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As the decorations make their way back into the numerous boxes to be put away in the loft with those I am sure never made it out in the first place. H2B thought eight boxes excessive but I have a catalogue of things I am sure were missing, I turn my attention to January tasks. Most importantly the task of ensuring there is a sufficiency of marmalade to supply H2B and the guests at Garfield House. In the latter part of the year there has been some rationing of marmalade as it is de rigueur that all guests have homemade as part of the Garfield House breakfast experience. Although as a number of these have been visitors to England, they have looked slightly suspiciously at the “orange jam”. Making marmalade is in fact an operation that seems to take me days and I wonder if it is all worth it. Digging out the recipe I find my thoughts from two years ago and wonder if I should do an Anthony Worrall-Thompson and raid all the local W.I. markets. But that simply wouldn’t be cricket and any way it’s rather fun to see who chokes on a large piece of rind that I have failed to chop finely enough .That and finding the marmalade pot on Monday morning beside H2B’s side of the bed surely adds to the joy too.

Notes from the diary, January 2010:

The two main aims for last week were constantly thwarted by the books I decided to consult. The first sounded simple enough-to make a plan for a vegetable patch. Simple you think, pick up any number of books on grow-your-own veg, grab paper and pen and get started. The first two books looked promising, set out as month by month guides they appear to be the ultimate “Idiot’s Guide” to creating the vegetable plot of one’s dreams. However I quickly discover a worrying trend- “January: time to harvest the perennial spinach and purple sprouting broccoli,” or” now is the time to plant out the plugs of cabbage sown in November”. “Hello!” the book starts in January – it is now January, how did I know I was supposed to do all these things in November?

I am reminded of a friend of mine who thought she’d make a great effort this last Christmas to create the perfect festive feast for her family. Having told her loved ones at great length about her plans to “make Christmas” herself, She purchased a well known cookery writers “Guide to Christmas” at the very beginning of December. Opening the book at the month of December she reads “put more brandy on the cake you made in September and begin to make a stock pile of mince pies with your homemade mincemeat”. She binned the book and went to Sainsbury’s as usual, hid the packaging and her family commented at length on how good everything tasted.

Determined not to be discouraged I headed for the village, the solution buy a new book, there’s bound to be one in the charity shop. Explaining the problem to the manager of my favourite shop I find yet another month by month guide to the perfect garden, sure enough I discover “there is little to do in the garden in January, seed catalogues should be consulted and autumn seedlings transplanted into prepared soil”. Now call me stupid but this simply is not helping.
I decide to abandon the garden project until a real idiot’s guide to the problem be located and move on to project number two- to make my own marmalade. Our little all-purpose deli “The Pantry” is reminiscent of the Ronnie Barker’s store in “Open All Hours” and has been advertising “Marmalade Master Classes to be held in the Community Centre”. Therefore an obvious place one would think to get my Seville Oranges.

“No Oranges until tomorrow” I am told “Sold Out “

and even more worrying there is a crisis – not enough Oranges to go round apparently. If you want the sought-after citrus fruit you have to beat a path to the door early, supply cannot meet demand. I create a mental image of the good residents of South Brent camping out at the door step Harrods’s Sale style to insure they can make their yearly batch of marmalade.

I am joined in the store by another “Orange seeker” clutching a jar of homemade marmalade given to him by one who has been successful in the quest for the Orange. I consider wrestling him to the ground for what appears to be the perfect pot of clear amber jelly with precise pieces of rind suspended in perfect arrangement, but think better of it.
Wot no Oranges!” we wail in unison.

“Tomorrow” we are told.
“This is so unfair” I bleat “all I want to do this week is plan a vegetable plot and make marmalade”

It seems neither are going to be as simple as I thought. I remember a line in one of the discarded books:- “January is in general a bleak and cold month in the garden, it is better to wait until February”.

My marmalade comrade seeks to console me, don’t bother with any books on vegetable gardens he advises they all get it wrong, any way nothing is relevant as we are so close to the moor here. I am reminded of the huge guffaws of mirth that came from Tony (Long suffering male and owner of veg patch to be) when I asked how we irrigate the vegetables in the summer. “It rains more here than Wales you know, keeping the water off is the problem not watering”. This is not good news to the fair weather gardener who plans her day around the angle of the sun to insure an even tan.

I return home despondent perhaps January is best for hibernation. However If I can’t plan the vegetable patch then I can decide on the best recipe to honour my much anticipated oranges.

I home in on a lovely Woman’s Own Cook Book dated 1918, and turn dutifully to marmalade – “make Marmalade as you normally would”. The powers that be appear to be against me. I give up my quests for the day.

With renewed vigour I head for the village on Friday morning, L’Orange, c’est arrive” the cry is as intense as the arrival of the new Beaujolais in France – Yes we shall have marmalade, if I can ever find a recipe that is.

Katie Stewart comes to the rescue with a whole fruit method, boiling the oranges whole should make the process easier plus it makes me feel better , it is a quick solution to “ getting started”. A large pan of the precious fruit covered in water is reverently placed on the Stove. The house fills with the aroma of oranges and then the fun begins. Oranges are drained liquid reserved then cut in half fruit and seeds scooped out then re-boiled to extract the pectin, then returned to the cooking liquid with the sugar, all goes well until the Aga decides to go on the blink and we have to transfer to the cooker. Project abandoned in favour of tea at Grannies, Scones , Clotted cream and shop-bought Jam. Time enough to consult another book on Vegetables.

“January” I read “ the month to Chit your potatoes” this looks more promising I think, until: ”however potatoes are not very ornamental and apart from a few early new potatoes it is easier and more economic to buy them in the shop”. “Comrade in arms” I mentally shout “you were right-burn the books and save the firewood.”

Sunday, I get to the final stage of the marmalade process. Orange halves need to have the bitter pith scraped from them and then chopped into nice fine pieces. “A blender or food processor may chop the peel too finely”. One tenth of my way into the mission I seriously query this, but as this is “Katie’s” (Stewart) advice and I am in awe of her, I stick with it.

As I continue my toil I envisage consumers of the marmalade throughout the year biting into toast with large chunks of obscure shaped rind, I hope these only choke those who have upset me though, and resolve to try and be a little more fastidious.

The vegetable patch has also progressed thanks to Tony and we now have a full 6 by 8 foot patch of freshly dug earth- just need a few “ plugs” and only another 700 sq feet to dig.

The marmalade has not set. “Reboil and retest every five minutes I read”. Re-boil on the stove and forget it’s not the lovely gentle Aga. Marmalade is now a rich dark caramel coloured well set affair.

The sun comes out and Thea (teenager) observes that what we really need to put in the Vegetable garden is a bench to sit on. (What are plugs any way?) The marmalade is ready to pot up, Frank Cooper would be proud, I think, anyway it’s meant to be that colour.

And so the week comes to an end, and it would appear I have completed my mission, I do however think that next time I should follow primal instinct, wrestle comrade to floor of shop for ready made homemade marmalade and order a veg box.