Back in the spring of 2007, I was living in a convent in Rome. The sisters who ran it leased out the rooms and provided meals for the short- and long-term guests that stayed there. Despite Italy’s culinary reputation, the food that was served could merely be said to sate hunger pangs—it was not food that could be particularly enjoyed. Sometimes, it could not even be eaten.
However, there was an orchard next to the property that the sisters tended. The fruit often made its way to our table, the highlight of otherwise dreary meals. Shortly after my arrival, blood orange season began. Having never before tasted its sweet, subtly complex, dark flesh, I quickly became addicted, often consuming entire meals of nothing else (obviously in addition to the large quantities of cornetti, cappuccini, and other delicious foods I ate when not at the convent).
After several weeks, I began to notice a discoloration of my skin around my joints—a slightly orange tinge to my knuckles, elbows, and the web of skin between my fingers. Horrified when I showed her, my Italian mamma Maria Teresa insisted that I visit the doctor, convinced I had contracted some sort of fungal disease. We went for a visit to have my hands examined. The kindly doctor looked at me with a smile and quietly asked, have you been eating too much beta carotene? He then extended his hand, 30 Euro for the consultation.
Once I had calmed down after feeling swindled, I began to reduce my blood orange intake, and the color began to fade to a memory. Since coming back to the US, I have rarely seen a blood orange at the store, let alone eaten as many as I did in those few months. This winter, however, they showed up again in my life, with all of my favorite grocers stock-piling them high on their shelves, and with prices continually decreasing throughout the season, I scooped them up, eating as many as I could each day.
I’ve so far made it through without turning orange as they slowly begin to disappear from the produce aisles, now experiencing a sadness to see them go. I have, however, found one more opportunity to indulge my obsession—blood orange juice. Sold at Marlow & Daughters down the street from me, it unfortunately commands too high of a price to be a sustainable part of my diet until the season truly ends for the year. So, I plan to enjoy this last taste as I ready myself for next year’s deluge.