Monday, 6 July 2009

"We must do a boiling..."

This is what my grandmother would say each year as the citrus fruit became ripe. It was time to make marmalade. I have no idea why my grandmother would say "we must do a boiling" rather than "we must make marmalade" but, once it was said, the fruit would be obtained from one of my grandfather's customers and work would begin.
The fruit would be finely sliced on one day and put in the great preserving pan. It would be covered with water and left overnight before being brought to the boil the next. Sugar would be added and it would continue to cook until judged ready. Then it would be bottled in the waiting jars, labelled and stored away for use throughout the year. Grapefruit was the most popular variety but orange and lemon would also be made. Coming in from the cold outside a wonderful citrus aroma would greet us. It was a companionable exercise and I never minded scrubbing the floor afterwards. However hard we tried it was always sticky underfoot.
I was reminded of all of this yesterday when our friend Pauline called in with a bucket of grapefruit. Pauline is a Dominican nun. I doubt she actually owns a habit. She wears pants most of the time. Her nun like qualities only come out in things like an abhorrence of waste. Her time is limited because, although officially retired from her teaching and social work duties at the women's shelter, she has more than enough to do. Would I make the marmalade and pass it on to anyone who might need some? Of course I will. I can get up earlier in the morning.
Pauline stopped long enough to talk for a while. She was talking about her brother-in-law. He is an atheist. They do not agree on many things. We also know him. He is an odd man but she has just read his autobiography and many things have been explained. His parents were Calabrian. They worked hard and had little time for their 8 children. He sat in the middle with what is now termed a bi-polar disorder. He is brilliant in many ways. He has a magnificent capacity to use language. It will have been therapeutic for him to write his autobiography. I doubt it will be therapeutic for me to read it but I will.

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