Over the Thanksgiving weekend, it felt like Peter and I inadvertently used about half of our wedding presents. It was exciting to finally put some to use as we slowly get some energy back (which is an ironic statement as we spent most of Saturday on our asses and didn’t shower until 6:30pm). We have this new obsession and we’ve finally started doing something about it instead of just talking about how fun it might be to try. We’ve been enjoying artisanal cocktails a lot lately, and we feel like we want to be a little more involved in the craft instead of just simply drinking them. There’s such a rich history surrounding these drinks, and it’s really interesting to talk to a well-informed bartender about what you’re actually drinking. A rise in this trend around here (which I think took much too long to reach the northwest) got us thinking about creating bitters and seeing if we are any good at it. We’ve done a ton of reading on the subject and we’ve collected our goods to get going, which has taken us much longer than we originally had thought. We have strange roots and plants from Mexico and China, a good collection of half gallon mason jars, little 4 oz eyedropper bottles for storage and I’ve apparently already made this endeavor a huge success in my head because I have a few ideas rumbling around about the design of the label and packaging options.
One of the first things we learned was that we would need to dry our own orange peels. All the options available for purchase seem to include a lot of the pith, which would apparently turn your starting mixture into some sort of gelatin. We didn’t want to take any chances, so we went to the store and purchased 30 oranges (!). This would apparently yield us 8 oz of dried peels (it got us 6 oz). So we sat on the couch (as we had done all day) and peeled oranges, which instantly made the whole house smell like some slightly better version of Citrasolv. Leland had no interest and sequestered himself to the bedroom, as citrus is not the best olfactory experience for cats and the food dehydrator sitting in the middle of the dining room table was a big white orb of a thing that had suddenly appeared and wouldn’t stop making noise.
It is bad enough that a variety of orange is subjected to the fate of being called Navel; on top of it all, they are really not good for juicing. When I have casually mentioned this I get a response that implies I should have already known that. The juice was great hours after we made it. I added just a bit of agave syrup to tone down the tartness a little bit and that was all. We were feeling so good about it that we bottled up a bunch to give away. The next morning, we decided to use a questionable bottle of champagne and our fresh orange juice for a homemade mimosa. We were feeling resourceful and smart. We poured a large glass and tasted that the previously delicious juice was completely bitter. It’s scientifically confusing to me. I looked it up and apparently this is somewhat common knowledge and caused by a substance called limonin. After 24 hours, the juice of the Navel orange is no good. Here’s a bit of writing on the subject, which weeks ago would have been a bit of a snore, but it is now honestly fascinating. I also learned after the fact that the skin is thickest on this variety, which ultimately is probably what we didn’t want. It’s all a big experiment, and I know it’s not the first thing we’ll learn in this process. This small error likely happened because we didn’t do a test between different varieties, but I cannot be too surprised. Why would we test out drying multiple varieties of oranges if we can’t even get off the couch?