Oranges & Marmalade
The backyard was an expanse of lawn that stretched out toward the view of Glendale and sloped down, ending at an immense wall of shrubbery. The view of the city was vast, and it seemed so immeasurably wide. In the distance, a large block of a white building, a church, sat far out at the edge of the horizon, always topped with its cross, except during Christmas holiday when it changed into a white star. The star was magical, a heavenly sign. At night I would look eagerly for its luminous glow. Upon seeing it, I'd then close my eyes to make a wish. No matter how many times I saw it, I’d admire its mysterious beauty as if it were a secret message between the universe and my soul. Along the grassy hill where the marble steps spilled onto the lawn, there was a small bed of wild strawberries, patches of perennial flowers that my grandmother planted, and a weeping birch tree. The window of the piano room overlooked this view, as well did the kitchen and marble patio, where I spent many hot days and summers running the hose onto the glassy gray marble, sliding around on my naked bottom, feeling the cool, slick surface on my bare skin with sensual abandon.
The patio was furnished otherwise with a green-gray lattice patterned Brown Jordan ensemble, rippled glass tabletops covering the side tables. In order to create the space to slide freely upon the wet marble, I had to clear the patio of all the lounges, chairs and such. I’d stack them haphazardly in my hurry to cool my five-year-old body down on the watery surface, thinking only of spinning around on my bottom this way and that, slithering on my tummy, and cooling myself in the summer heat.
My grandparents’ house was enormous to me then, like a castle on the exterior, a Spanish style that was commonly built in the hills of Los Feliz during the 1930’s. Just after the time when my grandparents’ house was built, my grandmother crossed the ocean on a Norwegian freighter ship. She was a young woman of eighteen in 1938, dressed in her Robin’s egg blue A-line coat that her father custom tailored for her petite frame. Edward Harris was my great-grandfather, a proper Englishman, and a ready-to-wear tailor. He and my great-grandmother, Esther (or Essie as he called her), sold everything they owned and set sail across the Atlantic Ocean from Southhampton, England, through the Panama Canal, arriving in sunny San Pedro, California. My grandmother, Mildred, or Millie, didn’t want to leave England. She loved her boyfriend, Abe, a boy she met at the tennis club, and although Jewish like her, he was considered lower class. My great-grandparents would not allow her to see him whatsoever, due to that deprecating, class-oriented fact. He was lower class, my dear, my Nana explained, extending the ‘ah’ in cl-ah-ss, with her proper British accent. She told the story again and again, adding in her usual, you see, a little phrase she still adds to explanations. The story was told much later to me, how Abe was lower middle clah-ss, you see, yet it never convinced me. I didn’t understand the British caste system. However, that was the time when classes were separated, and such social structures kept lovers apart in that cruel manner. So she snuck away, moments here and there, and they spent many happy clandestine times together as two teenagers in love tend to do. This continued for many years, past the times she had my mother, and both my aunts, but that is another story.
Jewish families in England, like my great-grandparents, Eddie and Essie Harris (as they were known), who were of upper middle class, or even middle middle class, led prosperous lives as merchants, or in my great-grandfather’s case, a ready-to-wear tailor shop. They were warned that the Nazis were casting their ominous shadow across Europe toward England. At the beginning of World War II, children and women were being evacuated from London. My family had the foresight to move to America just before this occurrence. My grandmother, pining for her boyfriend Abe and the life she had known back in Wallasey, just across the Mersey River from Liverpool, cried for weeks, turning green, as she’d explain, getting nauseous and sick while the freighter ship churned its massive body through the choppy, cold waters. Somewhere through the Panama Canal she knew that her new life had begun.
As I remember my great-grandfather, he always had a smile on his face, and I associate him with oranges and marmalade. He was in the Royal Air Force during World War I. I’ve seen so many black and white photographs of him in his uniform, looking so proper and regal, and happy too, as if he just sat down to spread his favorite orange marmalade on his buttered toast, with his cuppa steaming in its painted porcelain cup and saucer, the butter knife askew, coated with sweet cream butter, breadcrumbs, and the honeyed orange of marmalade. Outside, my great-grandmother, carrying a small woven basket with oranges from their tree, talking with my mom, tall, lanky, laughing, plucking oranges off the little tree with her manicured hands. The sun was bright that day and the grass looked infinite, greener in my memory than it was, no doubt. I still see them through the windows, my mother and great-grandmother. My affection for my great-grandfather was palpable as I sat with him eating toast and having tea, gazing through the curtained windows of their quaint Santa Monica house.
My great-grandparents built their house in 1950 on Alta Avenue near 7th street. It was a short jaunt to the ocean and the walking path along the Palisades. I relate the memory of my great-grandfather with oranges and marmalade as if they have always been connected, intertwined, as orange trees rooted in the California soil and the marmalade arriving in glass jars from England (I’d imagine). My grandmother and her father were very much like that. The pulp and rind of jellied oranges, spread upon warm toast, mixed with melting butter, the citrus taste and fragrance, something like sunlight and comfort.
Marmalade itself is meant for bringing sunshine into gray afternoons, the pots of citrus preserves made from Seville oranges and bergamot, brightening many English teatimes and spread upon buttered toast. It began as quince jam. In Ancient Greek and Roman times, they discovered that the quince and honey jelled together and called it “honey fruit.”
When I was young, my grandmother, Nana, as I lovingly called her, made a strong cup of British tea for me, sometimes before bed, with hah-lf and hah-lf creamer, and heaping amounts of brown sugar. Nana Ba-nah-na, I’d say aloud. It was the sugar bowl that I could not resist. I preferred brown sugar and counted the spoonfuls as I stirred them into my teacup. I loved the grainy brown lumps that formed in the sugar bowl, scooping them into my teacup to watch it dissolve. One night, after dinner, as I was having tea and sitting in our little breakfast room next to the dining area, I observed the twinkling view of Glendale. The church was in the very center, and the star appeared. It was the first I had seen of it since the year before. It was December again. I know I wished for something special to happen to me, not the usual dolls or toys, but the idea that I was meant to be special. I hadn’t any grand ideas about that, just that there was some magic at work in this life of ours, and I wished upon that star. My Nana was in the kitchen, washing dishes, and I was dreaming about this star and what it might bring into existence. My great-grandparents were most likely sleeping in their cozy bed in Santa Monica then, while I was stirring lumps of crystallized brown sugar into my evening teacup, wishing upon an artificial star lit up by electricity, on top of an anonymous church, a place that was more symbolic than real, sometime in 1975. And this was how I discovered the joy of tea, how I dreamed and wished for unknown wonders, and how my family came all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to live in a place where orange groves thrived under sunny California skies.
Marmalade can be made in many ways. I made my first batch with Cara Cara and blood oranges, one lemon with zest, orange blossom water, honey, brown sugar, and pectin. The red, juicy flesh of the blood orange compliments the deeper orange of the Cara Cara orange.
I looked at a few marmalade recipes and created my own. Orange marmalade is perfect on buttered toast, but also can be great as a marinade, as it compliments salmon, chicken, and other fish and poultry. Orange segments can be used in side dishes and salads such as couscous, arugula, and celery. The flavor of orange is brought out by herbs like rosemary, fennel, and mint, and awakens the senses with caraway and cumin seeds, hazelnuts, and lime. Of course, orange can be used in desserts and smoothies too.
Orange Blossom Marmalade
4 cara cara oranges, chopped, quartered
4 blood oranges chopped; 2 quartered
1 lemon, zested, juiced
1 1/2 quarts cold water
1 bottle orange blossom water
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons pectin
1. Bring quartered fruit and water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat, cook for 20 minutes.
2. Add orange blossom water, honey, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice. Simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Turn off heat. Add pectin. Refrigerate for 8 hours (or overnight).
4. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring as often as you can. Cook until mixture registers 220 degrees to 222 degrees on a candy thermometer. Let simmer on high about 20 minutes. To test marmalade: Place a spoonful on frozen dinner plate. If marmalade has a slight film when pushed with a finger, it's done. If it is thin, continue cooking for a few minutes.
5. Transfer marmalade to airtight jars, cover, and let cool at room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. (Marmalade will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 month.)