For some reason I made a beeline to the church kitchen. My husband was the guest speaker for the Raitt Preaching Series at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Santa Ana, CA. He preached Sunday morning and Sunday evening, then three times (the same message in the two morning sessions), once at 6:30 a.m., then at 9:00 a.m., then in the evening at 7:00. Perhaps, it is because I have been a pastor’s wife, and in the ministry all our married life, that I appreciate the hard work (and often un-thanked work) of the people behind the scenes. I wondered who would be taking care of the continental breakfast so early in the day.
“Hi! I’m Karen Mains. Just wanted to see what was goin’ on back here.”
My attention was immediately grabbed by the slices of oranges being arranged on trays. They were juicy and ripe and almost red-orange in color. “Oh, oranges!” I exclaimed as though no one else in the room knew what they were.
“Yep,” said the gentleman slicing the fruit. “They’re navel oranges. They’re from our trees. Help yourself.”
Shamelessly, I began snarfing up the slices, almost as fast as he could place them on the trays. Now, fresh citrus fruits in California are commonplace. Ripe fruit drops from the trees in fields and over backyard fences, and the harvest is so plenteous that wind-fallen grapefruit and lemons and oranges may just rot on the ground. But for a Midwesterner who is used to imported fruit, picked too early, shipped by trucking routes inland, I am aware that we rarely eat citrus at the height of their ripeness.
The wife piped up, “Oh, we make fresh orange juice too, but most of it was drunk in the 6:30 meeting.” I realized these new friends, both in their lively 70’s, had English accents.
We chatted about the qualities of different oranges—they have 13 trees on their property!—Seville, navel, tangelos, and Valencias. And somehow, we got onto the topic of making marmalade. I had spent a Saturday last year experimenting with a whiskey-marmalade recipe. We three agreed we loved good marmalade, but my new friend made it clear that the preserves in our American supermarkets were too sweet—not “tart enough.” Certainly not as good as the British variety. I heartily agreed—English marmalade is exquisite—a good enough reason to travel overseas!
“Do you know how marmalade began?” queried the citrus-grower, still slicing oranges. Marmalade, legend has it, was a chance invention. Some time in the 18th century, Mr. Keiller, a grocer from Scotland, acquired a load of Seville oranges when a ship was driven ashore by a storm. His wife, Janet, experimented with recipes, added sugar (Sevilles are very bitter) and invented the chunky orange marmalade that became Scotland’s own. The preserves sold so well that it soon became a staple of every breakfast table in the land, and the name of James Keiller & Sons is still associated with it.
David, my husband, preached in those early sessions, and I was proud of his command of the Book of Revelation and of his great gift of reducing the most complicated of passages to their essential meaning. But I made sure I didn’t return to the guest house where we were staying without transcribing the marmalade recipe that lodged in this man’s mind onto a scrap of paper I found in my purse. Here goes:
Take one large lemon, two white grapefruit (not ripe, because there is more pectin in the skin), and seven Valencia oranges (which must be very sweet).
Slice them, leaving on the skins and instead of water, combine all with the juice of one orange. Add 3/4 cup sugar if you like a tart taste; one cup if you like it sweet. Boil everything down for about 5 hours, stirring occasionally over a low heat in a five-quart pan until the contents are 25% reduced.
Stir in 5 tablespoons (we’re guessing here—I’m thinking it may take more like 1/4 cup) of whiskey or Grand Marnier. Let the ingredients sit for one-half hour to cool.
While still warm, spoon into sterilized jars (use any leftover jam and jelly jars). You do not have to add pectin because there is pectin enough in the skins and the juice. Screw on the tops. Cheerio!
Without a doubt, one of the great gifts of life is meeting enchanting people, people who carry on a kind of romance with life. People who enliven rooms just by being in them. People who open doors and show you intriguing vistas you have never seen.
I’m an introvert and it takes a little effort for me to strike up conversations with strangers. My natural default procedure is to be politely withdrawn and to stand back observing, but lately, perhaps due to the aging process, I’m not so shy, and I’ve met the most surprising folk. Everyone is fascinating (well, actually, some people are boring—they just haven’t reached their fascinating potential yet), but truly evolved personalities strike matches in the soul, stimulate the minds of their listeners, arc high in the back-and-forth swings of discussions, love the world. Finding them is worth the few who make your eyes roll back into your head.
For instance, my new marmalade friends. Although retired now, the gentleman was an aerospace engineer and worked, among other things, on the project that developed Teflon for the space program. After retiring, he helped some ailing friends with their produce truck farm (“The loam of the San Joaquin Valley is 12 inches deep in some places,” he informed me). He sold the produce in local farmer’s markets, which make fresh vegetables and fruits straight from the fields available year-round. What an intriguing second career!
Are your days a little dreary? Well, winter months in Chicago can certainly become wearying. We have had cold weather and snow on the ground since November (it is now February 9). I will be returning home in two days. I think I’ll find me some interesting people.
“You like being here with these folk,” my husband said to me, noticing my liveliness. “I do,” I responded. “They have been wonderful to be around. Did you know that orange trees have three blooming seasons in a year? There are oranges on the trees now that ripened in June. There are oranges on the trees that are just beginning to ripen. And there are blossoms for the ones that will ripen this summer!”
This is one of the ways for getting through the days. Find people who are bearers of light. Learn from them.
Other projects involving Karen Mains right now:
Karen Mains is beginning to build distance-learning opportunities, teaching wannabe writers how to be better at their craft. She is offering telementoring conference-call training twice a month for eight months. This current cycle is filled. If you are interested in future cycles of training, the Web site www.KarenBurtonMains.com is being built to facilitate this effort. We invite you to check it out for announcements of future classes.
About Karen Mains:
Karen Mains and her husband, David, have been in religious communications for decades—radio and television and print publication. The are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance and Tales of the Restoration. David has been working on a manuscript titled Revelation for My Grandchildren, and they are just beginning to brainstorm if this should be made into a fourth Tales book, Tales of the Revelation.