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. 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.
Did You Know?
I received an email from a reader, saying:
Did you know that oranges and lemons freeze very well? You just put them straight into the freezer whole. No need to peel and quarter them. Later in the year when you want an orange just take one out and let it defrost.
No, I didn’t know that!