Supremed and Preserved Oranges

Orange Sections Preserved in Agave and Sugar Syrups

This post could also be called “Experiments with Oranges,” because that’s what’s happening here. The jars above contain orange segments preserved two ways: half in light sugar syrup and half in a light syrup made with organic agave nectar. Trying agave is part of my new interest in preserving fruit without refined sugar. My plan is to open a jar of each type in three months and then again in six months, to see how they compare.

Agave nectar, derived from plants grown in Mexico, is a sweetener in syrup form. Agave is composed mostly of fructose, but contains glucose as well. (Apparently, the exact proportions can vary rather wildly from brand to brand.) In truth, agave is not all that different from sugar, though it comes with a lower glycemic index and one clear advantage: It’s much sweeter than sugar, so you can use less of it. In this way, it’s much like honey. In fact, I would have used good local honey instead of agave for this experiment, but I didn’t really want the honey flavor in these jars.

Now, enter the oranges. My friend has a Navel orange tree of serious proportions . . .


I’m not kidding, right? These oranges are lovely. They are sweet and at their very best eaten out of hand. (“Twist them off,” Joanne says, “Don’t pull or snip. It’s better for the tree.” Then toss the rinds underneath where they can feed the roots.) Last week, I brought home a basket of about thirty oranges  — enough for both eating and preserving, though I had to work quickly. After just a few days, these tender beauties start to go soft.

A quick look tells you why they are called Navels. Some have innies and some have outies . . .

To cut clean segments from these oranges, I used my best, sharpest knife and this video on How to Supreme an Orange from Updown Group Food & Drink. (Take note when he says to cut along each side of the membrane, because he doesn’t actually show the second cut.)

I laughed at myself because I didn’t know how to pronounce “supreme.” I thought it was like Diana Ross. But it’s suprême — that is, Su-PREHM. It’s French. The term can be a verb or a noun. You supreme the fruit, but the wedge itself is also a supreme.

The process described below can be adapted for whatever volume of orange segments you have. As a rough guide, I needed only about 1/3 cup of prepared syrup for each half-pint jar of raw-packed fruit. I’ll start by listing the ingredients for the syrups — choose whichever one you want — and then I’ll explain the method I used.

Light Sugar Syrup

3/4 cup white sugar
1 3/4 cups water

Light Agave Syrup

2 1/2 tablespoons organic agave nectar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup water

1. Supreme the oranges and choose enough half-pint or pint jars to hold them. Keep in mind that the fruit will pack way down and the jars should be packed nice and tight. My four half-pint jars contain the segments of almost twenty oranges! But these oranges were super thick skinned and contained relatively little fruit. Yours may be very different.

2. Sterilize the jars. Because the fruit is packed into the jars raw — called, surprise, a “raw pack” as opposed to a “hot pack” (explained below) — it’s very important that the jars and lids are hot and sterile.

3. Heat the syrup, bringing it to a gentle simmer without scorching, and keep it hot.

4. Pack the fruit into the hot jars, leaving 3/4″ at the top, then cover with hot syrup of your choice, leaving 1/2″ head space. Be sure to “bubble” your jars — that is, run a small silicone spatula or a chopstick around the insides to release all the air bubbles and help the syrup settle into place. The head space is critical here. The fruit will expand somewhat during processing and, without enough space, the liquid will be forced out of the jars, compromising the seal.

5. Process sugar-syrup jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Process agave-syrup jars for 15 minutes.

Safety Notes: I determined these methods and processing times using two sources: the [amazon_link id=”B000KF29J0″ target=”_blank” ]Ball Blue Book of Preserving[/amazon_link] and Norma MacRae’s [amazon_link id=”1564409929″ target=”_blank” ]Canning and Preserving Without Sugar[/amazon_link]. I want to be very clear that the two resources differ in their methods for preserving with non-sugar syrups. The Blue Book advocates a hot pack for sugar-free preserving — essentially, you cook the fruit in the syrup until it is hot all the way through, then you pack the hot fruit into sterilized jars. MacRae goes with a raw pack for sugar-free citrus segments, but she uses  a longer processing time. I chose the latter method. It requires less syrup and allows the fruit to retain more integrity. I expect that the 15 minutes she suggests was plenty of time for adequate heat to penetrate to the center of these small jars, and I’m willing to take the risk because this is highly acidic fruit where botulism growth isn’t a possibility. It’s only the moldy stuff we have to watch out for here. If I open my jars and smell or see anything odd, I’ll chuck the contents. If you have any doubts about proceeding with the raw-pack method, by all means go with a hot pack.

I’ll report back here when I open these jars on June 15 and September 15. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever experimented with oranges, will you tell me about it? Have you preserved them in agave? Honey? Fruit juice? Nothing but their own juice and boiling water? (That can be done.) I’d love to know.

Finally, for those who like the other kind of Supreme as much as I do, I am including this video, too. What in the world were these white kids on? They are dancing like zombies.

October 2011 Update!

I promised an update on these orange slices at three months, and then again at six months. Turns out to be seven months instead of six, but here I am with information to share . . .

At three months — on June 15, 2011 — I noticed no difference between the two jars I opened. You can find the report and a photo here.

At seven months, the contents of the two jars have gone noticeably separate ways. The flavor of the oranges in both jars is equal and good. But that’s where the similarities end. The color of the oranges preserved in agave syrup is somewhat sullen, compared to its neighbor. (Can you tell from the photo below? The agave-preserved oranges are on the left, sugar-preserved on the right.)  What’s most obvious to me, however, is the poor texture of the agave-jarred fruit. The oranges are mushy. The fruit preserved in sugar — and remember, it wasn’t all that much sugar — still pops a bit when you bite into it; the cell structure is still intact.

Without a doubt, I prefer the orange segments preserved in light sugar syrup, but which to choose depends entirely on what you value. Remember, neither batch actually spoiled — and they both taste good!

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  • Reply caroline March 18, 2011 at 9:05 am

    supremed fruit is so pretty… I’m gonna have to try the agave syrup version, it sounds really light and tasty. orange slices look so stunning all packed up in jars!

  • Reply Nicole March 18, 2011 at 9:26 am

    So beautiful. I love the look of supremed citrus, but for me with not so good knife skills, it is a lot of work! You have much more patience than I.

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks, Nicole! This felt kind of like “wax on, wax off” from Karate Kid. A way to build knife skills through endless repetition!

  • Reply Cat ~ The Verdant Life March 18, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I’m stoked to see how these babies hold up in the agave! I try to avoid sugar as much as possible so I have canned oranges and pears in the past using apple or white grape juice. They’re fine but they do seem a little blah after a few months. Good luck!

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm

      Cat, this is really good to know. My first thought was to do them in white grape juice, but then I decided I wanted to go for something that would have as little competing flavor as possible. One of the risks here is definitely “blah.” But Laura’s comment below is encouraging. She talks about using both spices and lemon juice. I am hoping the little bit of lemon juice in the agave syrup I used will, besides increasing the acid, also boost the flavor a bit.

  • Reply Julia March 18, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Those look simply gorgeous. And what an amount of work that is! Though, I’m sure once you get into a groove, you just keep going. Especially if you have the Supremes on. I have been loving navel oranges lately, they are really a gift to the world.

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Thank you, Jules! They are a crazy amount of work, but you are exactly right — once you get going you can just groove on it. Until your shoulders start to ache. I think the kitchen counter where I do my fruit prep is not quite the right height for me.

  • Reply meg March 18, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Nice job- they are beautiful! I can’t wait to hear about the taste differences. Again, I wish I had access to loads of oranges. And citrus in general.

  • Reply Denise | Chez Danisse March 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I’ve known how to suprême citrus for many moons, but have been pronouncing it incorrectly for just as long. Oops. I suppose it’s better than the reverse. My experience with preserved citrus? I ate those little cans of mandarin orange segments for a large portion of my life before discovering the fresh version. Now I don’t touch the cans. If I lived near your friend with the tree I’d do what you are doing. They look so pretty! Enjoy.

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Diana Ross and the Suprêmes? I still like those little cans of mandarins! Though I was looking at some the other day and thinking how nice it is to know how to do it oneself, with homegrown fruit. I am not surprised you have been making citrus suprême for a long time. You know so much about beauty. :-)

  • Reply Laura March 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I recently did a batch of spiced clementines without sugar and also a batch of clementines in lemon syrup sweetened with agave nectar. Have been very pleased with both batches. I can all my summer produce with syrups made of partly agave nectar or stevia and a very diluted white grape juice. Have done this for at least two years now — not one jar spoiled, not one jar has been at all questionable, and all are delicious and sooo much better for us. The only difference I notice is that the food tends to spoil more quickly once open. Feel free to look at my blog. I do jellies and all kinds of things sugar free!

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      Thank you, Laura! Those clementines sound wonderful — both ways. I will definitely be perusing your blog because this is just the beginning of my sugar-free preserving adventure. I love hearing about your successes.

  • Reply Kelli March 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Supreme, huh? I’ve been doing it just that way all these years and I always told my husband I was just getting the yuky stuff off! Thanks for telling me the correct word. Your oranges look beautiful! I love the taste, but they are labor intensive, aren’t they? I only make up about 2 batches of marmalade per year because of it.

  • Reply Susan March 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    I would love to try this with honey but don’t know how. I have some wonderful raw honey from Italy that I bought at a gourmet shop and want to try this. Any suggestions. Thanks

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Susan: Just substitute honey for agave in the ingredients for the agave syrup above. That started out as a recipe for honey syrup and I subbed the agave, so you’d just be putting it back the way it was in the first place! The proportions are adapted from the MacRae book. Let me know how it goes if you do it!

  • Reply Susan March 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    I just noticed the background in your picture….is that kumqurts in syrup also?

    • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      Those are two jars of lemons and two jars of kumquats preserved in salt, Vietnamese stye. You can find that method here.

  • Reply sherrie March 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Beautiful! I am so envious of fresh oranges, and excited to see how your agave ones turn out. Glad I came across your blog – can’t wait to read more!

  • Reply melissa March 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    agave nectar is pretty highly processed. it’s also got more fructose than HFCS, some brands over 90% fructose.

    But it sounds like a delicious way to can oranges and I’d like to try this with honey. :D

  • Reply Shae March 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Melissa: Yep, as I mentioned, the amount of fructose can really vary. I believe it’s possible to find some brands closer to 50%. I certainly wouldn’t want to use a lot of it. I think the main advantage is that because it’s so sweet, a little goes a long way and you can use a lot less of it than sugar. Seems like a decent option for folks who don’t care for the flavor of honey.

  • Reply Janie March 20, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I am going to make these very soon.

    As far as the “other” Supremes video… LOL..this is what it looks like when they try to dance (the way they used to dance) but have major, major censorship restrictions, on these dance shows like American BANDSTAND…(and I actually remember this..!) We used to laugh at them too)

  • Reply My Orange Odyssey! | Prudent Pantry March 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm

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  • Reply Susan Covey October 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    So, what’s the verdict? I have always loved canned mandarine oranges and these seem like a great alternative. Were you happy with the results?

    • Reply Shae October 20, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      The results are in! Unfortunately, as you can see, the agave fruit didn’t turn my thumbs up. But I’d use the light sugar syrup again, for sure.

  • Reply Lindsay Murray October 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Cool. Thanks for the experiment; the ones in the simple syrup look much more appetizing than the agave ones. Agave has its place, for sure, for maybe not in fruit preservation.

  • Reply Wendy Read - Sunchowder October 21, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Oh Shae! I love this update…and your willingness to experiment. I use sugar all the way, this was so interesting to me. XO, Wendy

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