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An ode to marmalade

By Kishore Singh
February 03, 2020 13:31 IST
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'Waging battle over a jar of marmalade seemed petty beyond belief so I simply lost my craving for the preserve,' sighs Kishore Singh.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

Thirty-four years, one month and nine days after we were married, my wife finally made a vat of orange marmalade at home.

It was not at my persuasion, dear reader, the illusion that she would pander to my tastes having being shattered 12,449 days ago.

Having a fondness for bitter rinds in the conserve, and finding local brands in the stores sickeningly sweet, I might have expressed the hope that tiny mandarins from the garden be turned into confiture.

My wife wasn't one for such ministrations. "If you want homemade marmalade," she told me in no uncertain terms, "you can ask your mother to make it -- or your sister," and just to make sure no family members were left out, added, "or sister-in-law."

 

I'm not one to complain, but in those years of Socialist austerity when fewer things were available at the neighbourhood grocer's, each of us guarded our hoard of imported goodies with selfish zeal -- whether chocolates, cheeses, or jams and jellies.

Given my wife's sweet tooth, you'd expect her to raid the fridge for puddings, but she took a liking for marmalade instead, slathering her toast from edge to edge with greed rather than good sense.

She might not make it at home, but she could certainly eat it. Waging battle over a jar of marmalade seemed petty beyond belief so I simply lost my craving for the preserve.

Not that my wife was averse to cooking up a storm in the kitchen when she chose.

Two years and a few odd days after our marriage, she decided to make tomato sauce in somewhat alarming quantities.

Kilos of tomatoes were deseeded, pulped, cooked and poured into empty bottles purloined from friends -- but, alas, she'd forgotten to add sodium benzoate, resulting in the spoilage of 39 bottles of homemade ketchup.

Over the years, that list grew -- 18 miscellaneous sized jars of chilli pickle, a few dozen pitchers of guava jam, 21 (or was it 22?) pots of mango chutney, failed attempts at baking our own bread and making our own ice-cream.

Through it all, my wife was only resolute in one thing -- she would not make marmalade.

Over time that expectation faded. I now bought back armloads of marmalade from my travels, soaked in whisky in Scotland, steeply priced from Fortnum & Mason, artisanal varieties from Switzerland, in jars large and small -- so many that they remained untasted past their use-by dates.

By now I'd renounced my morning toast in pursuit of a diet, so it was my wife who ate her way through the stock, generous dollops over her now market-bought bread and croissants.

So it was a surprise to see her stirring up a treacly mix from a recipe borrowed from a friend's friend's mother, coaxing me to "just taste it" and waiting for the pronouncement.

"It's perfect," I assured her, "just as it ought to be -- sweet enough, but bitter too. I love it."

The enthusiasm wasn't feigned though it might have been better to moderate it because my wife decided that sharing was her way of caring.

"I might give some to my kitchen garden ladies," she announced. More portions were packaged into handy containers and sent off to acquaintances.

This morning, when we sat down to our 12,450th breakfast together, she suggested toast with orange marmalade -- store bought, naturally.

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