What do you do with a tree full of oranges?

If you’ll recall from the Backyard Plan, we have an orange tree in the front of the house.  We moved in May of 2013, and the 2013/2014 winter harvest of the orange tree was terrible.  There were oranges on the tree from 2012 (and earlier!) and the newest oranges were flavorless at best, and downright disgusting at worst!

So starting in spring of 2014, I completely removed all the oranges from our orange tree.  Then I bought a package of Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes for Fruit and Citrus.  I followed the directions and spiked the soil with fertilizer spikes just outside of the orange tree’s drip line.  I used 9 spikes, equidistant, in a circle around the tree in the root zone.

I watered the tree through the summer as part of my lawn’s automatic sprinkler system.  During extremely hot and dry periods I would soak the tree’s an extra time or two a week.

And it really paid off!

Oranges here are ready to harvest in December / January.  We got medium to large oranges with moderately thin-ish skins that peel easily and taste sweet.  They are not as sweet as some oranges I’ve had, but not sour either.  They are very tasty, and I love being able to snip one off the tree and eat it with lunch while sitting on my front porch.

But now we have a problem.  What do you do with two hundred pounds of oranges?

Well, you can freeze them (it’s recommended that you peel and divide up the slices first).  Or you can juice them and freeze the juice.  You can dry the orange peels themselves and use them for cooking later.

You could can the oranges.  They go well when canned together with grapefruit.

You can turn them into jams, jellies, conserves, or marmalade.

Frankly, we were not interested in any of this.  What we wanted was a way to preserve the calories and taste, and a way to preserve the snacking quality of the oranges.  And we didn’t want to add excess sugar to our diet.

What if we dried them?

I did a little research, and ran into Marillyn Beard’s blog, “Just Making Noise”.  She described just drying the orange slices thin, and then eating the entire slice, peel and all!  Another blogger, Amanda Rose, tried this with good results.

So Santa was very good to us this year, and he left us an Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator!  This was perfect.

I made a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond and picked up a mandolin food slicer, then started picking oranges.  I picked about 40 pounds of oranges at a time, and washed them thoroughly in our sink.  Then I sliced them thin on the slicer.  1/4 inch is good, maybe a little thinner than that.  Don’t make them too thick or else they will never dry.  You don’t want to store these unless they are completely dry!

I made the mistake of slicing the oranges too thick, and storing them when they were not completely dry.

Here I am slicing them up.

I’d slice an orange onto a plate, then transfer the slices to a bowl.  I discarded the ends of the orange since they were all rind, and no flesh.  Next year I think I’ll dry those separately and turn them into a powder for flavoring.  I may try to do other things with them since there will be so many.

When I had sliced a bowl-full of oranges, I’d lay them out on the dryer trays.

As you can see here, my orange slices are nice and thick.  This has doomed them!

Still they were tasty the next day when we turned the dehydrator off.  Tasty and juicy, with orange peel that wasn’t very pleasant to eat.  I ate one anyway.

Then I put the slices into a vacuum bag and used our FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer to seal and store them.

And this is where it all went wrong.

Forty pounds of oranges made about 4 of these bags of dried oranges.  I put them into a storage bucket to see how they would do.  A week later I checked on them, and they were terrible!  They had already started to go bad.  They turned an unfortunate brownish black color.  When I opened them they smelled like oranges, with a hint of something else.  Yeast?  Alcohol?  Rot?

They didn’t smell good.

Take two.

This time I sliced them thin.  Maybe 1/8 of an inch or a bit larger.  I put them in the dryer for about 8 hours at 135 degrees F, and dried them until they became leathery.  After they had cooled, I again vacuum sealed them into bags for storage, and dropped them into a resealable 5-gallon bucket for storage.

The results this time were much better.  Each package of oranges feels light – like it was filled with packing plastic.  Individually, each slice tastes like a fruit-rollup, but tougher, maybe chewier.  The rind has a very citrus taste to it, but it is rather pleasant.  The flesh of the dried orange is full of sunshine and happiness.

These orange chips by themselves make a great quick snack.  They would be wonderful sliced up into a stir fry.

Vacuum sealing them together prevents them from being separate “chips”, and instead makes a large block of solid orange slices.  You can eat this as a snack by tearing off a chunk, or by cutting them into blocks.

I’ve harvested most of the orange tree.  I left some on the tree because they stay good while on the tree as long as I don’t let them wait more than a month or two, and as long as we don’t get a hard freeze.

But it occurs to me that I can slice the oranges, then remove the peel and place just the orange fruits on the dehydrator.  It has got to be easier than peeling the oranges THEN slicing them.  I’ll give that a try and let you know what I find.

Until then, thinly dried oranges seems to be a good way of preserving those calories.  Not as sweet as jam or marmalade, but sweet enough.