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J is for Jelly, J is for James

Blood Orange Jelly


When I was pregnant I painted a little wooden J for James’ bedroom door. I painted a collection of tiny things beginning with J; there was raspberry Jam, star-flowered Jasmine, a floating, pink-tendrilled Jellyfish, and a triumphant red Jelly topped with a cherry. As I say, it was intended for his bedroom door, but James still has no bedroom, his living quarters are currently the kitchen/dining room/sitting room. This central room has the kitchen on one side of it with a large hole in the wall which gives the impression of these two rooms being both joined and separate. This ‘living’ room – in the truest sense of the word, as we all three of us live here - has many functions; there is my desk by the window, the old wood burning stove (the top oven of which currently harbours all of my ‘important documents’), the fireplace in the corner (where we often grill sausages or bruschetta when I have the vim to light the fire) and then little James’ cot by the hole-in-the-wall, thus allowing him to peer through the bars into the kitchen where his mother potters around, alternatively massacring Julie Andrews (in a metaphorical sense) and banging her head on the low lamp that dangles precariously from the ceiling. How anyone gets through raising a small child without singing Julie Andrews dawn till dusk is a complete mystery to me. I have woken up every day for the last 8 months with A Spoonful of Sugar on the tip of my tongue.


When Lorenzo and I talked about having children, I said I would never even consider it until we moved. Casa Elvira was totally impractical, I said. We needed more space, a second bedroom; at least somewhere to keep his things (inevitably babies involve Many Things). However, life is never exactly what you think it is going to be, and here we are with a small child in an even smaller granny flat with no heating and no second bedroom and no space to swing a cat in, should you wish to.


Does it matter? Not really, one can adapt to anything. Casa Elvira has its charms, though none of them involve practicality. And the fact that little J can watch me in his cot as I potter about makes us both very happy. He has grown up with a basket of fresh lemons (leaves still attached) as the first thing in his eye-line; a chubby fist poking through the cot bars now and then to try and seize one. The perennial vase of parsley on the kitchen table is his first bouquet. When he’s not in his cot singing to his shoes I put him in his chair in the kitchen as I recipe test. I give him a wooden spoon to poke his eye with, or some paccheri (too big to choke on, and nicely noisy) and so we pass our days, lunching together on what the paediatrician recommended as his first ‘pappa’: vegetable broth (lovingly prepared by me with zucchini, carrots and potatoes) thickened with semolina and seasoned with grated parmesan and the (hilarious) drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I don’t know why I still find it so wonderful that Italian babies are brought up on broth with parmesan and olive oil, or that so many of my school children drink Café latte at breakfast. It all still seems so delightfully sophisticated somehow. Sometimes the old idea that Extra Virgin Olive Oil and proper Coffee are only for the very cultured is hard to shake off; in my house there were pop tarts, Crusha milkshake, jam sandwiches and Red Leicester (with credit to my long-suffering mother, there was also home-grown fruit and home-made flapjacks and lasagna).


There was also Jelly, which I remember quite well. There were the Rowntree’s oblong packs of it, which you were supposed to dilute and re-set, but we often didn’t. Often we just ate that jelly rectangle neat, intensely fruity and sweet as it was, and it was bliss. I remember blackcurrant and orange clearly, and a raspberry one too. I think orange was actually our least favourite, but a home-made jelly is a whole different concept, especially one made using real blood oranges, from Zio Mario’s tree, which when ripe boast the mottled blush of an alcoholic’s cheek and a flavour that is all raspberry, lemon and vanilla.


So here she is, a jiggling red Jelly for James, to celebrate 8 months of cooking and kitchen-dwelling together. We made it through more or less in one piece, with or without a baby bedroom, and many of the other things they’d have you think you need.


There are, after all, worse places to grow up than in the kitchen.     



Makes 1 medium jelly (I used a half-litre mould, but judge about 1 leaf of gelatine per 100ml juice)


400ml juice (I used 4 blood oranges, 1 normal orange and 1 lemon)

3.5 leaves of gelatin (8g)

3-4 tbsp of sugar (to taste)


Slake the gelatine in cold water (soak it until it softens).

Heat the sugar with the water to make a simple syrup, stirring until it has melted and then remove from the heat, add a little of the orange juice and melt in the softened gelatine leaves. Stir well to make sure they have dissolved and then add the rest of the juice. Taste for seasoning and whisk in a touch more sugar if necessary (you may need to warm the mix very slightly to help it dissolve). Strain into your chosen jelly mould (you can use a normal sieve or line a sieve with muslin/kitchen paper to get a more translucent result).


Leave to set overnight (or for at least a few hours) in the fridge and then dunk briefly in warm water to help loosen it before turning out onto a plate (a couple of seconds should be sufficient).


I decorated mine with Squirty Can Cream (no shame, I have a love for this which goes back a long way, to a happy childhood of squirting it directly into our mouths) and some blood orange segments.

1 Comment

han gu
han gu
Jul 04

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