calming properties, an ideal one to use in bedrooms, especially just before bedtime. Pour a few drops into a bowl of boiling water and leave it in the room. As the water evaporates, the delicate orange flower perfume will fill the room. Alternatively add a few drops of orange blossom water to a spray bottle filled with water. Then spritz a room to freshen it with the fragrance.
Orange blossom skin toner: Orange blossom is excellent for skin: it calms redness and soothes irritations and is also especially good if you have oily or sensitive skin so using it to replace a shop brought skin toner is a perfect natural replacement. Having made your orange blossom water yourself you will know that it is of a pure and natural distillation.
Orange blossom bath (a luxury way to have a lovely soak): Simply mix 2-3 cups of warm milk, 1/4 cup of orange blossom water and 3 tablespoons of honey, mix and then add to your bath water. Lay back and relax and your skin will feel and look like satin.
Dealing with sunburn, rashes, and other skin irritations: Orange blossom water is known to relieve a variety of skin irritations. All you need to do when the situation may arise is simply dab it over the affected area and you will soon appreciate the benefits.
Orange blossom water stomach tonic: Due to its calming properties, orange blossom water can help reduce nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Simply add a few drops to a glass of water.
Hand freshener: When enjoying an alfresco meal with friends and loved ones if you have served finger foods why not offer a hand bowl filled with orange blossom scented water at the end of dinner.
Puddings and desserts: Any creamy and milky pudding will take on the additional flavour of orange blossom water - panna cotta, mousse, custard and even rice puddings. Try it in white chocolate based sauces and desserts and a few drops added to cream and whipped up with sugar when paired with a selection of fresh fruits or berries serves up a decadent but easy dessert. If you make your own ice cream, add orange blossom water to your mix before freezing using about 4 teaspoons per pint or to taste depending on how intense you want the flavour. Even with shop brought vanilla ice cream you can bring it to life with the flavour of orange blossom. Let is soften slightly and then add a few drops of your orange blossom water, mix well, re-chill and then serve. You can also try adding orange blossom water to your favourite sweet bread, crepe or pancake recipes.
Savoury options: Don't be surprised if you have tasted orange blossom in savoury dishes. Use in small quantities it will add an intriguing twist. A classic has a Moroccan twist. Mix grated carrot with olive oil, lemon juice, orange blossom water and a sprinkle of cinnamon and the flavour it brings out in the carrot is totally different. Another dish to try to accompany a fresh and light lunch is pairing it with cucumber. Simply take your cucumber, remove the skin, slice thinly and season with salt, lemon juice and 3 teaspoons of orange blossom water. For a simple but delicious dressing for green salads mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of orange blossom water and salt and pepper. Mix well and drizzle over the salad. There are many more options and once you start to experiment you will for sure discover the difference this simple ingredient will make to a dish.
A perfect combination of honey and orange blossom: This could be a match made in heaven with the orange blossom water toning down the consistency of the honey, while the honey itself enhances the floral notes of the orange blossom. For any dish that you would use honey, add a few drops of orange blossom water: this is especially good in marinades.
A simple refreshing drink: There is nothing to adding a few drops of orange blossom water to a jug of filtered water and keeping it in the fridge for a refreshing cold drink on a hot day. Alternatively when filling an ice cube tray why not also add a few drops to the water before filling and popping the ice cube tray in the freezer.
However you choose to use your home made orange blossom water it is truly worth the effort and you will have a reminder all year round of that fresh Spring heavenly scent.
As promised ...How to make distilled water from tap water:
1. Fill a 5-gallon (18.927 L) stainless steel pot about halfway full with tap water.
2. Place a glass bowl in the water. Be sure it floats. The bowl should not touch the bottom of the pot. If the bowl doesn't float, remove it from the water and set a round baking rack on the bottom of the pot. Then place the bowl back in the water
3. The water in the pot must be boiling before going to the next step. This is to boil off chemicals such as methanol and ethanol.
4. Create a condensation effect with a hot/cold barrier. You can do this by inverting the pot's lid and filling it with ice. When hot steam hits the cold lid, it will create condensation.
5. Boil the water in your pot. As the water continues to boil, it will cause steam to rise and condense on the pot's lid. The condensation will drip into the bowl. Allow the distillation process to continue until you have enough distilled water in the bowl for your needs.
6. Watch the water collecting in the bowl. This bowl water will be hot but should not boil. If the bowl water begins to boil, turn down the heat on the stove so that just the pot water is boiling.
7. Remove your pot from the heat and take off the lid.
8. Take the bowl of distilled water out of the pot of boiling water. Use caution when doing this so you do not burn yourself. You can allow the water to cool before removing the bowl, if you prefer.
Allow the distilled water to cool before storing it.