My college study abroad experience was quite idyllic – living in a castle perched on the side of a mountain in the Italian Alps, where we worked on the vineyard, studied local history, literature, and geography, and ate incredible food.  A more perfect four months would be hard to find – although I could have done without the discovery of stinging nettle.  (“Ooh, is that nettle?  I’ve never seen nettle!  Why don’t I just grab a bunch with my bare hands?”)  Almost everything we put in our bodies was local: apples from just down the hill, eggs gathered every morning, fennel pulled from the weed patch.  (The weed patch!)  And for some silly reason, every orange we ate was red.

As a budding foodie, I knew a little about blood oranges, but as far as many U.S.ers were concerned, it was still a vague concept, available only in restaurants that I can’t afford.  A couple of years later, I started to see them around, but the ones that made it to North Carolina supermarkets were overpriced, sour, mushy, and available for 2 weeks in December.

Well, thank goodness I moved to Bulgaria.  They’ve got them here, and I just picked some up at the big farmers’ market in Sofia on Friday.  (About a dollar a kilo.)  Yesterday morning, I made a bunch of food – a new batch of wild garlic pesto, a strawberry quick bread, and a jarful of zahtar.  The latter two called for lots of lemon zest, and as a result I had three pith-bared lemons just begging to be juiced.  I know lemonade is typically the answer to a blazing hot day, and it’s only March, but, well, at least the sun was shining!

Lemonade is basically three things, in my book: lemon juice, simple syrup, and water (sparkling or still) to thin it down.  Since I had these beautiful blushing oranges in my fruit basket, I took one and put its zest and juice in with the sugar and water I had going on the stove.  This gave a drop-dead gorgeous coral color, with a balanced tartness and a flavor that will only get better as the zest sits in the rest of that syrup that’s in a jar in my fridge.  So it’s not the dead of summer yet – so what? This still tastes good, and is a great reward for a dedicated hour in the kitchen.

Blood Orange Lemonade
makes 2 glasses

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 blood orange
juice of 3 lemons
more water as needed

In a saucepan over high heat combine sugar and water. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the zest (avoid the white pith) from the orange, and add that to the pot, as well as its juice. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, remove from heat and let it cool.

Divide the lemon juice between 2 8-ounce glasses. Add a couple of tablespoons of the blood orange syrup to each glass, and dilute the mixture to your taste with water.  Save remaining syrup to sweeten more lemonade, iced tea, cocktails, or anything else you can think of.

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