Seville Orange & Lemon Pie
I haven’t made any secret about my love of language. I’m fascinated by the stories behind words, and food words in particular can be pretty fascinating. Orange is a really interesting word – no rhymes, used for both the colour and the fruit, etc. I just learned the other day that before the word ‘orange’ (from the fruit) found its way into Middle English, the existing word for the colour was ġeolurēad (yellow-red). I don’t know why, but that amuses me. Now orange itself is a great word, but it’s also happens to be the source of one of my favourite linguistic concepts: the retronym. A retronym is a name that is applied to something well after the fact in order to differentiate it from its descendents. Acoustic guitar is a great example; there was no need for the ‘acoustic’ part before the invention of the electric guitar. This brings us to the Seville, or bitter orange.
When we say orange nowadays, we tend to mean the sweet and juicy type typically eaten out of hand. But that orange is a relative newcomer, having taken over the moniker from the original bitter/sour Seville orange. A plate full of Seville orange slices would not be a welcome refreshment during halftime at a kids’ soccer game. The fruits are intensely fragrant, but they’re also sour, bitter, and loaded with seeds. As an eating fruit, it’s easy to see why the sweet orange (which is basically a sibling of the Seville orange, derived from the same parents but during a completely separate hybridization event) would dominate the market. But the ‘orange character’ (Oranginess? Orangitude?) of the Seville orange is absolutely unparalleled, and it’s an incredible ingredient to cook and bake with. In fact, the relative lack of sweetness in the Seville orange is something of an asset in desserts where sugar is added, as it yields a more nuanced, balanced dessert that avoids becoming cloying. Sadly, the once-widespread Seville orange doesn’t enjoy the popularity it once did, and it’s become pretty tricky to find. But there’s really no replacing them, and once you’ve tried them, you’ll look for them everywhere.
Now I tend to have weird-produce-radar in general, but when winter rolls around my citrus senses really start tingling. As luck would have it, I happened upon a little green grocer that was stocking Seville oranges at rather low prices. In what I assume was an effort to avoid any confusion with sweet oranges, they were in a box right beside the till. On my third trip to get more (I got kind of hooked on these things), the well-meaning cashier immediately started warning me that they were not sweet. I smiled and thanked her, and told here I knew. She asked if I was going to make jam (I was) but I told her that I had other plans for this batch, and that you could actually do a lot of cooking with these oranges. She seemed a little surprised – and I think that’s pretty indicative of the problem. Seville oranges have become ‘marmalade only’ oranges. Now, I love making marmalade, but that intense orange flavour hit that Seville oranges deliver warrants their inclusion in a much wider range of dishes. With that in mind, I bring you an orange pie that will convince you that the Seville orange is actually the most orange-flavoured orange out there. Orange.
This pie is intense. Intense is probably not a word most people associate with pie, but I’m just going to go and put it all out there. INTENSE. As I’ve said, seville oranges are definitely not sweet, but that’s a huge plus here, as there’s already enough sweetness in the other filling ingredients. Instead, they (and the lemons) contribute an amazing, tangy citrus flavour. I had a piece 2 hours before I wrote this, and I swear I can still taste oranges. But I wasn’t content to stop at the orange, so I’ve added a chocolate (orange’s best buddy) graham wafer crust.
Incidentally, a well-executed citrus-meringue pie (lemon, key lime, etc) should always be at least a little intense – the whole point is to let the citrus really shine through the treacly-sweet condensed milk. Juice is only half the battle here – zest is best. Citrus zest packs a wallop, so don’t relegate it to the garbage bin.
If you want to find out more things that you can do with Seville oranges, or if you want to find out how to buy and use them, check out the Diversivore ingredient page HERE.
The pie filling is based on this recipe for Sour Orange Pie from Authentic Florida, though the cook times are a little different, and I like to prepare and use the zest a little differently. The chocolate graham wafer crust is adapted from this food.com recipe.
HELP I CAN’T FIND SEVILLE ORANGES!
Ok, I realize that when I present a recipe with an unusual or obscure ingredient, it can be a little maddening when you have no idea where to find it. First off, let me say that there is a decent chance that you can actually order some Seville oranges online. Even if you have to order what seems like a lot, it’s worth noting that you can do a TON of different things with them, and they actually freeze (whole, believe it or not) incredibly well. They also do tend to show up in stores more than many people realize, as they can be a bit camouflaged among the sweet oranges. Try organic and specialty stores (I’ve seen them at Whole Foods before, to give you an idea).
If you really can’t find them though, you can try one of two substitutions:
1. A 50/50 mixture of lemon and sweet orange juice. Given that you’re already using lemon juice in this recipe, the end result will be something like a lemony/orange pie, but it will still be good.
2. Calamondin/calamansi juice. These little citrus fruits are sometimes green on the outside, sometimes orange, but they always have an orange flesh with lots of little seeds. They’re generally sweeter than Seville oranges, but they have some of that lovely tart/bitter flavour as well. The whole fruits often show up in the winter in Asian grocery stores, especially those catering to Filipino populations. You might be able to find the juice on it’s own too, but note that many of the pre-packaged calamansi juices you’ll see are sweetened.
This isn’t a terribly complicated recipe to put together. If you’ve ever made a lemon meringue pie from scratch, you’ll have no trouble.
The crust is particularly easy, and can be made up to a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen in a well-sealed bag and kept for 2-3 months. You may find that this recipe makes more crust mix than you want (unless you like a very thick crust or you build the edges up quite high) so consider freezing the remaining crumb-mix as is for later use, or make a few small tart/pie crusts to use with cheesecake, lime curd, etc. Likewise, you could reduce the crust ingredients by about 15% if a) you don’t mind the math, and b) you’re trying to reduce the amount you make. I really do recommend using graham wafers AND a good cocoa powder, and not chocolate graham wafers. The flavour is better, and you have more control over the sweetness and the intensity of the chocolate flavour.
If you have a good microplane or a citrus zester (the type commonly used to make curls of zest for drinks) you can use that to peel zest the from the fruit. However, I prefer not to use a box grater, as it’s tough to control how thick the gratings are, and a lot of citrus oil gets left on the grater. Instead, use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel off the coloured layer of zest, avoiding the bitter white pith below. Then, thinly sliced and finely chop the zest. You’ll end up with tiny little bits of zest that add a lot of flavour and little punches of colour in the filling.
Meringue can be a bit tricky, but there are a few tricks to help make the process easier. If possible, use room-temperature egg whites. Do not apply meringue to a cold pie, as this increases the risk of weeping (water collecting between the pie and the meringue). Try to spread the meringue all the way around the pie, touching all of the crust, as this will help prevent the meringue from shrinking. Small beads may form on the surface of the meringue if it is overcooked slightly, so try to watch the cook time as carefully as you can. The key to toasting the meringue (but not overcooking it) is to use a high temperature for a short period of time.
Serve the pie as quickly as possible after it’s cooled, as the meringue will be at its best early on. If you have to store leftovers (hah!), cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The meringue will probably soften and get a bit spongy, but it will still taste good.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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