We arranged to meet on a deserted street in Bra, empty of people and atmosphere. Bra, a city in northern Italy famous for giving birth to Slow Food, a global activist movement working to give people access to food that is good, clean and fair. But this wasn’t on our minds at the time. No. I was to collect a package containing an ‘orange’. But it seemed more like an illicit drugs deal, I imagine, only having seem them in the movies, obviously! It was in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown and we were only allowed to leave our homes and apartments for essential items or business. This was important though. I was needed to identify a fruit.
My friend was unsure what type of orange it was. Bought in an anonymous supermarket, one of the few shops allowed to open during the pandemic, this indeed had an unusual example. Looking like a Tarocco more popularly known as a Blood Orange, or Blush Orange by the more sensitive of those among us.
Having eaten one of a pair, my friend was curious to know what I thought. This was in late April and the Italian citrus season was drawing to a close.
My curiosity piqued, I carried the forbidden fruit home and took a closer look. It certainly looked like an orange, with a slightly reddish blush mottling the peel. But a squeeze told a different story, soft and spongy and not at all like to taut skin of an industrially grown Navel orange, for example. No, this felt more like an Easy Peeler, or perhaps a Mandarin.
Slicing the fruit in half it was immediately apparent that this was a Blood Orange, its juicy flesh spilling out across the chopping board. However, I’ve enjoyed many blood oranges this season, trucked up from the warmer southern Italian regions, mainly Sicily and the often grown on the rich, volcanic soils around Mount Etna.
Its flesh was a fully deep red; burgundy; bloody – much more than the more commonly available Tarocco orange. Medium-sized, it was too squishy to the touch to be a typical Tarocco, this was different. Slicing into a blood orange is always exciting, will be it bloody or pale, have segments oozing with red juice or be a lighter, duller, sadder colour. This one did not disappoint, firey blood red and freely giving up its juice, this was one for eating immediately.
A bite into its soft forgiving flesh released the expected sweetness which then flowed into a tartness, with berry overtones, perhaps a very ripe red currant or perhaps an English cherry.
So this was a Moro orange, whose colour and taste has in some circles earned it the nickname of the Connoisseur’s Citrus.
Also, grown and popular in the US, the Moro is one of three types of blood oranges along Tarocco and Sanguinello. Moros are the most common variety found in US markets and are often used to brighten up breakfast, eaten in slices, juiced or boiled into a marmalade or jam to be generously spread on toast or perk up a cheesecake.
Here in Italy we’re hoping that Covid-19 movement restrictions will be soon, gently start being lifted and we can once again (respectfully) queue for bags of locally grown salads, asparagus and as much citrus as we can carry! What do you say to that, friend?.