In 1974, when I was three years old, my grandparents returned from a trip to Florida with a gift for my mother and my aunt. They carried it in a box, a few small branches of an orange tree. My aunt planted hers and it died immediately but mom, who has a way with plants and flowers, potted the branch and it grew into a small bush. For years, it didn’t produce any fruit. Then, a few, small yellowish oranges appeared, too sour to eat.
Still, mom brought the orange tree with us when we left Manhattan and it survived a divorce, a new marriage, and five homes.
In a recent e-mail, she explained:
I had close-to-death encounters with this one: once going on vacation and finding it all dried up, I put a plastic tent over it and misted it to bring it back to life. Another time one of the cats peed in the dirt and nearly killed it. I had to wash the roots and repot the tree. I kept my fingers crossed on that one, I can tell you. Before we left Croton, a bug infestation, the tree got covered with scales. I hand picked the bugs and spay each leave on the top and on the bottom…
The tree survived and then flourished once mom moved up to Vermont two years ago.
I never knew you could eat the fruits. Then in a catalog recently, I read that a calamondin is a cross between a clementine and a kumquat.
This fall, as by conspiracy, the tree was covered with the biggest fruits ever. (The Vermont air and the Vermont compost…) So I decided to try to make marmalade. I added an orange to brake down the tartness of the calamondin, and bingo. Delicious, tart but nor sour, clementine-parfumed marmalade. The natural pectin in the fruit worked like a charm. All I needed was sugar and cute little pots.
She needed more than that. Patience, devotion, love. Mom’s got it. Got it in spades. It took close to forty years but she never gave up on her little plant, and I can’t wait to taste the marmalade.