Here’s a little secret: although I love cake and cooking, I don’t care for baking. It requires too much precision, too much measuring and worrying over when to take the cake out of the oven.
But I don’t think you have to be an expert, or even like to cook, as Peg Bracken proves, to write about food. For me, it’s often more satisfying to write about food than to make it.
Like the time I had a fridge full of too-sweet oranges that I didn’t want to eat but also didn’t want to waste. (How is it possible, you ask, to have a fridge full of too-sweet oranges? Sheer greediness—I bought them in Florida in mid March, right at the end of orange season. Plus, I didn’t know yet about the Floritucky.)
Anyway, I looked up recipes for marmalade and discovered this quote in the Joy of Cooking:
Let us come back to the importance of pectins in all jelly and jam making.
Yes, I thought. Let us. And then, instead of wanting to make marmalade, I wanted to write a poem about making marmalade. As Bracken wrote in 1960:
We [ladies who hate to cook] don’t get our creative kicks from adding an egg, we get them from painting pictures or bathrooms, or potting geraniums or babies, or writing stories or amendments, or possibly, engaging in some interesting type of psychoneurochemical research like seeing if, perhaps, we can replace colloids with sulphates.
So, I wrote the poem. The oranges, sadly, went to the compost pile.
In honor of the end of March and all the ways we “get our creative kicks,” here’s the poem. The folks at Limestone published it, and it appeared there in slightly different form.
“Let us come back to the importance of pectins in all jelly and jam making.”
—Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Ronbauer Becker, Joy of Cooking, 1975
Make it to atone
for gathering vivid globes
so late they cloy the tongue
with insipid sweetness.
Think: conserve, to protect
from loss or harm. Think:
preserve, to prevent decay.
Soak the oranges whole
to ease the knife’s slice.
Cut out the cores. Toss aside
the tear-shaped seeds.
Do not scrape the inner rind
from the brilliant flesh:
you want some bitterness in these jars.
Shred the fruit to a pulp,
letting no juice bleed
off the cutting board.
Go scant on the sugar
and squeeze three lemons
instead of two. You need
the faint sting of acid on your teeth.
To turn away from the pot
is to risk singed fruit.
Stir until the deep orange swells
to a syrup of pale peach.
Trust that you’ll know
when it’s done. Picture
the bright shards of peel
suspended in a glass
of late winter sun.