Friday, 15 January 2016

The many uses of a Seville orange

The Many Uses of a Seville Orange

While I was lazing about after Christmas, it was a relief to see that other people were hard at work, writing interesting copy about my favourite fruit. That meant that I could link to their post and go back to watching TV and eating chocolate biscuits.

So, with many thanks to the ever-busy and highly readable Bee Wilson, I recommend this page to you, which she wrote for the Guardian about the many merits and uses of Seville oranges. Before we came up with the idea of marmalade for breakfast, Tudor chefs were squeezing bitter oranges on to meat and fish and drying the peel to be chewed as a digestive aid. (I also highly recommend her new book, shown left, which is as thoughtful and interesting as Consider the Fork, one of my favourite books for lending to people who like food.)

This is one of those articles that mentions so many interesting things that one ends up with a long to-do list, namely:
  • re-read the history of oranges in England
  • dry some orange peel (and perhaps dip it in a little plain chocolate)
  • order a copy of Bitter by Jennifer McLagen 
  • make bitter orange powder to sprinkle on my food
  • whip up some Seville mayonnaise
  • make Jane Hasell McCosh's three-fruit marmalade (the founder of the World Marmalade Awards and an excellent cook)
  • buy a jar of Military Marmalade from Fortnum's, the best she's tasted, says Bee.
I've managed one of these so far (I ordered the book); and as the Sevilles have just come in, I can soon tick two more off the list.

By coincidence, I spotted a Jane Grigson book, The Enjoyment of Food, on a friend's kitchen table recently, and found several reference to 'oranges' in the index (I always look in indexes for 'oranges' or 'marmalade', even if the book's not about food), so I took it home to Xerox the relevant pages. She writes beautifully and economically about the history of oranges and how they arrived in England; and she, too, notes how bitter oranges were once as ubiquitous as lemons in British cooking. 

It was barely two pages, but was as absorbing as Bee's feature, so I'll write more about this in the next day or two. But, as a preview, there was one quite enlightening sentence about how little we use bitter things in cooking: 'Bitters belong to gin, to marmalade and that's that.' With regard to my own palate, that suddenly explains a lot. 

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Murder and marmalade

Murder and Marmalade

One of the benefits of being obsessed with marmalade is that it leads me down many unlikely paths in a nicely random way. In particular, I often find that I'm buying, leafing through or reading books purely because they promise to mention marmalade at some point.

Some of these aren't too odd - From Russia with Love, for example, which describes James Bond's breakfast habits, mentioning both of my favourite subjects in one sentence (marmalade and Fortnum & Mason - I used to work there and rather miss it). And so:

‘Breakfast was Bond’s favourite meal of the day. When he was stationed in London it was always the same. It consisted of very strong coffee, from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex, of which he drank two large cups, black and without sugar. The single egg, in the dark blue egg cup with a gold ring round the top, was boiled for three and a third minutes… Then there were two thick slices of wholewheat toast, a large pat of deep yellow Jersey butter and three squat glass jars containing Tiptree ‘Little Scarlet’ strawberry jam; Cooper’s Vintage Oxford marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum’s. The coffee pot and the silver on the tray were Queen Anne, and the china was Minton, of the same dark blue and gold and white as the egg cup.’

So if you feel like assassinating someone today, that's what you should have for breakfast. Who would have thought that a man licensed to kill would be so particular?

Next up was Agatha Christie's A Pocket Full of Rye, which, I read somewhere, uses marmalade as a murder weapon (sorry, spoiler alert). To find the reference, I've had to read the book, which has been a happy experience - I've never read any Christie before and it's fun. It's quite dry and witty and full of interesting characters, and I had no idea whodunnit until the right moment. I've just got to the bit where a jar of marmalade has been found in the shrubbery, so it's clearly the culprit.

The spin-off from this was that I read somewhere else that Christie chose marmalade as the poison carrier because she didn't like marmalade, which struck me as odd. Apparently she wrote a list of things that she liked and disliked, the latter including marmalade, oysters and loud parties. So I've now had to buy her autobiography to find out if it was true. That arrived yesterday and it's quite thick, with very small print. But these are all things that I wouldn't have read otherwise, and I like reading unexpected things. 

Next on the list: Oxford by James Morris, a biography of Frank Cooper and a peculiar little book called This is the book that the author made, which has marmalade in its title. More soon.