Today is the shortest day of the year here in Melbourne – a mere 9 hours and 32 minutes from sunrise to sunset. Tomorrow, the sun will set just one minute later, and in a month or so, perhaps it will be light enough for me to ride my bicycle home from work.
Autumn and winter are usually my favourite times of year. I like wearing coats and scarves and gloves, cuddling up under blankets with a book, and, of course baking lovely spiced cakes, stewing apples, pears and quinces, and slow-cooking casseroles – foods whose smell permeates the house, even while the slow tempo of their baking warms it. I like the fact that this is the time of year for roasting vegetables and making bread, for baking apples or spending a whole day in the kitchen making pasta. Summer has better produce, true, but there’s nothing pleasing about trying to cook in 35°C weather, no matter how good the ingredients are.
Having said that, I’ll be glad to see the return of the sun. Winter started early this year, and it feels as though it has been cold and grey and dark since about February. To make matters worse, my workplace is renovating, and just moved our tea room from the light-capturing seventh floor to the gloom of the basement, from which we will only arise, Persephone-like (but unseasonably), next April, when the new Tea Room is built. Until sunset gets a bit later, I’m hardly going to see the sun at all during the week.
Fortunately, my overgrown garden has decided to cheer this midwinter by providing me with my own personal symbol of the returning sun.
Even the sky looks brighter with that orange-gold fruit dangling in front of it.
My oranges are small and a bit sour, and truth to tell, I’m never sure what to do with them. Marmalade is not a favourite thing of mine, and there is only so much orange juice and orange cake you can make. I make orange and polenta biscuits, too, which are fun to shape and decorate, but… that’s still a lot of oranges.
Tonight, I’m having a try at making orange jam, which I’m told is quite different from marmalade – it’s sweeter, and doesn’t include any of the pith. So far, I’ve spent two hours trying to get orange segments out of their skins, and have achieved a syrup with bits of orange floating in it, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be jam any time soon. I’m resisting the urge to cheat by adding pectin, largely because I feel that lumpy syrup with bits of orange floating in it would be even worse than what I have at present.
I strongly suspect that this jam will not be a success. Perhaps I should have started with my cock-eyed plan to see what Moroccan-style preserved oranges would be like. It might still have failed, but it would have taken a lot less time to prepare…
Glacé orange slices, however, are definitely in my future. And there’s a wonderful Nigella Lawson chocolate and orange cake that has that lovely ‘every day for afternoon tea’ sort of feel to it. And I could make orange curd. And maybe brandied oranges. Or date and orange chutney…
Yes, I think this particular little sun-symbol is going to be featuring quite a bit in my blog over the next few weeks…
A happy solstice to you, whether your day is short or long – and may the new season bring you every joy!