Beautiful to look at and beautiful to taste...
Tomorrow - Tuesday 27 May.
Mike and Pauline's coffee van on the Quayside.
Or Oliver's in Grainger Market if it's raining.
* * *One of the more unavoidable - and most regrettable - aspects of growing old is the gradual sweetening of the tooth. For most people creeping nervously toward their pension and bus pass, the process of favouring apple crumble and banoffee cheesecake over ploughman’s lunches and chicken korma seems to be inevitable.
My doctor reckons it’s nature’s way of hastening death and should be resisted at all costs - especially the cost of diabetes and cholesterol-clogged arteries.
I do my best, of course, but not taking sugar in my tea and coffee somehow doesn’t measure up to what’s required. And the few days I recently spent in London with my old friend Brian serve as an indication of what I’m up against.
As Brian knows perfectly well, it’s not just my well-documented addiction to bilberries that he can indulge me with.
There’s also blood oranges.
I subsequently discovered that freshly-squeezed blood orange juice is inexpensively available there too, in supermarket chiller-cabinets. Naturally, the first thing I do when I arrive is deplete the local branch of Leclerc’s stock so that I can spend whole days slurping and smiling.
The problem that blood oranges have in this benighted country isn’t just their comparative rarity; it’s also their name. Tesco stocks them sometimes but the marketing people there have decided that the reason they don’t sell in sufficiently huge quantities is their name: people (they have deduced) are reluctant to buy them because they are ‘blood’ oranges and thus contain blood. Tesco have re-branded them as ‘blush’ oranges, which makes them sound unnecessarily twee and ‘precious’. (Waitrose do this, too.)
For all I know, the marketing folk may be right. Perhaps the English have reached that terminally uneasy stage of word-gentrification that demands no mention of blood in anything we eat. Each time I taste one, though, I thank the God of Small Things that the French and Italians aren’t so squeamish; the words they use are fearlessly honest - sanguine and sanguinello - ‘bloody’.
Last week in London, I was able to notch-up my membership of the blood orange supporters’ club, though. Brian - who has an eye for these things - discovered that you can get blood orange marmalade. Yes, I know. I was flabbergasted, too. Blood orange marmalade. I had to have a sit down to recover my composure.
He’d been shopping at Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly. (The less said about Brian’s habit of shopping at the world’s most expensive grocery store, the better.) His eye was caught by a display of comestibles produced on the estate of the Prince of Wales (naturally) and there amongst them was….blood orange marmalade. He bought a jar, knowing how effectively it would shut me up for a few hours.
The taste is wordlessly beautiful - so I went back to Fortnum’s and bankrupted myself by buying four more jars for home consumption. I’m looking at them now, marshalled neatly on my ‘favourite things’ shelf, alongside a model of a ‘black five’ locomotive, a pottery hedgehog, a walrus made of coloured glass, my nana’s pewter christening mug and a bowl of dried ginkgo leaves. That’s how much I love blood oranges.
Brian’s good like that. If I go on and on and on about something I love the taste of, he makes it his business to scour London for supplies. Which is how he found me some Blackberry and Elderflower tea.
Yes, elderflower gets my taste buds exploding as well…
* * *Fruit teas are another discovery I made in France. Leclerc’s has a lot to answer for - in this case, blackberry and bilberry tea, which is, perhaps predictably, unavailable in England, even though the name on the box - Lipton’s - is about as English as you can get.
Nosing around Newcastle for fruit teas which are available here, though, I recently made the gloriously English discovery that you can relax and unwind after a hard day’s retirement by sipping a warming posset of Dandelion and Burdock tea. Really.
(Dandelion and Burdock is another phenomenon entirely. I could write whole theses about it…)
* * *Seen while I sipped a cup of tea and gazed out of a perfectly ordinary London suburban window one morning last week…
Three grey squirrels...
...and a small flock of parakeetsIsn’t London wonderful!!
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