On Making Marmalade

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If you want to show someone how much you love them; make them marmalade.

This year has only just begun and I can already tell you one of the lessons it carries with it, is that is anything worth doing well takes time, and that anything you do is worth doing well. What we think will be quick, what we try and hurry shows us there is only one and the way is through. With patience and grace and a steady hand.

If you’re going to make marmalade, it’s going to take you an entire day. You’re going to go to the farmers market early when they open so you can have your pick of the ripe oranges.

Oranges, to me, feel so very California, a staple to my understanding of this place. They grow so frequently that sometimes you will a see a tree weighed down by unpicked fruit. It falls to the ground and rots. So much excess and so beautiful at once. Next to my sisters house there is an orange tree and I can see it out the kitchen window when I wash her dishes, and it reminds me of these few weeks when I lived with her and was very sad.

When you get home from the market you will make tea and wash the oranges in a large metal pot that you fill with water and vinegar and let the oranges sit for a little while. Then scrub them clean because you use the entire orange. Something about this act will feel holy, the scrubbing most likely.

The oranges will glow and you will wonder which came first the name or the color or the fruit. You have a vague memory of wondering this before and asking a friend over drinks in a dark bar. And they knew the answer but now it escapes you; the answer not the memory of the drinks.

Not everyone like marmalade. It’s a specific taste, a balance of the bitter and the sweet. Because you use the rind you have to peel the oranges, save the rind and then slice it into impossibly thin ribbons. About half way through this process you’ll wish you had decided to do something else with your morning. This can be made much simpler if you have a mandolin, in which case use that.

You’ll spend the rest of the day cooking, watching, forgetting, floating around the house while you half do other things, but always still making marmalade. You cook the oranges and sliced rinds with a few cups of water. Cook them long enough so that everything starts to wilt. This will take hours upon hours. The steam will be laced with citrus and tangle in your curls and make the house smell sweet and sticky. You fold laundry, and water plants, and let the dog out, and make more tea.

Once the oranges are cooked you add sugar. More sugar than you’d think, pounds of sugar. You stir carefully as it spits and tries to burn you. This time you have to be more attentive, you have to wait and stir and let it boil but never burn. If it burns its all ruined.  And then you stir some more. Eventually it thickens and cooks down and you cross some kind of invisible threshold where everything you had starts to look like everything you want: the transference of effort into something entirely new. By this time it’s late afternoon and the sun in the house is different and you have to put on a sweater, and the tea that you made and then forgot about has gone cold.

There are so many other things you are supposed to be doing today. So many things that need the same kind of tending to, the same care and attention, the same patience. But, perhaps an act in one is an act in all. Perhaps some of it carries over like the sweet smell of the marmalade, perhaps not. Perhaps it’s nothing at all.

You set the marmalade out on the counter to cool and thicken some more, and when it has you spoon it into jars that you’ve saved from store bought sauerkraut and honey. You take some to your sister and some to your mother and store some in the fridge. And when he comes home you feed him a spoonful. He tells you it’s delicious and everything feels good and simple, and you remember that this too took time.

If you want to show someone how much you love them; make them marmalade.






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