Discover more from Letter from Nettle & Quince
Nettle & Quince in March
On getting comfortable with Seville oranges, and some other ways with citrus
What was there to do all winter, other than buy unreasonable amounts of citrus? Sometimes I had a plan in mind, often it was simply because they were beautiful and abundant right now. Who could resist?
Especially bitter oranges. My Seville orange repertoire just expanded drastically — not so difficult a feat, as it used to be entirely confined to marmalade.
Seville, sour, or bitter oranges usually appear here in London in January, though I hear they are in season in the Mediterranean as early as November. My first instinct when buying the early arrivals is to replenish the yearly stash of marmalade that gets depleted dangerously fast in this house.
I discovered the fastidious joy of marmalade quite recently, after moving to London, incited by this country’s infectious marmalade madness. As I soon learned, marmalade is entirely personal — ‘... as many marmalade recipes as there are makers of marmalade ...’ as they say — so I set about searching for and honing the perfect marmalade recipe, for me, which I have been making each year since. Every time, I learn to love the process a little bit more. For a while, marmalade making sat somewhere between a compulsion and a self-inflicted obligation, now it is all assiduous pleasure.
Having boiled and jarred the first few batches of marmalade as early as January, I had to find ways to expend my Seville-buying compulsion, the irresistible urge to ensnare the season. I needed to become more casually acquainted with these oranges, which had until now been held in a distant deference reserved solely for marmalade. So, I slid closer and followed Sevilles down new paths, from the simple pleasure of squeezing one on a morning pancake, or using their bitter juice in Anja Dunk’s Kohlrabi salad with a Seville orange dressing — quite a revelation to see kohlrabi all dressed and so grown up! — to some exciting concoctions and the promise of drinks and friends and warmer evenings to come.
Vin d’orange is an apéritif from the South of France which I discovered recently despite having spent many childhood summers near Aix en Provence. The recipe I used (first) is from Samin Nosrat. I can’t wait for it to be ready for apéros in the garden in April, when such extravagant social affairs will apparently be possible again. In fact, I was so excited by the prospect that I bought Seville oranges again with the intention of trying out a second vin d’orange recipe, this one with rum as well as vodka, only to discover I had not a single suitable container left, all of them being already otherwise engaged with all manner of other fruit soaking in alcohol (sloe gin, dried fruit rum pot, that first batch of vin d’orange, etc ...). So I made more marmalade (though I’d pointedly asked T to prevent me from making another jar this year), before buying more Sevilles, again, and a big enough jar.
But possibly the project I am most excited about is Mark Diacono’s Seville orange and cardamom infused gin. It will, I have no doubt, make the most perfect G&Ts this spring, and instantly let us forget we ever were in lockdown.
[ Find the recipe at the end of this Letter ! ]
// Things to cook //
If life gets in the way of cake (it happens!), and there is orange purée to hand: Super easy ‘blitzed’ marmalade. Sometimes, I spike it with Campari.
When there is no time for cooking, a simple citrus salad any which way, though this one is my favourite.
Now is also the time to make preserved lemons, the rest of the year will be thankful. I like a simple version without spices.
Spaghetti with lemon, a luscious surprise and one of my favourite pastas. I’ve used different recipes over the years (often no recipe), and one published recently by Rachel Roddy is great.
Last but not least: this most spectacular — and easy — WHOLE lemon tart !
// Things to read //
Whether we can travel or not, Helena Atlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow. I started reading it in Sicily a-year-and-half ago and have recently picked it up again. No, it isn’t torture, just pure escapist pleasure — instant geographical and historical teleportation.
How not to waste your citrus peels! By Tamar Adler.
This story about the Citrus Biological Resource Center in San Giuliano, Corsica — or an insight into the fascinating mysterious world of citrus hybrids, which they all are.
For the eyes only, this early-eighteenth-century Ode to Citrus Fruit in Pictures.
The neatly tied knot of my citrus obsession brings me back to Mark Diacono. I bought his book SOUR just a couple of weeks ago, nearly instantaneously on the strength of the Seville-infused gin idea which I discovered through the vagaries of Instagram scrolling. I’ve only just started dipping in and out of it, but immediately knew that I’ll enjoy spending time with this author. His writing is unique, at once authoritative and congenial. And so, finally, the recipe for that most auspicious of concoctions: the gin that will ignite our evenings this spring!
// Recipe //
Seville orange and cardamom infused gin
from Mark Diacono’s book SOUR
5 Seville oranges
8 green cardamom pods
1 litre gin
Slice each orange in half, and each half into thin half-moons. Place the orange segments into a jar with a capacity of 1.5 litres. Add the cardamom pods. Pour over the gin.
Let sit for a couple of weeks, more if possible.
Enjoy with tonic and ice!