24 degrees is the perfect temperature for picking bitter orange blossom in Cyprus; any hotter and I begin to wilt….
I picked the Turunc orange blossom today; Seville oranges were the only bitter oranges I knew until I came to Cyprus, but Turunc is the Mother of all Oranges and root stock for all commercially grown oranges.
The orange trees were laden with oranges, flowers and leaves at the same time – the bees were drunk with nectar, very gently sharing the flowers with me – the same cannot be said for a spider who bit me on my index finger and caused my whole hand to slowly swell and become numb that only went way after 48 hours.
With my bag of orange blossoms I went to learn how to Dry Steam distil. This is where a small amount of water is added to a pressure cooker, which when heated causes steam to flow through a steel tube to the base of a 40 litre steel tubular container – the equivalent of our handsomely rounded retort.
The steel tube is fitted to the retorts base below a raised perforated platform or sieve like structure that enables the steam to flow upwards.
It is filled with the picked blossom, with the lid clipped securely into place.
A double skinned pipe from the top of the steel retort acted as a condenser with constant cold water flowing through the outer pipe, condensing the orange scented steam into liquid. The skill is in continually adding small amounts of water to the pressure cooker so as not to dry out the pot but use the least amount of water as possible.
From 2/3 full, approx 30kg of blossom gave up 5ml of oil and 1 litre of hydrosol that had a real tannin bitterness in the final scent.
What I don’t know is if the tannin note of the scent is due to the steel retort and not copper as we use, or if it is the true scent of the turunc. I shall get some essential oil and compare the scents,
Citrus trees were unknown to the ancient Greeks and were known as the Persian or Median apple.
Citrus trees have been grown on the island of Cyprus for millennium, but surprisingly little Bergamot is grown here. The oil from the Bergamot rind is delightful – sharp, green .
The types of sweet citrus trees grown in Cyprus are Valencia, Washington navel, and Jaffa. For the bitter orange it is just citrus aurantium or turunc. The turunc tree has grey bark, a rounded crown and is twiggy with slender auxiliary spines. The leaves a dark green on both surfaces, the the telltale petiole broadly winged above the full leaf.
The flowers are hermaphrodite, pearl or bright white with four times as many stamens as pipepetals and in March to April the island is awash with the beautiful scent. The hydrosols that we make with the flowers is called bloom-water in Cyprus, which it think really encapsulates the passing beauty of the floral scent.
The highly prized essential oil is used in perfume making, especially Eau de Cologne, whilst the subsp. bitter fruit is used in marmalade making or the dried peel is used as a condiment.