A Matter of Taste

Picture by Kyle May

SOMETIMES I just think funny things.

I stole that line from Dudley Moore’s hapless character in the classic comedy film Arthur by the way, but it’s true for me, too (which is why I stole it in the first place).

What got me giggling this week was a jar of marmalade.

You see, I’m always on the hunt for the real McCoy – not the sickly-sweet orange goo that carries the label, or the break-the-bank imported stuff which has just the right combination of bitter and sweet to satisfy my picky palate but not my bank account.

Happily, I found some (a bargain at R20 – that’s around $3) at my local craft/home industry shop and I was in the middle of enjoying it on hot, buttered toast when I started to wonder who came up with the perfect marmalade recipe in the very first place.

Not only that, I mused, what about olives?

I mean, think about it. Who tried the first one?

As UK herb guru Jekka McVicar (now there’s a name that sounds like it belongs in a vampire movie) quite rightly says in her Jekka’s Complete Herb book: “Fresh olives picked from the tree are unpalatable. They need to be processed before they become edible.”

Well, yes, so who had the peculiar idea that they’d be worth eating? To make them remotely palatable, they must first be bruised, pricked or slit to draw out the bitter flavours, then dumped in a brine solution – which is discarded several times over 10 days before a FINAL soaking.

I mean, why would you bother? Still, I’m glad someone did – I’m addicted to them!

And what about artichokes? Surely there was something more convenient around that didn’t entail pulling off layers and layers of prickly, cardboard-textured leaves to get to the (very) few tender bits below.

Oysters are another puzzle. I love ’em but I sure as heck would never have entertained the idea of shovelling the icky-looking creatures down my throat if I hadn’t been strongly persuaded over the years to give them a try by at least a dozen people.

Were our ancestors particularly adventurous, foolhardy, or just so desperately hungry they’d try anything?

How many poor souls died finding out what was edible? And who decided who’d be the guinea pig?

Take rhubarb. The stalks are good – as long as they’re stewed up with sugar, that is – but the leaves are deadly.

It gives a whole new meaning to that age-old cry of ‘what shall we have to eat?’ doesn’t it?

All these thoughts were going through my head (I admit it’s a strange place to be, even for me) as I sampled the marmalade of No 550, or “Granny Joan”, as the maker is described.

If the label on her delicious Seville marmalade is anything to go by, she sounds quite a character.

“Sun-ripened oranges, hand picked at dawn from the famed Gonubie orange groves by lovely dew-kissed maidens,” it reads. “Lovingly prepared to a traditional old family recipe handed down for almost two years(!).”

So Granny Joan has funny thoughts, too. I wonder if they sometimes make her laugh out loud like mine do? – By Stevie Godson

 (A version of this column was first published in the Daily Dispatch)

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Thursday, February 17th, 2011 at 6:46 am and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. Olive Potts says:

    Funny stuff Stevie G.

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