Orange Peel Box

orangepeelboxthumb.JPGI've noticed that citrus peel dries out to form quite a tough, leathery material. This is an experiment to see if it can be made into anything useful - starting with this small trinket box.

Making The Orange Peel Box

orangepeelbox2.JPGI started with a bag of fresh navel oranges.

The idea will be to stretch the empty skins over two differently-sized forms (in this case, two empty jam jars) - so as to form a base and a lid that fits over it.

orangepeelbox3.JPGI cut the oranges in half and carefully scooped out the flesh with a spoon, taking care not to split the skin.

I found that only the stalk end of the oranges were usable, as the 'navel' end develops a hole after the fruit pulp is removed.

orangepeelbox4.JPGSteeping the empty skins in boiling water for five minutes made them very soft and pliable.

After this, they were very fragile, so I got everything else ready before trying to handle them.

orangepeelbox5.JPGIt was quite easy to mould the softened skin to the shape of the jar's base - the sides didn't even seem to need to gather or pucker at all.

I secured the peel in place with several turns of cotton string. Rubber bands would probably have done the job just as well.

orangepeelbox6.JPGI did the same with the other jar, then I set them peel side down (to keep the base flat) in a cardboard box and set it in a warm place - on top of the central heating radiator - to dry out.

A couple of days later, the skins had shrunk a little, but were not drying as fast as I would have liked - mostly because of the impermeability of both the glass jar and the waxy outside of the orange peel.

orangepeelbox7.JPGI was concerned that if they dried too slowly, they might rot. Also, there seemed to be a risk of the sticky inner pith adhering too tightly to the glass.

So I removed the skins from the glass jars and re-tied them over cylinders of tightly-rolled corrugated cardboard.

orangepeelbox8.JPGMounted on the cardboard, they dried much quicker and after another two days, had turned into a hard, leathery and quite thin material.

I removed them from the cardboard forms and trimmed them up a little. They had shrunk a fair deal, which had caused a little splitting, and had pulled up the edges of the peel so that there wasn't a great deal of height to play with any more.

orangepeelbox9.JPGA light coating of brown boot polish didn't add as much shine as I hoped, but is probably worthwhile in adding durability to the material.

Although technically a success, the resulting box is a bit disappointing - too shallow, slightly cracked and split in places, and doesn't feel like it will last.

But this is just a first attempt - there is potential for improvement, I'm sure...

Where It All Started

orangepeelbox10.JPGThis idea developed from the observation that citrus fruits, such as the orange below, develop a hard, tough skin texture when it is allowed to dry out - in this case, because the outer waxy zest layer has been pared away to add to a recipe, then the orange was set aside and forgotten for a couple of days.

What Next

I'll be trying this again, but probably with grapefruit skins - because they're larger to start with, and thicker - so hopefully the end result can be a more usable, durable box.

I may also try cutting the fruit lengthways so that the top and bottom of the box can be plain - the stem/blossom scars will be part that I trim off the edges.