Is it rhubarb season yet? I have been asking myself this for almost three months now, ever since I stumbled across the most irresistible-sounding recipe for rhubarb and pink grapefruit jam, and yet the greengrocer’s shelves have remained stubbornly bare of muddy pink stems. To add insult to injury, up in Yorkshire there seemed to be an abundance of the most gorgeously bright, tiny stalks. Perhaps none of them were allowed out of the county? The English tourist board can’t have had much to work with recently except bribery, I suppose.
Luckily, a trip to the greengrocer last weekend proved much more… I hesitate to say fruitful, but that’s exactly what it was (and besides, I want to). I popped out for some eggs, and came back laden with grapefruits the size of an infant’s head, yet more blood oranges, and – finally! – armfuls of rhubarb. Also a bunch of the most gorgeous irises, but that doesn’t fit in so well with my fruitful theme, so we won’t talk about those any more here.
I had been hoping to replicate a tiny rhubarb jelly that John ordered in a restaurant this time last year – delicately, translucently pink, beautifully perfumed, and most of all rhubarby, but with none of the mouth-scouring astringency that I’d previously associated with the fruit – and so as soon as I saw a recipe for rhubarb jam, there was no chance I’d be able to resist. I have never prided myself on my strength of will, after all.
You might have noticed already that my flat must be pretty much full of citrus fruit (it is quite a small flat, a few oranges alone can have this effect) between the months of December and February. In between experimenting with how many jumpers it’s possible to put on before movement becomes impaired, leafing longingly through recipes for peach cobbler and barbecued mackerel, and staying inside, this month I have mostly been eating blood oranges. After all, the upsettingly short season coincides perfectly with the time of the year that we most need a mouth-puckeringly tart orange to pick us up, so it would almost be rude not to.
So, when I remembered a recipe for blood orange curd in Diana Henry’s gorgeous new book, Salt Sugar Smoke, – a book I leafed through, with my stack of post-its to hand, until half-way through I realised that almost every page had a marker on, and gave up – I was powerless to resist. After all, what better way to immortalise the taste of these fruit than to make them into a bright, tangy curd? Well, as it turns out, quite a few: possibly even just leaving them in a bowl on the side would be a more effective preserving method than making this curd. Like (I presume) most home-made curds, it only keeps for two weeks in the fridge, and then three days once opened, but this is no reason to eschew its charms.
My secret is out, readers. Not even a week after I’d had to admit to people that I’d been asleep by 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve, some of those same people asked if I had any plans for Friday night. Had I had the foresight to try to salvage my reputation before it was too late, I would not have replied “marmalade!”.
I would have made up some planned wild adventure, involving (at the very least) a selection of unpronounceable drinks, vertiginous heels, and a stolen canal boat. Or, I would have pretended to be one of my friends, who are generally much more exciting than me: “…and then I woke up in Heathrow! / Ireland! / covered in candle wax!”. I, sadly, have never woken up in a major airport not on purpose. Needless to say, fruit-based preserving would not have been mentioned.
It should also be pointed out, if I intend to make a good job of this confession, that I stayed up later making marmalade than I did to welcome in the new year. In my defence, I did not drink three champagne cocktails before I started making marmalade, and I did not realise on New Year’s Eve that I had lost the muslin and that there was neither a new J-cloth nor clean tea-towel in the flat, and that therefore an emergency trip to buy a 45cm square of muslin for £4.25 – it still pains me to think about it – was in order. I know, I am a slattern. But my marmalade, that makes up for all manner of domestic sins.