Here at Beaufief in southwest France, January is a time of unashamed domesticity. For a while I can lose my sense of guilt about absenting myself from the numerous regular hours spent in front of the computer and other routines of my working life. No, this is a time for adventures with the chain saw, for splitting logs, deluding myself that I am getting on top of the garden’s weed problem and for making marmalade. Now my own special marmalade has unique qualities, but I shall only reveal a few just now.
Firstly, it is important to buy the Seville oranges abroad, in my case in the UK, and then transport them a fair distance before cooking them, it is little known that they like to be in constant motion after picking. A ferry journey is essential for the next step which consists of allowing the fruit to spill out onto the car deck and settle for a short while under adjacent four wheel drive vehicles: Porsche Cayennes are ideal but Mercedes, BMWs, Audis etc work just as well. Gather up the oranges which will now be lightly coated with German 4WD differential oil and restore to the car to continue the rhythmic movement of an 8 hour voyage. This step also helps perpetuate the reputation Englishmen have as comedians, brightens the tedium of Brittany Ferries employees while also ensuring that other travelers on board will ignore you for the entire journey.
After a further journey by road, the raw ingredients are ready to be transformed into nectar, following my time-tested recipe which always ends with bringing the runny liquid to a boil for a second time and boiling furiously so that the maximum mess is made on the hob and all areas of the kitchen. The set can be monitored by sensing how sticky the tiled floor is becoming underfoot. Towards the end, add last year’s slightly loose left over jars of marmalade and continue boiling for a further ten minutes. The resulting confection has a rich dark colour, a perfect consistency and the slight overtones of vehicle lubricant and a nuance of Michelin all-terrain rubber, something that will linger on visitors’ taste buds for many months. It also means the entire kitchen has to be deep-cleaned leaving ready for the new year ahead.