Tutorial: Orange-Peel Oil Lamp

An orange tree grows in my back yard. It’s old, and for the last three years, I have been the caretaker, choosing a pesticide free, organic approach. Each year in December, the oranges signal their readiness by becoming fragrant with a floral aroma so intoxicating that I often wish a perfumer could capture it. I’m not talking about an orange smell, or a neroli scent; it’s totally different.

While peeling an orange, I suddenly wondered if I could make an oil lamp out of the peel, using nothing more than the orange and olive oil. And I did. Here’s how you can, too:

Use a ripe orange. The wick of the oil lamp is the membrane stem at both ends–the stem and the navel (blossom) end. It doesn’t have to be a navel orange. This orange was big, so I made a candle from the peel at both ends. OK, I had also started to peel it before I had the oil lamp idea, but it worked out.

With a sharp knife, score the orange about a third of the way toward the middle from both the stem end or the navel end. The easier end to work with is the navel end.

Peel the orange at the middle, so both ends are still covered with peel. This is important for the next step. One you have the equator of the orange bare, gently work your thumbs under the skin of the peel at the stem end. You are pushing your thumbs between the orange segments and the peel. Do it slowly and steadily, working around the whole stem end, until the peel is loosened and only the stem remains attached. Do not push your thumb nails into the stem, you’ll detach your future wick. (I made this mistake, above, but it can be fixed.)

Repeat the process at the other end of the orange and carefully remove the peel, pulling the center membrane out of the orange, but leaving it connected to the peel. In the above photo, you will see that I failed to remove the wick portion with the peel. It’s not the best move, but you can repair it.

Allow the peel to dry for at least a day. I live in Arizona, so you may have to let it sit for two days. The peel doesn’t have to be crisp, but it needs to dry out to absorb the oil. To repair the end that didn’t stick to the peel, I put it back where it belonged and “glued” it in with candle wax. I did this to create an oil-proof seal, which is important to keep the flame alive.

You can cut a smooth peel or leave it ragged. I’m a big fan of wabi-sabi, so I like the ragged one.

Pour olive oil into the candles. Wait at least 10 minutes to let the oil soak into the wick. Don’t fill the peel cup, but use enough oil to cover the base of the wick. Use olive oil.  About a Tablespoon or 2. I didn’t test a lot of oils, but olive oil is authentic in oil lamps and it gives a steadier flame than other oils.

Light the wick. It takes a bit for the wick to light, so a long match or gun-shaped flint-lighter is best. These candles float, so you can float them in bowls of water, but I like them just the way they are. They should not sit on a tablecloth, as the oil soaks into the peel. The more it soaks in, the more it glows. They will burn for at least an hour, much longer if refilled with oil.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer  and creativity coach who plays with her food.