Marmalade, the second time round.

It is the height of orange season here in Antalya, that time of year when they are really cheap and at the same time unfailingly tasty. And alongside all of the big fat eating oranges and the more diminutive juice oranges, the bitter jam oranges have emerged. These trees are the unfussy rootstock for all of the grafted citrus trees around here, but thankfully some of them are grown for their fruits. They really don’t taste very nice, but they do make awfully good jam. Although we have bitter orange trees in our garden, they are not fruiting yet, so when I saw some in the market one Thursday, then, I immediately bought a kilo.
I say one Thursday because although this is about making a batch of marmalade, it is not the first one I’ve made this season. My first attempt came to a very bad end due to overcooking. Not only did the bottom burn, but it also solidified into a single un-budge-able mass in the pot (subsequent soaking and boiling coaxed the unappetizing mass out). Still, I learned a thing or two. I mean, isn’t that what mistakes are for?
Last Thursday, I got another kilo of oranges, determined to try again.
I cut and juiced them

hollowed them out

and sliced. I don’t like the peel super thick, so I kept the slices pretty thin. Then I soaked them in 2.5 l water along with the orange juice for about a day:

The next day, I put the peels, water and juice into the biggest pot I have and cooked the peels for about two hours, until they were nice and soft. DON’T do what I did the first time and let them boil too hard, or you will lose too much of the liquid — you want to lose about a third, that’s it.
When I say the pot is big, this is what I mean:

I learned the hard way that sugary things can get pretty volcanic when the going gets hot. To get jam up to the setting point, you’ve got to let it boil hard, and the last thing you want is boilovers. Oh, how many of those have I pried off the stove top…
After the peel had cooked, I added 2 kilos of sugar (I know). The sugar needs to melt properly, then the hard boiling begins.
It takes about 30 minutes of vigorous bubbling until the jam reaches the setting point. Using the time honored saucer chilled in the freezer methos, I tested a drop of jam to see if it wrinkled when pushed. It took a lot of tests, but we got there.
The result, this time at least:

Another thing that I did not do this time around was use the seeds of the oranges. Often, marmalade recipes include putting the orange seeds into a square of cheesecloth and cooking them along with the orange peels. Pam Corbin, in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, claimed that the pith of the orange has plenty of pectin in it to set the jam. And wouldn’t you know it, she’s right!
Her recipe is available here as well as in the book, which I wholeheartedly recommend to jam lovers.

return from planet talk-a-lot-say-nothing

Every once in a while, life puts you in the middle of a group of people that may as well be from another planet. This weekend, I took Baki to his school’s annual weekend away event. It was held at one of these all-inclusive resort hotels. Being in Antalya, we are actually surrounded by such places, but they are easy to avoid, and I have never actually gone to one. Well, that was the first disorienting experience of the weekend. Going to one of these hotels is sort of like going to a hospital or getting on a plane — that is how connected I felt to the world at large. Very weird. There are these mile long buffets and pools attached to pools, seemingly necessary facilities like tennis courts and the “mini-club” all attached to one another by labyrinthine pathways, and guys driving around in golf carts taking care of it all.

I had gotten a ride with my neighbor, whose daughter is also in the first grade and great pals with Baki. When we got there, the place was already screaming with kids. Baki merged with the seething crowd effortlessly and threw himself into having as much fun as possible. I did not fare so well. I guess I have become inflexible and anti-social, but I felt awkward among the parents. I ended up in the company of one mom who loved to talk, but really had only two channels — brag and complain. Of course, I was not very entertaining myself, stuck as I was on listen, so I had no one but myself to blame, but gradually the whole thing was making me feel like going to bed and hiding there. The kids were all really well dressed, from the grade schoolers down to the babies, and my boys were scruffy, drooly things. I was in the company of baby girls in sequins here.

Just as things were looking super grim, a friend called me up, having no idea where I was. It was such  a relief to hear a friendly voice, someone who spoke my language. It was like coming up for air, and it gave me the push I needed to get through the rest of it.

I brought Baki to this weekend thingy because he never gets to go to birthday parties or play dates since we go to the garden on the weekend. I realized though that there has to be a better way to nurture his social life than to throw him into this barely contained chaos once a year. Instead of wholesale socializing, I think it is time to grit my teeth and try to make some friends among the moms and dads. There have to be at least a few people I can see eye to eye with behind all those designer sunglasses.

Our mountainside garden may not have many people in or around it, but I have never felt lonely there. The plants that I have grown from seed, the trees that I have dug deep holes for, the chickens that control the grasshopper population, the wind in the tall pines, these are all my constant companions up there, so that even if I am the only person in the garden, I am never alone. I’ll tell you, after this weekend, I feel so lucky to have it.

oh, all right…

I have always been pretty grumpy on this, the holiday engineered to create maximum misery among the unloved. I would scowl at the bunches of flowers, and fantasize about jabbing mylar balloons with a hat pin. Then I took to ignoring it all. That worked great for a while. But this year, with Baki the 6 year-old budding romantic and total holiday enthusiast in the house, I shed my curmudgeonliness (temporarily, of course).

Good morning, Valentine.

In other words, on this day, the holy day of love, as on so many other days of the year, having a kid around the house has definitely improved the general outlook of things. Here’s to you. my little valentine.

Little old me

Some of the best ideas are the ones that make us rethink our own. While I was in Istanbul at the end of January, I indulged in one of life’s greater pleasures and visited a bookstore. They had a whole table of the Penguin Great Ideas series, and I hovered over it for a good long while. I eventually walked away with St. Augustine’s Confessions of a Sinner and Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived and What I Lived For.
Now, either of these books has plenty of grist for the old mental mill, but just to be superficial about it, let me confess that I didn’t so much as open the Thoreau before falling deep into thought over the quotation on the cover:
“Rather than love, than fame, than money, give me truth.”

It sounds so upright and good, and I can think of people in my life who would wholeheartedly espouse this (I’m married to one of them). Myself, I could easily turn down fame, and we all know what money can’t buy, but therein lies the rub. You see, I’m pretty sure I’d settle for love. And reading that quote, with the stark trees etched beneath it, I felt somehow smaller for that.
Then again, isn’t the truth supposed to hurt? What’s so great about that?