Sustenance Through Winter: Clementines Confites
Twelve years ago, when being in love had just set in, everything at the time seemed to have taken on a more colorful rich hue. Perhaps it was the rain in Paris where we were both studying or the vibrant colors of the south that emerged when at around this time of year we went to see his parents for a visit. The trip had been a success, and we were getting ready to return to Paris. I decided to prepare the picnic lunch for the train.
Brigitte, my future mother-in-law, told me that there were some clementines confites in the kitchen, that I should take some since Loic loved them. I got the impression that even though she said "take some", that she meant "take them all". I don't really know how it happened.
There we were on the train. I brought out all of the delicious things I had gathered. We'd enjoyed brined olives as only they can do them in Provence, country pâté on crusty bread, a kind of slaw I made with things I found around Brigitte's kitchen, chunks of sheep's cheese I'd found at a market there, and then, finally, I brought out two of the clementines.
Oh my, they were rich and sweet beyond my wildest imagination. I was lost in the haze of sweet love for them, and for Loic. I asked him if he would like another, and he said yes. We ate the second two staring deeply into each other's eyes. He stopped eating them after that. But I had to have a third. You could suck the juice right out of their centers, where their pulp had completely turned to a fabulously intense thick clementine flavored goo, sectioned vaguely into cells... absolute divinity. It was like admiring a master's work and then remembering that indeed these were natural fruits, taking you that much closer to the great master himself. Definitely a glimpse of the divine. I think I ate a few more but I can't tell you how many.
I came back from my clementine haze feeling slightly ill and found that he was staring at me. I had brought out the box. "Did you take them all?" he asked. "But of course!" I retorted... "She said you liked them!" But my face turned bright red. He looked annoyed, maybe even a little angry. He'd never been angry with me before.
I had stepped over an invisible line. My lover was going to scorn me for gourmandise.
We spent some time silently riding next to each other on the train. I bounced between shame and defensiveness, which eventually just melted to sadness. The rain was streaming down the window of the train. I actually quietly began to cry. What was Brigitte going to think? How were they going to take this? The culture was new to me so I could not fathom the damage I might have done. Would I be able to face his parents again? A tear ran down my cheek while I gazed out onto the gloomy countryside.
The shock of that uncomfortable ride in the train in which I thought I was going to lose my lover, coupled with the intensity of my first brush with clementines confites had me sworn off them for several years. I just kind of felt sad every time I had one.
He forgave me, and so did Brigitte. There was really no need to worry. I explained to her that I just wanted to please him (I did not mention my own enthusiasm, but I suspect Loic passed the word). Now, after 10 years of marriage to Loic, every year, Brigitte still gives me a big jar of clementines confites every winter. Since she gives them to me, now Loic must ask me if he wants one.
Choose a pound of firm, ripe clementines, in season this time of year. Scrub them clean, and pierce them deeply with a thin needle, everywhere. Put them into a saucepan, and cover the pierced fruits by 2 cms (an inch) with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the fruit with a pair of tongs or slotted spoon to a deep sided non-reactive bowl or a jar. Add 500 grams sugar, and 200 grams glucose syrup or honey (which will alter the flavor somewhat but still achieve the goal of avoiding the sugar going grainy) to the cooking juice. Bring the syrup to a boil and remove from heat promptly when it reaches a good rolling boil. Pour the syrup over the clementines, weigh the top down with a plate to avoid the fruits from floating to the top, and let it sit loosely covered with a clean dishcloth for 2 days. After 2 days have passed, remove the fruit from the bowl, transfer the juice to a saucepan, and add 100 grams of sugar to the juice. Bring the juice and sugar to a rolling boil, remove from heat, then pour over the clementines and let sit for another 2 days. Follow this process every 2 days, every 2 days adding 100 grams of sugar to the mix, until you reach the 14th day. At this time, transfer them to a jar, and keep, covered in their syrup, in a cool dry place. They will keep for as long as a year, getting better with age, but at 2 weeks they're still pretty darn good.
Labels: winter 09-10