I have been staking out my local greengrocer all winter long, and it is only now, halfway through spring, that I am finally rewarded. In fairness, this is Edinburgh, and today’s weather was particularly wintry, so perhaps the globalised food provision and transport industry was fooled. Regardless – I am, as I say, rewarded.
It was last winter that I passed said greengrocer and saw a box of blood oranges for cheap. This place is a fruit and veg wholesaler: pallets of their produce come and go without ever gracing the stock shelves. But some stuff is reserved, and whatever is soon to go or looking a bit bruisy goes out front for ridiculous-good prices. It’s the place to which I pointed a visiting student friend who wanted to make a mass veg curry for her temporary flatmates and various musicians she had met on the Meadows. Sometimes it means you spend your evening dicing mushrooms; cooking them with butter, cream, and sherry; and then scooping them into little bags for the freezer because if you don’t they will seriously be a mass of green fur tomorrow. But if you don’t make it, well, it cost you 50 pence, so what, truly, is lost?
The blood oranges were cheap, so I grabbed them and brought them home, thinking what to do with them. I’m generally a fan of the fruit, a love affair fostered by trips abroad and the curious German translation “blutorange” decking a litre carton of juice, which I proceeded to drink tout entire whilst walking through the town centre of a morning. More recently, I came up with a posh-but-cheap dessert by sectioning blood oranges into bowls and grating over some dark chocolate. I made this for the family for the first time not long after we moved to London, living as cheaply as we could in student flats in of all places Bloomsbury. After that, the kids would regularly request it.
A whole box, however, opens onto a broader horizon, and I turned to the web, where I found Adrianna Adarme‘s recipe for Blood Orange Granita. I have made granita before and loved it – especially the watermelon granita that gets served in the hollowed halves of limes with currants to replicate the seeds… a bit cute and Martha Stewarty for my liking, generally, but the concept was not too hard to replicate and it did taste good. The best, hitherto, was a maple lemon ginger granita that my wife made from the LCBO’s Food and Drink magazine. This may, in fact, have been our first granita-at-home experiment, and it was amazing. The texture, because of the natural liquid form of the sugar, was less grainy – pure velvet, and a great flavour combo. We were fans of the granita.
This, however, became The Best Thing to Eat, really from the moment I saw the recipe. She steeps sage leaves in the sugar syrup before adding it to the blutorange juice, and oh look! There’s a healthy sage plant growing in our garden right now! I’ll just pluck six to seven leaves and get right on that. The smell from the stovetop during the steeping was tantalising, and the colour of the juice was exciting. Combined, frozen, and periodically agitated, it leapt up the list to a contender for the best thing I think I have ever produced in a kitchen.
I went back to the greengrocers after having made the granita. The boxes were no longer on sale, or even for sale. That was the brief window of accessible blutorangegranita. A whole year elapsed before “winter citrus [was] in full effect”, as Adarme puts it. And still no cheap and plentiful blood oranges. Or if the magic day came, I was asleep in the beat-up Reliant across the street, donut crumbs sticking to my fake moustache and my surreptitious binoculars dangling uselessly from the hand brake.
And then, this week, there was a box out front: five for a quid. Not the blowout price of last year’s box, but enough to be going on. And so it was today’s project. And tonight’s pudding. And a confirmation that this is The Best Thing to Eat.