I realized about a month ago that I’d missed the little window of Seville oranges entirely. Usually they come to the markets on the Coast where I live in January or February. It’s a brief period, no more than 2 weeks. That’s when I make marmalade. I use some Seville oranges, some Meyer lemons from the small tree (more like a bush) in my sun-room, and if the calamondin tree is bearing well, I use those too. Edith Iglauer gave me the calamondin tree for my 50th birthday and somehow I think of her as I cut the little fruits in half and take out their seeds. She’s gone but her thoughtfulness continues, in more ways than the presence of a little tree hung with tiny oranges in winter, but the fruit is living proof.
I missed the window of Sevilles, probably because we went to Mexico in January. In the cold dark weeks after Christmas, we were swimming in the ocean and walking on long white beaches. We were out in the Sea of Cortez looking at sea lions, blue-footed boobies, gannets, magnificent frigate birds, and brown pelicans; then having ceviche on the beach you can see in this photograph.
But I noticed we were out of marmalade a few weeks ago. I call the one I make “Winter Sunlight”. Eating it on toast is like taking in the brilliance of the sun and the vitamin C of every good fruit. Strangely the calamondin, usually productive in January and February, was laden with fruit and I sent John upstairs with a colander to pick it. Pick a few Meyer lemons too, I asked. Because the lemons were ripe enough to use. Ours has been a long cold winter, followed by a long cold spring. A month ago there was new snow on the mountain behind us, skimmings of ice on Trout Lake. We kept the woodstove burning. I never took the extra winter quilt off the bed.
Yesterday I cut up the lemons and calamondins, along with some navel oranges and one slightly pinker Cara Cara orange left in the fridge from a winter dessert. All the seeds went into a little square of muslin, tied with cotton string. The fruit soaked in some water overnight and this morning I boiled it until the skins were soft. Added sugar. Simmered the mixture until it reached 222F (on two thermometers because it seemed to be taking so long that I thought the first one might be broken). Ladled the marmalade into jars and put on the lids. When it cools, it will be labelled and put on the shelves in the porch.
But what will I call it? It’s not “Winter Sunlight”. Not only is the season wrong but I couldn’t use Seville oranges with their lovely bitter flavour. Part of me fears this is the way of the future. Nothing will happen in the old predictable sequences. But this marmalade is beautiful. The little bit I tried was delicious. The lemons were late, the calamondins too. When the Sevilles were in the market, I was swimming in the warm ocean and watching Costa’s hummingbirds in the palo de arco by the infinity pool where I also swam every morning. For that period, the woodstove was cold, the house empty. A few last jars of marmalade waited on the dark shelves.
When I make the labels, I’ll write “Delayed Sunlight” on each. There are more ominous ways to think of what’s happening on our planet as Alberta burns and Cache Creek floods. But jars of marmalade, the kitchen warm with the scent of citrus as the rain falls on our blue roof, a fire in the woodstove against the damp, and Du Fu to hold the season in words as each jar holds the sunlight.
The country is broken, though hills and rivers remain,
In the city in spring, grass and trees are thick.
Moved by the moment, a flower’s splashed with tears,
Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.
The beacon fires have joined for three months now,
Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.
I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,
And barely able now to hold a hairpin.
(trans. David Hinton)
4 thoughts on ““Delayed Sunlight””
Beautiful poem and post and marmalade. With my grandsons on Friday, I watched the film Paddington 2, which was superb, hilarious and warm-hearted; love for marmalade plays a huge part in the story. Hope you can see it, with or without grandchildren – there’s so much pleasure in this wonderful film for grownups too.
Thanks for the suggestion, Beth. Summer’s coming, and grandchildren will visit…
Your marmalade looks wonderful. My mother also used to make it when the Seville oranges briefly came into England. Adding some whisky is also worth trying. Perhaps your next book will have jam recipes?
I had some this morning on warm olive baguette with a poached egg. Delicious. Thanks for the suggestion, John — A Book of Jam. i like that ring!