Fior di Città – Pisa in Fiore – April 2015
Anneliese Rabl x
We are at the start of April and we should be past the worst. Spring is at the door and nothing, simply nothing, can get between us and the most promising of the four seasons. In summary: it is like a new year with new resolutions, new hopes, and new life.
In Tuscany, thank goodness, it is never particularly cold and also since the local flora adapts first to the autumn and then to the winter, at least some flowers and plants can be found throughout the entire year.
Those who live in the outdoors know that daises, both leaves and flowers, go well in salads and that buds, even if small and well closed, when prepared with vinegar and salt, make an excellent substitute for capers. Young dandelion fronds, when just sprouted, give potato salad (preferably warmed) an unusual and exquisite taste.
However, as already said, we are in Tuscany where winter and the start of spring present us with typically Mediterranean jewels that Northerners only see packaged in 1- 2- or 5-kilo bags rather than growing normally on bushes and trees. Cedar, lemon, tangerine, kumquat and grapefruit, in fact, can all be used to make jams, jellies, and liquors characterized by fresh taste and varying bitterness.
The citrus fruit which most lends itself to a special meeting between winter and spring is the orange. Not the bitter orange with a strong, almost overwhelming, taste, but a sweet variety. The flower, meanwhile, is the violet. Not just any violet but a dark violet, almost a red bordeaux colour, which hides in the grass well protected from too much wind and sun. Its scent is unique, delicate and intense at the same time. Its fragrance is so elusive that, to date, nobody has managed to extract its essence. In fact, there exists nowhere a market for a true oil of essence of violet.
These two ingredients, with a little luck and weather permitting, can be available every year for a very special recipe:
Orange marmelade with violets
How can one capture such a meeting of color, scent, and taste with a precise amount of fruit, sugar, and flowers? However, taste is not to be discussed; each recipe should have the right to be interpreted according to personal preference.
For our version, we shall need fresh oranges, recently harvested, washed, and dried. Then, half of the oranges’ weight in sugar, preferably white sugar because the flavour of brown sugar tends to overwhelm the scent of the flowers. Then a handful of violets, washed and with the stems removed. And then two glasses of apple juice.
We slice the orange into pieces as thinly as possible and mix them together with the apple juice in a suitable cooking pot. Let them cook until the skins are tender. Now add the sugar (and extra apple juice if needed) and boil until the jam has reached the right consistence. Add the violets and let sit for five minutes. Then fill the jars, invert them for ten minutes, and then we store them in a dry, dark place. E voilà!
What is the best way to eat our jam? Here too there are no rules. We suggest (as for all jams) to try a teaspoon of pure jam, just as it is, to understand better its character, taste, scent, and flavor. And then it is up to you to match it with other foods as you prefer.
Welcome to springtime!
Anneliese Rabl (translation John McAuliffe) x
Farfalla di Toscana