Our Fragrant Bitter Oranges

With the fruit, besides my usual marmalade, I make curd substituting lemon with bitter orange juice, and also a fragrant, Campari-like drink (Vin apéritif à l’orange amère) inspired by a recipe from Provence. 


Fifteen years ago, we planted two navel-orange trees in the southwestern corner of the garden. One is still around in a pitiful state and we have yet to get one full-grown orange from it. The other almost dried up, ‘burned’ by a cold January wind; but grew back from its un-grafted part. Now it thrives as a bitter orange tree, one of the most common, somewhat overlooked trees in Greece, that line the sidewalks in Athens and other big cities.

Our modest tree gives us an abundance of fragrant bitter oranges each winter and I am always on a lookout for recipes to use them up, besides my usual marmalade, of which I make loads every season. This marmalade has become my staple ingredient; I add it to cakes, creams, and breads, both sweet and savory, often omitting sugar, especially in my fresh cheese and yogurt summer desserts.


When I get tired of stirring the pot and filling jars, I juice the remaining bitter fruit and use some to make a fragrant curd, following the recipe for Lemon Curd.  I also freeze the surplus juice to use it all-year-round in the chickpea soup –as is the tradition in Crete, and instead of lemon in the dressing for steamed kale, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and beets; its aromatic, tangy bitterness complements beautifully the sweetness of the vegetables and roots.


And a piece of useless knowledge:

In Greek we call the Seville orange nerantzi (from the Spanish naranjas) while the common, sweet orange is called portokali (Arab and Turkish use similar words) from portogallo, a southern Italian term. It obviously dates from the time when oranges were believed to have come from Portugal.


Going through an old French magazine, I came across this wonderful recipe for bitter orange wine, and decided to try it. The result was a rich-flavored aperitif that our friends loved! We had to warn them not to drink too much, though, because it is quite stronger than wine…

        RECIPE Bitter Orange Drink (Vin apéritif à l’orange amère)  

        Inspired by a recipe from Provence.

A fragrant, Campari-like drink that you can serve as an aperitif in a tall glass with a splash of seltzer or tonic water, an orange slice, and just a couple of ice cubes. The drink is extremely easy to make, but the fruit need to macerate in the wine for at least 40 days.




3 thoughts on “Our Fragrant Bitter Oranges

  1. Hello,

    I’ve just discovered your website after a tip off from Melbourne cook Ela Mittas mentioned it in her blog.
    According to my father-in-law I am an honorary Greek since my background is English. My heart belongs to Greece. What wonderful recipes you share. I’m going to try some. Thanks a lot.

    Kipps Horn

  2. Hi. I live in Peloponnese in the south we have 4 mature trees in our garden which I think fall into the category you describe. The fruit is certainly bitter. The trees have big thorns – and I mean big! I can’t workout if the trees are just gone wild and back to their rootstock or if they were planted as they are. Any idea? I am wondering about getting grafts put onto them of more usable citrus such as sweet orange or lemon.

    1. Grafting seems an excellent idea if they are healthy trees and I am sure they will thrive! Ours unfortunately are now in a terrible state after the heat and drought of this island summer. I hope they recover somewhat, but my husband doubts they will…

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