Orange Peel Box
By Mike on Monday, February 14, 2011, 15:24 - Permalink
I'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
I 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.
I 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.
Steeping 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.
It 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.
I 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.
I 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.
Mounted 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.
A 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
This 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.
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.