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Don’t Toss that Zest: 3 Festive Uses for Orange Peel from Green Pioneer Priscilla Woolworth

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Don’t Toss that Zest: 3 Festive Uses for Orange Peel from Green Pioneer Priscilla Woolworth

December 20, 2022

It’s been five years since eco-activist-author-shop-owner Priscilla Woolworth relocated from Los Angeles to New York’s Hudson Valley with a goal of learning to be more self sustaining. She settled with her partner in a 1790s house in the hamlet of Taghkanic where she writes her Newsletter, a bimonthly report on people doing creative work to better the planet, and grows all sorts of things, including loofah to use as sponges and Moroccan fennel that she turns into toothpicks.

Priscilla recently earned a certificate from Cornell in medicinal medicine. She also opened The Rabbit Hole, a hutch-sized boutique and online store filled with natural delights from shell-edged bowl covers to Christmas ornaments made from her own homegrown dried okra. “I want to show people what’s possible and easy,” says the woman who, back in 2007, Time magazine labeled a “new green pioneer.” (And if you’re wondering about her last name: yes, she comes by her retail bent naturally—she’s a descendant of the founder of the late, great five-and-dime chain F.W. Woolworth.)

The other week, I caught sight of a curious string of dried orange peels that Priscilla posted in an Instagram Story and asked her to fill us in. “I use dried peels along with twigs as tinder for the fire,” she responded. “It’s a great way to make use of a plentiful domestic byproduct.” I got her on the phone and discovered kindling is but one of several ways Priscilla puts zest to work. Take a look.

Photography by Priscilla Woolworth (@priscillawoolworth), unless noted.

Subtly Fragrant Fire Starter

Priscilla dries pieces of orange peel by making a hole in each piece with a large-eyed needle and stringing them together.
Above: Priscilla dries pieces of orange peel by making a hole in each piece with a large-eyed needle and stringing them together.
A necklace of peels hangs to dry in Priscilla&#8\2\17;s kitchen. &#8\2\20;Even though the pieces are overlapping, they dry in a few days: just keep them somewhere cool and dry.&#8\2\2\1; She later removes the string and stows the dried peels in a bucket by the fire.
Above: A necklace of peels hangs to dry in Priscilla’s kitchen. “Even though the pieces are overlapping, they dry in a few days: just keep them somewhere cool and dry.” She later removes the string and stows the dried peels in a bucket by the fire.

To start fires, Priscilla uses a combination of orange peel, twigs, newspaper, and sometimes cut-up cardboard. “The oils and delicate scent of orange adds perkiness to the fire,” she says. Note the wine cork attached to the string: “I use it to stow the needle, so it’s on hand and no one accidentally injures themselves with it.”

When Priscilla lived in LA, she dried her juicer leftovers poolside on hot stone and then used them as fire starters. We first wrote about Priscilla back in \20\15, when she offered us a slew of eco-living tips: see Advice from The Green Housekeeping Goddess.
Above: When Priscilla lived in LA, she dried her juicer leftovers poolside on hot stone and then used them as fire starters. We first wrote about Priscilla back in 2015, when she offered us a slew of eco-living tips: see Advice from The Green Housekeeping Goddess.

Clementine Tea Lights

Priscilla also uses clementine and mandarin orange peels to make natural candles, something we first discovered via Erin Boyle and her \20\14 Gardenista post: Sunny Citrus Votives.  Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Priscilla also uses clementine and mandarin orange peels to make natural candles, something we first discovered via Erin Boyle and her 2014 Gardenista post: Sunny Citrus Votives.  Photograph by Erin Boyle.
To make a votive, peel the citrus from the bottom removing enough that you have space to slide your fingers in and gently extract the fruit. The crucial detail is that you need to leave in place at least a bit of the fruit&#8\2\17;s white pith—&#8\2\2\1;the part that sticks out is the wick,&#8\2\2\1; says Priscilla. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: To make a votive, peel the citrus from the bottom removing enough that you have space to slide your fingers in and gently extract the fruit. The crucial detail is that you need to leave in place at least a bit of the fruit’s white pith—”the part that sticks out is the wick,” says Priscilla. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Add a dollop of cooking oil, such as avocado or grape seed oil, and light the &#8\2\20;wick.&#8\2\2\1; It may take several tries but once lit, most votives will burn for a few hours. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
Above: Add a dollop of cooking oil, such as avocado or grape seed oil, and light the “wick.” It may take several tries but once lit, most votives will burn for a few hours. Photograph by Erin Boyle.
A closeup of one of Priscilla&#8\2\17;s votives.
Above: A closeup of one of Priscilla’s votives.

Star Garland and Ornaments

Another of Priscilla&#8\2\17;s ways to &#8\2\20;relove&#8\2\2\1; peel is to make decorations from it. When the peel is still fresh and pliable, she cuts out the star shapes with a small metal cookie cutter. For thick citrus, Priscilla says a tap on the cookie cutter with a small hammer helps break through the rind. She then strings the shapes into a garland adding knots on either side of each star to hold it place and create even spacing.
Above: Another of Priscilla’s ways to “relove” peel is to make decorations from it. When the peel is still fresh and pliable, she cuts out the star shapes with a small metal cookie cutter. For thick citrus, Priscilla says a tap on the cookie cutter with a small hammer helps break through the rind. She then strings the shapes into a garland adding knots on either side of each star to hold it place and create even spacing.
Priscilla uses multi-colored hemp cord—\205-foot spools of Hemptique Variegated Twine; \$6.99 from Craft and Bead USA on Etsy. She finished this garland with Mini Pom Poms (99¢ for 80 from Michael&#8\2\17;s) that she happened to have on hand; she affixed them with a glue gun.
Above: Priscilla uses multi-colored hemp cord—205-foot spools of Hemptique Variegated Twine; $6.99 from Craft and Bead USA on Etsy. She finished this garland with Mini Pom Poms (99¢ for 80 from Michael’s) that she happened to have on hand; she affixed them with a glue gun.
The peel cutouts can be used for all sorts of things, including drink garnishes—see Etsy seller Edible Dry Flower Fruit—and ornaments: on Remodelista, we recently featured these stars from This Healthy Table. Photograph via This Healthy Table; get the full DIY here.
Above: The peel cutouts can be used for all sorts of things, including drink garnishes—see Etsy seller Edible Dry Flower Fruit—and ornaments: on Remodelista, we recently featured these stars from This Healthy Table. Photograph via This Healthy Table; get the full DIY here.

Erin Boyle also dries orange slices and turns them into Christmas trees decorations and our friends at The Grit and Polish string dried orange garlands.

During the holidays, I myself make candied orange peel and my own sweet-smelling wine concoction: see Last-Minute Holiday Gift: Homemade Spice Orange Wine. What do you do with your citrus leftovers?  Please fill us in.

For more easy holiday DIYs, go to Instant Festivity: 11 Foraged and (Mostly) Free Decorating Ideas from the Editors.

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