Making Marmalade for the Dead (3)
Granny thought something pretty was needed to counter the marmalade - Beloved wouldn't serve right now; he has a large plaster on his nose to cover a bite byTiresome Terrier. Not her fault for once - he was rough-housing with her and she got over-excited. Granny could say serve him right. But she won't.
Flowers everywhere - the yearly magic. No such thing as crocuses and daffodils. Spring here is a growing season, a rebirth from dry not cold. Granny misses snowdrops and suchlike. Oh and the sweet evasive smell of primroses. But she can't complain, really.
Well: marmalade. She makes the whole orange kind - you boil the oranges and cut them up after, much less tiresome than taking the peel off the raw fruit, as her mother did. Even easier now she has found a recipe in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book (book much to be recommended- the woman could write.) Granny's old recipe came in a book that used to be her mother's - which demanded she not only removed all the pips but scraped out the pulp before cutting up the rind - a laborious process. Fruit Book just tells her to cut the rind up, pulp and all - thanks be to be to St Jane. Only problem is that Jane, to judge by last year's problems, advises too much water - Granny goes to consult former recipe - unfortunately the book, as is common with old cookbook has lost the relevant pages. On top of which Granny forgets that the water in which she boils the oranges has to be put back in the pot with the sugar and cut up fruit. She lets it boil almost away and then has to guess how much to replace. Too much; naturally.
Further problem. Her trusted old preserving pan lurking back in the UK, she's forced to utilise Beloved's old milking pail that he used for his goats. It serves fine except for having a raised part in the bottom with a neat little trough all round, in which of course the jam sticks and burns unless she stirs constantly and watches very carefully. And why, she asks, does every recipe for jam she's come across suggest that 20 minutes will be enough? - its nearer 45 and more for marmalade in Granny's experience. Many a year she's taken it out and potted it to find it still more or less liquid when cold. Out of the jars it comes - they all have to be washed and re-sterilized - back into the pan - she can dignify the result by calling it 'twice-cooked marmalade' as if it was a deliberate extra refinement. It isn't. It's a pain.
Granny thinks of her mother while she does all this; the continued ritual a kind of communion with her. Her mother never so much as boiled an egg till she was 30, when she was thrust into domesticity by the war. Always a perfectionist she plunged in whole-heartedly, half-killing herself in the process. Seeing her fret about the state of her kitchen while she lay dying, Granny and her twin sister looked at each other and said: 'this is not going to happen to us.' Nor did it, mostly. But Granny did adopt the bits she liked; she and her twin both took to marmalade-making in their thirties. Granny has done it on and off ever since. Partly it's the only marmalade she likes; partly she loves the smell of it cooking. Lilies of the valley? Roses? Give her half-cooked marmalade any day. Toiling in her own steamed-up kitchen she's grateful as well as nostalgic.
One small nod to this place. Driving back from the beach to the north of them yesterday, Granny and Beloved were puzzled to see large numbers of people - mostly men - clutching plastic bags, heads bent to the long reaches of sandy soil on either side of the road. It turns out they were looking for a kind of wild potato, a delicacy, much prized and very hard to find. This is a relief to Granny - she thought they might be looking for birds' eggs.
There's a lot of searching with bent back and heads here. But usually it's down by the shore, for limpets, for the little black crabs they use for fishing-bait and so forth. Young men do it too. Granny is glad to see such traditions continue -so many are fading. The old men and women in traditional hats, sitting outside their houses or on walls along the road, gossiping to each other are a dying breed. Impertinently Granny tried to photograph one old woman yesterday; who shook her fist, hissed at her, literally. Granny agrees she deserved it. And she didn't get the photo.