At the bottom of our mountain, an elderly farmer sits on an upturned crate beside his ancient car at the side of the road. The wind is cold, and the old man wears woollen gloves and a scarf, his shoulders hunched in a heavy coat. Under his flat cap, he watches the traffic pass, waiting for people like us who can’t resist his wares.
Oranges. It’s the tail-end of the season, but bright oranges and lemons still hang from the trees around our village. In the far distance, as snow-covered mountain peaks jab the sky, it seems strange that oranges ripen and are picked in winter.
“Stop the car,” I say to Joe, “I want to buy some oranges.”
He rolls his eyes, but applies the brakes. I know what he’s thinking – we have more than enough oranges in the bowl at home, given to us by villagers.But I also know he agrees with me. Spain is going through tough times at the moment, and most people are struggling financially. We can easily afford 5 euros for a bag of oranges.
The crates stand in a row on the verge, tilted slightly, so that passing motorists can see the gorgeous display. A few have rolled into the road and been crushed by tyres.
“Very fresh,” the man assures me, and I know he’s telling the truth, as bright green leaves are still attached to some of the golden fruit.
I hold the carrier bag open, and the old man pours an entire crate in, muttering with annoyance as some big oranges threaten to escape. I pay him, and carry the bag back to the car. It’s so heavy that it cuts into my fingers.
I’ve become very inventive with oranges. We eat them all through the day, and a jug of freshly-squeezed orange juice is a permanent fixture in our fridge. I’ve made chicken a l’orange, orange sponge cake, orange upside down pudding and orange mousse with caramelised oranges (thank you, Hugh). It’s a pity the body can’t store vitamin C, because I’m sure Joe and I have enough in our systems to last until we’re at least 300 years old. We never catch colds; perhaps we can thank the oranges for that.
When we arrive home, a bulging bag has been left on our doorstep. Oranges. With a few lemons mixed in. Some kind villager has left them for us, as they often do. I sigh and take them through to the kitchen. It’s been a long day and a gin and tonic with a few fresh lemon slices wouldn’t go amiss. Joe puts the car away, but doesn’t come back empty-handed.
“Somebody left these for us,” he says. “They were hanging on the garage door handle.”
“What is it?” Silly, unnecessary question.
3 large oranges
200g cream cheese
200g caster sugar
2 large egg whites
200ml double cream
Finely grate the zest of the oranges into a large bowl, add the cream cheese and 50g of the sugar, and beat until soft and thoroughly combined.
Beat the egg whites with an electric whisk until soft peaks form. Keep beating, adding another 50g of sugar gradually, until you have a glossy meringue. Lightly fold this into the cream cheese. Lightly whip the cream, just until soft peaks form, and fold this in, too. Spoon the mousse into tumblers, wine glasses or sundae dishes, and chill for several hours or overnight.
Meanwhile, prepare the oranges. Slice all the peel and pith away from all three oranges. Now slice the segments out from between the membranes, working over a bowl to catch the segments along with any juice. Strain the juice from the bowl – you need about 50ml, so squeeze out a little more from the membranes if you don’t have enough.
Put the remaining 100g of sugar in a small pan with 50ml water (if you use white caster sugar, it’s easier to see the colour of the caramel; it’s also easier if you use a stainless-steel pan rather than a black-based one). Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes until the syrup caramelises. As soon as it is golden brown, take it off the heat and, taking great care, pour in the reserved orange juice. It will bubble and spit violently. Stir it as it boils to work the caramel and the orange juice together into a smooth syrup. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then combine with the orange segments (if you’ve left it longer and the syrup has thickened up, don’t worry: it will loosen as you combine it with the juicy oranges). Cool to room temperature, then chill.
Just before serving, spoon the caramelised oranges and their juices on top of the orange mousse.
“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle
Read Victoria's other Expat Focus articles here.