“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.” DH Lawrence
My blues at the start of 2017 weren’t forward-looking (that came later) like DH Lawrence’s. They were defiantly fixed in the present, conjuring memories of the past. I lost someone I loved dearly in January. It was unexpected. And it carved out a hollow space in my heart. Around the same time, I smashed my knee on an icy patch of pavement, making it hard to walk, stand or hobble. It was dark, it was gloomy, it was the deepest patch of winter and I cleaved to it.
Wintry Glasgow was a solace. An ever-present, but patient friend. The air was sharp, blustery, harsh. The city didn’t ask anything of me; it practically begged me to stay inside. The winds and rain hit at my window, reminding me it was out there, but telling me to stay put. My world, understandably, became a little small. And I liked it. We had a little island, all to ourselves.
And since I couldn’t move, I simply sat with my grief for a while.
But my sadness, heavy as it was – even my inability to stand – didn’t keep me from my kitchen for long. I first limped into the kitchen a week or so after I hurt my knee. I’d been in bed, listening to the rustle of pots and pans as J made lunch, and gingerly swung my bruised self around and up. I limped in, grabbed an egg yolk, a dollop of tarragon-Dijon mustard, and a small blue jug of vegetable oil, and limped back out again. I was going to make mayonnaise. Safely sitting on the edge of my be-quilted bed, and with my trusty tiny whisk in hand, I started to gently stir and coax the vivid green mayonnaise into existence. I can’t remember what we ate it with that afternoon, but I do remember the colour, the vivid soft taste of it.
After that, I made more small forays into the kitchen. I’d linger around countertops. Peer into the fridge. Stare at the empty fruit bowl. And then, slowly, subtlely, an idea crept in. I’d make marmalade.
Now, I’ll put this out there. I’m not sure I’d ever bought a jar of marmalade before. I was familiar with it, sure. I knew its taste (it was generally okay, if a little sweet). I’d marvelled at the neon shade of the lime stuff, imagining that it tasted like it looked; memories of lime cordials past. I’d considered it on hotel condiment trays. Pondered it on supermarket shelves. But suddenly I wanted to make the stuff. Nay. I needed to.
I wanted that burst of sunshine-scented mist. The tang and taste of bright orange. The sensation of doing something useful. Something bright and happy. The idea of making something to enjoy, share, and savour was an appealing one. And thus a plan was born.
It’s fitting that the first batch was a bust. There was a lot of need going into it. Some small part of my brain was quietly chanting – let this work, let this make things better. The irony lies in what I now know, several batches along; I didn’t give the marmalade time. Hungry to pour the stuff into the hot, clean jars, screw the lids on tight, and have the final product be neat, perfect and ready to share with the world, I’d jumped the gun.
Marmalade takes its own time. You can stare at it. Stir it. Test it. But you can’t rush it – it’ll reach that sweet setting spot when it’s good and ready.
But it wasn’t a complete loss. We’d made a delicious marmalade syrup (spiked with some “maybe this will help” whisky, hastily grabbed from a nearby shelf), perfect for pouring on porridge, pancakes and the like.
I let the idea lie for a while after that. At the time, it had seemed like a sign. It wasn’t going to work. I failed. Why bother? You know the thoughts. But then that urge for citrus rose up again, and the planets aligned. I went from finding Seville Oranges nowhere, to seeing them everywhere. And finally – after weeks of limping – I was able to walk well enough to venture off my island to claim them.
So I gathered up bags of them. I grabbed pink and ruby grapefruits, blood oranges, and lemons, and carried the kilos of fruit, heavy with juice and promise, back home. The kitchen was buoyed for weeks on their blowsy, sweet-sharp scent. And in the middle of it – there I was. Slicing. Stirring. Waking up.
It’s March now. And Glasgow’s waking up too. Crocuses are poking their purple and white heads out of the ground. The hyacinth on my kitchen counter is in full bloom. Daffodils wait in tight green bunches in every store and supermarket on my road. And I’ve got around 36 jars of marmalade waiting in the cool dark of the cupboard. And you know what? It’s great. I might well make some more.