Making Marmalade

Forums Memories about Life in Chagford (Themes) Making Marmalade

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    Jon Lawrence

    My Sister’s Marmalade by Margaret Marsh

    I make it every year, about February time, when the oranges flood the supermarkets and are cheap. Its part of the annual routine, like mixing the Christmas puddings in November, and Simmel cake at Easter. I need my routines to hang my life on, really. I couldn’t possibly manage without them. I’m in a wheelchair, you see. Ever since the car crash five years ago. I suffered spinal damage and lost the use of my legs.

    I’ve got used to it now. The house has been adapted and I’ve got a wonderful kitchen with low worktops and everything so that I can easily reach it from my wheels. I always talk about wheels and not chairs, because it makes me feel more active. You’ve got to think positive, keep one step, I mean wheel ahead! Since Brian left, I’ve changed the top floor of the house too. It is a self-contained flat now and I’ve let it to a nice young teacher. She’s very quiet. You wouldn’t know she was there half the time.

    Every year, I make pounds and pounds of marmalade and stack the jars neatly in the pantry beside last year’s blackberry jam, the tomato chutney, the pickled onions, and all kinds of other preserves but in the end, I give most of it away in exchange for help with things I can’t do by myself.

    In February I set to and make marmalade. I sit at the worktop, where I can see the garden through the kitchen window. Outside it is usually cold and wet and the view of the leafless branches on the silver birch and sad conifers weighed down with water, is not inspiring. But inside it is lovely and warm. I cut the Seville oranges precisely into small pieces, enjoying their bitter-sweet scent as I chop methodically. The juice trickles through my fingers and up my arm but I don’t care how sticky I get. There are no wasps about to attack my glistening mountain of fruit, and no-one else to see the mess I make. I collect the pips carefully in a cup then put them in a small muslin bag I always keep, to boil them with the fruit. Later, when the orange pieces have stood for a while in large pots of water, I start the simmering process, and sit, dreamily stirring, like a witch over her cauldron, while the fragrant mixture bubbles gently. Images of a Spain I have never seen drift through my mind. The stillness of siesta, in the white heat of noon. The lifelessness of a shuttered street hiding its secrets from tourists who wander aimlessly along. The relief that comes with cool night air, when everyone comes to life and the streets ring with laughter. How do I know all this? Well, it’s because of my sister.

    Diane travels a lot and takes a jar of marmalade every time she goes off somewhere. Then she writes long letters to keep in touch and I get to learn a lot about places. She and her husband have a motorhome, a tin box on wheels I call it, but I envy her having the freedom to roam and I enjoy hearing her news. She often makes a point of describing her breakfasts, because she knows I’ll be thinking of my marmalade. It must have been eaten all over Western Europe by now.

    Margaret Marsh

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