World of Mouth: Blood and Oranges

The column that brings you food festivals from around the world; this week why are the citizens of Ivrea, Italy hurling oranges at each other in a coordinated battle?

Carnevale d'Ivrea (photo credit: Johanna Bailey)
Carnevale d'Ivrea
(photo credit: Johanna Bailey)
Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
In Italy, the most common table orange is the Tarocco blood orange, called so because of the red pigmentation on its flesh and peel. The orange is a mutation of the sweet orange and has been cultivated in Sicily since the times of Moorish rule.
This week in the city of Ivrea in northwestern Italy, there will be a different combination of blood and oranges at the annual Carnevale d'Ivrea, the highlight of which is an enormous orange battle. From March 6-9, the citizens of Ivrea will be hurling oranges at each other in a coordinated fight that involves five different battlegrounds and thousands of people divided into nine teams of combatants. The oranges they throw are not blood oranges, but due to the violence of the event, there is sure to be a fair amount of blood mixed in with all that OJ.
There are several different stories about how the tradition got started, but one of the more colorful legends says that the oranges signify the flesh and blood of a legendary lustful duke who was beheaded by a local maiden named Violetta. Others say that the battle signifies the rebellion in 1194 against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick of Swabia, a.k.a. Barbarossa (Red Beard). In the beginning, the people would throw apples or beans but sometime in the 1830s, they started throwing oranges instead. A bit of a mystery since oranges are not native to the area and need to be imported from Sicily or Cantabria. In 1947 the townspeople organized and formed the nine official orange battle teams, giving them names such as “The Scorpions” and “The Chessmen.”
Here's how it works: The fighters wear different costumes depending on which team they are a member of. Each year people volunteer to be the castle defenders (protecting either the duke or whoever it is that the good guys are supposed to be fighting against). These bad guys (clad in padded suits and helmets) ride into the various battlegrounds in carts and are then attacked by mobs of thousands of orange-wielding “revolutionaries.” Those who don't want to receive a hard round smack of Vitamin C are supposed to wear the traditional long red Phrygian hat which symbolizes freedom and means that you can pass unharmed. The battle involves 46 horse-drawn carts, thousands of people and over one million oranges, mostly leftovers of the winter crop in Southern Italy.
The Carnevale d'Ivrea may be more about throwing food than eating it, but as with any celebration there is sure to be plenty of good food and drink. Fighters fuel up for battle by drinking vin brulé (hot, spiced wine) and copious amounts of regional specialties such as fagioli grassi (beans boiled with sausages, pork rind and herbs) and cod with polenta. With the sweet smell of crushed oranges filling the air, the combatants are also sure to be tempted into eating a fair number of their “weapons”.
Those of us who aren't in Ivrea this week can still get in the citrusy spirit of the battle by preparing this delicious Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake from Adrienne Lambert of the food blog The Quinces and the Pea.
Blood Orange and Olive Oil Cake
Caramel and Orange Topping:·         1/2 cup sugar·         2 Tbsp water·         2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces·         3-4 blood oranges (if you can't find blood oranges, you can use regular oranges)
Cake:·         1 3/4 Cups all purpose flour·         1 Cup sugar·         1 tsp baking soda·         1/4 tsp. Salt·         2 eggs·         3/4 Cup orange juice (blood orange or regular)·         3/4 Cup Olive Oil·         2 tsp. orange zest·         1 tsp orange flower water (optional)
1.      Preheat oven to 350 F.
2.      Zest the oranges and set zest aside. Peel and slice oranges into approximately 1/4 inch-thick slices.
3.      Generously oil bottom and sides of a 9×13 pan.
4.      Heat sugar and water in small saucepan over medium heat, scraping up any sugar from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, swirling occasionally, until caramel turns a dark amber color (this will take several minutes). Quickly take off the heat and add butter (it will foam up) and stir with a wooden spoon. Put back on medium heat for a few seconds, stirring. Quickly pour caramel into the prepared cake pan, tilting so it coats as evenly as you can get it. Caramel will harden. *Caramel is SERIOUSLY hot so be careful and for God’s sake don’t try to lick the spoon.*
5.      Arrange the orange slices on top of the caramel, laying them out in a grid pattern.
6.      Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, orange juice, zest and orange flower water.  Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed, being careful not to over-mix.
7.      Pour batter over oranges and bake for 40-45 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.
8.      Allow to cool slightly in pan, and then flip upside down to finish cooling.
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