When I was a kid, my mother, Madeleine, took me to the original Fauchon, the 130-year-old gourmet grocery store on Place de la Madeleine in Paris. Did she stop to pose for a photo under the enamel plaque of the street name, as I seem to remember? I was not yet 10. The store was still old and gold then, wood and brass, ribbon and paper; and inside there were copper pots and tins stacked with precision, and pristine cases of magnificent confiserie, boulangerie, patisserie, charcuterie.
But all recede to a blur, leaving two marvelous things I’ve never forgotten: There were yellow boxed Old El Paso taco kits on a shelf labeled exotique. Regular American weeknight kid dinner from the grocery store presented — and priced — as rare and special! And there were jars of glacéed whole fruits — pears, bananas, cherries — that looked like jewels. I’d never seen a whole baby miniature pineapple, let alone a jar packed with them, translucent and topaz, transformed by being confited in sugar syrup. You could see through them like a Sainte-Chapelle windowpane!
To find Rice-a-Roni and La Choy soy sauce and Goya canned black beans labeled exotic was a tectonic shift to my point of view — one I’ve never lost. Ever since then I’ve understood that our household names, our best-selling authors, our famous movie stars will always be, somewhere else in the universe, unfamiliar. That in other countries, to other citizens, Chef Boyardee, Rice Krispies and Stephen King are all, to someone, little-known curiosities.
Those glacéed fruits left a different impression, less profound but just as lasting. These were whole fruits, not slices, pitted halves or rings, but actual whole plums, whole citrons, whole chestnuts, dipped and dipped and dipped again to create these amber and sapphire and emerald jewels. This was a chef’s magic trick I always meant to figure out.
The cold candied oranges here are a hybrid — lazier, less laborious than an actual technically glacéed fruit, but also more refreshing to eat. The oranges are boiled whole in plain water to blanch away the bitter oils in the peel. Then that water is discarded, and the oranges are slowly and sluggishly poached in a light syrup — one part sugar to one part water, briefly reduced for a little viscosity — until they kind of ‘‘cure’’ and you can see them becoming translucent. Giving them only an hour in the glaze, in one continuous shot — rather than the traditional week of daily 20-minute dips in hot syrup — leaves them still swollen with juice inside. They are not thoroughly preserved, so they must remain refrigerated. But they still have a sensational color and the beginning of that alchemy when a plain orange starts to become a glistening orb.
As beguiling as the glacéed fruits were — glittery and utterly gorgeous — they were not fun to eat. Too intense, dense and toothache-sweet. These oranges are instead somewhere between that cold quarter section you used to shred between your teeth at halftime huddle in junior-varsity field hockey, sweating and panting around the Igloo water cooler, and those sandy, taffylike traditional candied orange peels a health-conscious mother would put in your snack pouch mixed with nuts and seeds to give her daughter a big, fast — natural — boost.
These are juicy but cooked, candied but fresh, bitter but sweet — that’s all there is to say and certainly all that is needed. No reason to add ice cream or shortbread or cake. The specialness is its own. You just cut into the whole orange with a knife and fork and eat it peel, pith and all — and then marvel at how much it gives you. One whole cold, gorgeous orange, served straight up, doing the trick of reviving, delighting and refreshing you after a meal. Not as common as the quartered oranges you get with your check at the end of your meal at a Chinese restaurant, but not so rare as to be overpriced and labeled exotique.