It has been raining solidly for the past two days. In one sense that is good. After two dry winters in succession, this one has been wet and the ground is soft under foot. Water supplies are being replenished and the trees are drinking deep. It reminds me of the childhood Christmases I used to spend with my uncle in North Wales; cold and wet with damp stone walls, being warmed by open fires, and walking over dramatic hills, covered in ferns that held droplets of moisture, twinkling at their tips. Except this time the hills I look out to are dotted with olive groves and the village gardens are full of citrus trees laden with brightly coloured fruit.
The orange tree on the patio is not an ordinary one. It is a Bergamot. The oil derived from their skins is what is used to flavour Earl Grey tea. They are not for eating raw, the oranges are very bitter and the Greeks use them to make γλικό, spoon sweets of fruit in thick sugary syrup. They will boil the oranges three times, discarding the water, to take away the sharpness.
However, we English like the combination of bitter and sweet and Bergamot make one of the glories of our cuisine, a quite magnificent marmalade, heady with smoky Earl Grey flavour and deliciously tangy as an acidic sharpness cuts through the sugar.
So today we have been picking oranges and making marmalade and the whole house is aromatic with the unique citrus smell of Bergamot. It is very easy to do.
Each batch takes a dozen large oranges. You peel them and then squeeze the juice into a large pan. The pips and pith are bundled in muslin and hang in the liquid as it cooks. Shred the skins to taste, I like mine chunky. Then simmer for around two hours in three litres of water.
When they are soft you add a kilo of sugar and boil until the liquid reaches setting point and then you decant it into jars to set, topped with a circle of greaseproof paper.
Now comes the difficult bit; you have to wait before you can eat it. Ah, but when you do … it might even inspire me to post something serious.