Our seasonal task for January is to make Julie Bruton-Seal’s Seville Orange Bitter:
Seville Orange bitter (Julie Bruton-seal)
Fill an empty jam jar loosely with the peel of a couple of Seville oranges, a tablespoonful of cardamom pods, and a few fennel or anise seeds. If you wish, add a clove or two - but not too many as they are strong. Add a tablespoon of honey, and top the jar up with vodka (or brandy, whisky or rum if you prefer). Keep in a dark cupboard for a month, shaking occasionally, then strain off and bottle the liquid. Take half a teaspoonful before meals to improve digestion.
The principle behind bitters is that when the area of the tongue that senses bitter is stimulated, messages are sent to the digestive system where digestive fluids, bile and enzymes are produced, this leads to fats being emulsified easier, better digestion and support for the liver. Our 21st century English tastes have moved away from bitterness, other cultures use bitters more. A bitter leaf salad as the starter to a meal would stimulate digestive juices for the main meal. Drinks like Angostura bitters were created to help with digestion. The important thing with these bitters is that we actually taste the bitterness to start the process, so if the bitter taste is masked with something sweet it does not work. Bitter herbs include White Horehound, Motherwort, Dandelion leaves and roots, Gentian, Yellow Dock root and Chamomile, some stronger than others.
I have had a problem obtaining Seville oranges; in fact I haven’t been able to find any, even in my favourite local greengrocers. I decided to use the peel of the sweet orange so as I could get on with my task. When I went to my cupboard I didn’t have any whole cardamom pods so I went to ask for a tablespoon full from my dad, he gave me green ones. I hadn’t known there were different ones; brown ones are more walnut shaped and are better in sweet dishes and green ones seem more long shaped and are best suited for savoury dishes he explained. I told dad about my bitter, he thinks having a pink gin before dinner is easier and told me how to make one so I’ve learnt lots I didn’t set out to learn again! To the chopped orange peel and cardamom pods I added a teaspoon of fennel seeds, one clove and the tablespoon of honey, topped it up with brandy and “podged” all the air bubbles out with a chop stick. I’m not sure why I used brandy, I associate it with helping nausea , I’m sure I’ve been offered it before when I’ve felt unwell. My bitter is now sitting in a cupboard for a month and then it will be strained.