A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Burriana, Seville Oranges & Dundee Orange Marmelade
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Since the little farming village of Burriana had no harbour curving out to protect the shore, it could have no pier; storm waves driving in from the east would periodically destroy attempts to maintain a quay. So the huge barges which conveyed the oranges to the freighter had to be loaded ashore. Each barge was hauled onto dry land and crammed with barrels containing oranges it must have weighed several tons.

'Why barrels? 'I asked, watching the procedure with binoculars. 'They are barrels, aren't they?'
'Steel barrels."
'You'll see.'

Obviously when the barges were loaded they had to be dragged back into the water in order to be floated so that they could be rowed out to our ship. How to do it? In Roman times businessmen using this coast for the transfer of freight to Italy had solved the problem. They reared a breed of oxen tht thrived in salt water, and now these huge beasts, working in the sea with often only their eyes and horns visible, backed close to a barge while workmen attached chains to their harness. Then with men who also lived mostly in the sea whipping at them and cursing, the great beasts strained while everyone ashore pushed on the barge. Slowly, slowly the near-swimming oxen and the men and the shouting got the barge moving. Slowly it left the shore. The massive oxen moved deeper and deeper into the sea, so that the men directing them had to keep afloat by grasping the oxen's horns, and in this way the oranges in their steel barrels were ferried out to our ship......

I now discovered why the oranges were being delivered in steel drums, for the captain directed that a hose be thrust down into the Mediterranean where the water was clear, then ordered the deckhands, 'Knock out the bungs,'and presently all the drums were opened and I saw that the oranges inside had been cut in half. The resulting juice, of course, did not fill the barrel, and the empty space was now to be filled with sea water.

'What's the idea?'I asked.
'Everything sloshes back and forth, all the way to Dundee,'The captain said.
'To accomplish what?'
'It prepares the rind for making marmelade.'

There were two schools of thought aboard the ship. The captain held that the action of salt water ate away the pulpy part of the rind and left the skin translucent, as required in the better brands of marmelade. The pulp and juice would be thrown away. 'Nonsense,'one of the deck hands argued. 'Everything in that barrel is mixed with sugar and then boiled down to make the bittersweet taste of true Dundee Marmelade. Without the salt water it wouldn't be worth a damn.

Iberia, 1968 James A Michener


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