There was an episode of Doctor Who a few years ago in which the Doctor found in the pocket of his bathrobe a tangerine. He called it a “satsuma,” which is the word for tangerine in England and outer space. He then launched into a short speech about how there was always one in the toe of the Christmas stocking.
So it seems that the placement of an orange-colored citrus fruit in the December 25th stocking is, literally, universal. (I’ve heard old family stories about how not so many generations ago finding citrus in any form in the winter was difficult, making the orange a special treat.)
The brightly colored orbs, though, are often that particular kind of orange that fights getting peeled and that, once the almost impossible task is done, the inside scarcely justifies the effort.
I am here to tell you that I have found a use for those pretty but inedible oranges.
It used to be that you’d see published here and there a half-recipe, half-craft idea in which one was supposed to stick cloves into the orange, all over, to that it ended up looking like an enormous pollen granule. The cloves were supposed, I guess, to mummify the orange, making it suitable for some purpose I’ve forgotten.
My idea is better.
Christmas is over and now we launch into the long temporal wasteland of winter. The festivity of the autumn is gone. The fact that the cold arrived a month early does not mean, alas, that it will leave a month early, too. Winter tends to be gray and dreary.
It is made worse by the dryness of the air, which is hard on the furniture and hard on us. Keeping the house humidified is important. Enter that pretty but pretty useless orange.
While some of us have electrical gadgets designed to squirt water into the air as mist, I’ve found those machines unsatisfying (not least because they require filters that are expensive when they can be found at all). I have put in the bedroom one of the old-style vaporizers that sends out warm steam, because I think they help in the prevention of colds and, should a cold arrive, can be enhanced by putting a little Vicks in the indentation provided for that purpose, making the air minty fresh and soothing the throat and nose.
On the cooking stove and the woodstove I have pots of water. These send nice moisture into the air. (I don’t have the one on the cooking stove going all the time; just occasionally.) I have a cheap version of the kind of electric kettle that is supposed to heat water very quickly, and I’ve been known to fire it up just to make steam when the air seems especially dry.
A couple of weeks ago we were be eating some tangerines. What would happen, I wondered, if I tossed the tangerine peels into the hot water? I gave it a try. Within a few minutes, the house smelled wonderful. It smelled festive. Our mood brightened.
Since then, I’ve experimented a little. It turns out, cutting up one of those awful oranges and putting it in the pot works even better than does tangerine peel. The aroma is not overpowering, it is just pleasant.
After which I felt the need to experiment a little. A pinch or two of poultry seasoning put in the water instead of orange peel makes the house smell as if Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared. It’s not for everyone and not for frequent use, but it brightens things up. It also makes one hungry. I could have gotten carried away — putting an onion or some garlic in the water — but for once good sense prevailed.
I also discovered that the scent doesn’t linger for long after the water is taken off boil. This is a good thing, I think, for two reasons: it reminds one to make sure there’s water warming, to keep the place humidified, and it does not commit one to having one’s house smell like, say, there’s turkey roasting for days.
I know that there are aromatic products sold to be added to humidifier water, but why bother? Some apple peels and a pinch of cinnamon will do the job — and they can still be tossed onto the compost pile afterwards, so maximum use is gotten from something you’d throw away anyway. And the aroma is subtler when you boil the garbage to make your house smell good, even though that’s not a very poetic way of putting it.
So as the gray days of winter begin their seemingly endless progression, you might want to give it a try. The humidity is good for your body and the aroma is good for your soul. And if you use the skin of oranges that can actually be peeled, eating the oranges, I’m told, is good for you, too.
But if you do it, do not let the pot boil dry. Burnt orange is a color, not a perfume. Trust me on this.