In Beulah it’s time to make the marmalade, meanwhile in the garden the snowdrops are starting to emerge from the ground.
Some years ago a colleague of mine, while on holiday over New Year in Northumberland, discovered a most wonderful box of Seville Oranges in a tiny local greengrocer’s shop. He examined the label on the side – ‘Ave Maria Plantacion Ecologica’ – and decided to buy the whole lot and bring it back. The Marmalade that he made from those oranges was the best that I have ever tasted.
One year later I found the same grower supplying Waitrose, and there was an article about the plantation in a pamphlet at the till. It is on the outskirts of the city of Seville and has been husbanded entirely organically for many generations by the same family. Because of the high standards of cultivation needed to grow oranges without chemical intervention the trees and fruit are most beautiful. Anyone who has seen the ordinary Seville Oranges will know that they are a most depressing sight: warty, patchy, dry inside and most unappealing. Those from the Ave Maria plantation are so lovely, so perfectly coloured and juicy, so delicately scented that they have to be labelled with a warning that they are not to be eaten raw. I never buy anything else.
Last week was Seville Marmalade weekend. The season is short: only about six weeks of January and February, so I must buy when I see them and cook or freeze away. Ivor shreds the peel and squeezes out the juice, I boil and add sugar then bring to setting point. I have learned that low pressure and height of Tyrannell above sea level can combine to make reaching a set a little more tricky, but this batch was no trouble at all. Wonderful amber liquid and thin lengths of peel, ladled into hot jars and sealed with a lid which pops as the preserve cools: as near perfection as I could wish.
Meanwhile, outside in the potager the weather is most unpredictable and inclement, though there are signs of regrowth. Though not particularly cold we have suffered hail, high winds and seemingly endless rain. I press on with some more tomato seeds and peppers in my propagator and cauliflower under a cloche in the greenhouse. I read in a magazine about microgreens and decide that this is the ideal way to use up out-of-date brassica seeds. Who can use 180 cabbages in two years? I save sixteen seeds for the coming season and broadcast the rest in a little seed tray and cover with black plastic.
The sun emerges and entices me outside. I load one more squash bed with kitchen scraps and cover first with earth then an old black sack. Come the spring weather I’ll be wanting to sow a quick catch crop of salad to take advantage of the warmed soil before the cucubits, such as our favourite courgettes, ramp over everything in their path.
On the way back to the house, clouds mounding again in the west, I notice the first patch of snowdrops just into flower, not fully out, but shining white beneath a holly tree and I take a couple of pictures. Nature is definitely on the move in Mid-Wales.