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Marillen Marmalade

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Marmalade pronounced in the German way is “Mar–mey-lad-ay”.

At some stage while at Junior school. my mother introduced me to her Aunt Berta, taking me by train, to see her in Slovenia. I instantly fell in love with her – and being childless herself, this was reciprocated twofold. From my early teens on, two weeks of every holiday was spent in her rather grand villa, an Art Deco design built in the 1920’s for her by her wealthy parents as a wedding present.Unfortunately when the second world war intervened, Slovenia became subsumed as part of Yugoslavia by a communist regime and what was once her sole large property had to be shared. Great Aunty Berta, being canny and the daughter of a very shrewd business family who had owned a string of fancy hotels and spa resorts, merely paid lip service to the communist officials who had come to inspect the living arrangements with a view to them subdividing the property and installing their own party favourites. She merely forestalled them, dividing the house into perfectly adequate accommodation that suited her while obeying the rules of the local apparatchiks. Thus, she kept the whole of the first floor for herself, with its grand wrap around balcony, the ground floor was given over to her in-laws, the lower ground floor to a succession of ‘worthy’ hand selected students and similarly, the attic area to another family, who had a daughter, Darija with whom I became firm friends.Aunty Berta undertook to educate me ‘properly’ and from her, I learned how to set a table using much of the fine china, baccarat crystal glasses, silver cutlery and all manner of tableware and linens. It was from her, that I learned the finer things in life – waking every morning after a deep sleep on fine linens and cashmere blankets, to her bringing me a breakfast tray laden with goodies. This included a soft boiled egg which had been decanted from its shell, into a china cup and smashed up, ready to for me to eat – “No lady should have to take the shell off her own egg” , she admonished me.Marillen Marmalade
But best of all was her ‘Marillen marmalade” – the most sublime of apricot jams I have ever tasted. As soon as she deemed that I was old enough to be initiated into the mystery of making that most perfect of concoctions, I was put to work, first helping her pick the apricots from her orchard which had to be ‘just ripe’, then stoning them, weighing them, mixing them with lemon juice and sugar from a large sack in the pantry before boiling them up and transferring the liquid gold into large Kilner jars. While were waiting for the apricots to get ripe, there were gherkins to be picked and pickled, string beans (’fisollen’) to harvest and bottle and peppers and tomatoes to lay out and dry in the sun.My Aunty Berta had no qualms about extending my summer holiday until all the shelves in her pantry were literally groaning with the fruits of our labours. Unsurprisingly, I frequently arrived back at school for the autumn term, up to two weeks late. She felt that the education for life that she was imparting to me , was far more valuable than anything a school could give me. And who was I to argue? To my young eyes, she was the image of our very own queen of England and just as regal and gracious – and she had dined with Agatha Christie while on honeymoon on the River Nile – which is where the bed linen had come from. Truth was, she could charm anyone, and I was in thrall to her. She has long since passed, but is one of the many people I am looking forward to meeting up with again when it is my turn to make that final journey.Aunty Berta taught me all her rules of manners and etiquette. Remembering how she once showed me how a lady should eat an orange or a banana if presented with such fruit as a dessert, (always with a fruit knife and fork, never by peeling with the fingers unless at a picnic!), I think she may well have approved of these first ten lines from D H Lawrence, on how to eat a fig. However, she would have been very contemptuous of the rest of the poem and would have decried it as far too vulgar…

Marillen Marmalade
From: Figs by D H Lawrence
The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied,
heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the
flesh in one bite.

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