I recently did an interview with Mari Malcolm of the Amazon blog about the garden books I keep on my own bookshelf. It was a fun interview to do. I love, love, love books and have a pretty extensive collection of gardening books ranging from the contemporary to old. Some are useful resources and some are just plain silly. Answering the questions made me realize that I should be talking about them more often.
I thought it would be fun to show what my gardening bookshelf looks like as an accompaniment to the many books I mention in the interview. This shelf sits directly behind my desk chair. As you can see, there is no room left. In fact, some of those shelves are doubled up, with a row of books hidden behind the outer row! There are others still, either sitting on wall shelves directly over my desk, or stacked in floor piles here and there.
The top row (starting from the left) shows an old vinyl treasure box made by a company called Ponytail that used to make vinyl keepsake products for teens. I keep my collection of foreign or old seed envelopes inside.
On the second shelf you can see a copy of Dick Raymond’s “Joy of Gardening” a very good and very large vegetable gardening tome from 1982. It is geared more towards gardeners with lots of space to grow large food crops, but there are plenty of tips that can be gleaned for small-scale gardeners.
On the fourth shelf, “Herbal: The Essential Guide to Herbs for Living” by Deni Bown stands out. While there are some herb growing tips in this books, it is best for gardeners who are also interested in learning more about the origins and uses of the herbs they grow. There are also some gorgeous botanical prints strewn throughout.
“Seed Travelers” (shown propped up, second row down on the left) is a cute kids’ storybook about the journey of a dandelion seed that I bought in Chinatown. Oddly enough it is not in Chinese, although I do have books that are.
The first shelf of the third row shows a giant photo of Akira Kurosawa on the set of his last samurai film. I found the photos tucked inside a film magazine at a local thrift store years back. He directed one of my favourite films of all time, “Ikiru (To Live)“. It’s not about gardening, but is such a gentle and moving story, I had to mention it none-the-less.
The second shelf holds reference books like my favourite (and most used) “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers Eastern Region“. You can also see a little case tucked into the left corner that holds my collection of vintage Cigarette cards. Way back when, cigarette packages used to come with little collectible information cards inside. I’ve collected several over the years, although mind did not come in a package of cigarettes, but rather from antique stores and old paper shows.
On the third shelf you can see an old kids’ metal tool set box. This is where I keep all of my tomato, pepper, squash, and melon seeds.
I’m currently in Austin where it is now warm and sunny after a few days of cold rain and gray. There are flowers here! And I can smell the soil. Hooray!
I have made all sorts of jams and jellies in the past but never marmalade. I had it in my head that six oranges should turn out to be about 3 small jars of marmalade. I figured it wouldn’t be enough to can. Instead I would simply pour it into a jar, stick it in the fridge, and call it a day.
It turns out that six Seville oranges makes exactly 50 thousand gallons of marmalade. Canning would be required. In the end, I processed enough jars to fill up two batches in my canning pot. I could have done at least one additional load if not more but was so fed up I just poured the remainder into a big jar and considered it done.
Oh and it turns out, I don’t like marmalade. Thankfully Davin does. I’ve already gifted some jars to friends.
If you’d like to try your hand at making marmalade I recommend this recipe. I decided to follow a recipe rather than going it alone since I was unfamiliar with the bitter flavor of Seville oranges. I chose this one because it had the least amount of sugar. I followed the instructions fairly closely but experience with citrus peels has taught me that the pith scrapes off easiest when you blanch the peels very quickly first. I blanched mine for less than 30 seconds and then used a spoon to scoop the white pith out.
Another change I made was to package up both the innards and the seeds in cheese cloth to make the pectin. Mine didn’t turn out very gel-like and I had to cook the mix longer than I would have liked (it ended up with a slight caramelized flavor) and add commercial pectin to make it set. I don’t think it was adding the extra innards that caused this setback but rather the fact that I packaged it up in butter cloth, which is more dense than your typical loose weave cheese cloth. I think that the pectin couldn’t get through the denser cloth as easily, resulting in a mix that was too liquid and not enough gel. Or maybe it was the recipe. I’d have to try again to know for certain.
If you try this, let me know how it turns out.
I do most of my produce shopping at the farmers market but popped into a supermarket last week and was sidetracked by a display of gnarly-looking and highly aromatic Seville oranges. I am a sucker for gnarled produce. It has character.
I bought six. And so began an epic, hair pulling journey into the dark heart of marmalade making, which I will outline here tomorrow.
On the plus side, these made my kitchen smell like heaven.