Part of the fun of learning how to make traditional recipes from my aunt in Cyprus is that it is all done in a typical Mediterranean style*. (Read: *in a slightly chaotic style.)
Learning to make orange blossom water was no different. I had arranged on Sunday that I would go to my aunt’s house on Wednesday at 10am in the morning, so that her 70-something year old neighbour (who I met via another neighbour) would come over to show me how to make orange blossom water.
I arrived at 10am with my pug (Ernie). As soon as I arrived my aunt said to me “I’m leaving.”
“Whaaa? I thought we had arranged to make orange blossom water and Mrs. Annoula was coming at 10am?“, I blurted.
“No, don’t worry she won’t come until I tell her to come and I am going to go have coffee with the neighbour and return her grandchild“, she replied holding the neighbour’s grandkid in tow.
“OK” I said not batting an eyelid (as the part where she returns the neighbour’s grandchild and has coffee was totally normal), and proceeded to make myself a cup of Cypriot coffee.
It gave me time to think about where I was going to source the orange blossoms I needed before Mrs Annoula arrived. I had collected some the day earlier, but because they were closed I couldn’t use them to make the orange blossom water – a fact I only belatedly discovered once Mrs Annoula told my aunt.
No problem though. Bitter orange (Seville orange) trees grow everywhere in Cyprus. In fact, there was one in full bloom across the road. The tree belonged to my aunt’s other neighbour, but she had said we could chop the flowers, so that was fine. My aunt hadn’t returned for 15 minutes so I scuppered across the road by myself. When I went outside, I found my aunt in the chicken coop. She instructed me to cross the road and she would come with a ladder.
We tied the dog outside so Ernie – the pug – could see us. If she doesn’t see us, Ernie barks. A lot. Recently someone who had imported a wild cat from Africa into Cyprus had lost it, not far from my aunt’s house. The wild African cat had escaped out a window and it was now on the loose. The public was warned it was hungry and would eat small dogs and babies. So I was half keeping an eye on the dog with my two feet on a ladder gathering orange blossoms from this tree … by a busy road.
Once we had a small bag full of orange blossoms we crossed the road and my aunt disappeared again. So I sat in the living room with the front door open as a random truck driver pulled up to the house and asked me if he could chop a piece of of my aunt’s plants. I did not know this man so I called my aunt. After some searching and calling around she came to the front of the house. Turns out my aunt didn’t know this man either. He just wanted a piece of a plant because he couldn’t find one in the plant shop down the road. My aunt gave him a piece of the plant.
My aunt then called Mrs Annoula to come. She came and showed us what to do, but she could not stay as the goat milk she had ordered to make halloumi was arriving – something she didn’t know. Luckily, two other people arrived at the same time who also provided us with tips on how to make orange blossom water, so we sort of gathered the information we needed.
We added water, and waited. Meanwhile the dog was still tied outside and I was still half worried that it would be eaten by an escaped African wild cat. There were now five people in the kitchen, three of which were relatives. I waited patiently and literally watched the drops begin to drip out of the distiller.
Drip. drop. Drip. Slowly but surely my bottle was filling up. Before I knew it, everyone had left for lunch. But I stayed on distiller watch for another hour and watched the little bottle fill up. The job was done and the dog hadn’t been eaten by a wild cat. And the kind Mrs Annoulla even came back at the end to tell me what to do next.
The orange blossom water produced was OK. But it smelled more to me like water with a tiny bit of orange blossom smell. Not great, but OK for the first time. So I made it again. And again. Three times. Until I figured out the right ratio, so that the orange blossom water came out smelling like beautiful orange blossom water.
This is the recipe I share with you below. You will need a distiller. If you do not have one, you can contact me and I might be able to find you one you can rent, in case you do not want to buy one. If you do want to buy one, there is a shop by the Old Castle in Limassol (21 Ayias Theklis) called “Kataskeves Kai Polisis Paradosiakon Psistarion” (“Traditional Cypriot Barbecue“). Ask for Costas and tell them Aφrodite’s Kitchen sent you.
A small distiller will cost you 100 Euro. If you would like to order one via Aφrodite’s Kitchen, please call me on + 357 99 816 417 or email on christina[@]afroditeskitchen.com – I may be able to secure a small discount for readers.
11 cups of open Seville orange flowers (aka bitter orange or “kitromila”)
7 cups of water
3 young Seville orange leaves (see collage below)
you will also need:
a small (preferably dark) bottle – about 700ml (sterilized the same way you would a jam jar)
a distiller (contact Afrodite’s Kitchen if you need one)
a bag of ice
a rag cloth
How I Made Orange Blossom Water
1. Pick your orange blossom flowers. Personally, I picked a large bag of open Seville orange (aka bitter orange or, in Greek, “kitromila”) blossoms. I picked them early in the morning when the flowers just opened. Flowers picked early in the morning produce more fragrant orange blossom water.
2. Prepare your distiller in accordance with its directions. Personally, I added the orange blossom flowers and water to the bottom canister. Then, I set the gas stove on the lowest setting possible. This is important, as the higher the heat, the less fragrant the orange blossom water. I added cold water to the top of the distiller. I also wrapped the mouth of the tap where the orange blossom water comes out and drips into the bottle with a rag – this apparently helps keep the smell concentrated in the bottle.
3. Follow the instructions of the distiller and wait. When the water in the top of the distiller became warm, I exchanged the water and/or added ice cubes. I found it easiest to add ice cubes rather than exchange the water. The reason you keep the water cool is for safety and also, if the water gets warm, this will also mean your orange blossom water will be less fragrant.
4. Continue to follow the instructions of the distiller and wait. Personally, after about 20-30 minutes, I started to see the orange blossom water dripping out. I continued to watch the distiller for about 1 hour – until I had about 700ml of orange blossom water. Then I stopped.
5. Store your bottle outside for two days in the sun and then store in a dark cupboard until you need it. If stored properly, I am told that the orange blossom water will keep for up to two years. The smell will become stronger with time.