Between the 8th and 9th century, the Moors, Muslims of North Africa, introduced oranges to Spain. Bitter orange or “bigaradier” in French is the indigenous variety in Mediterranean countries. In Arabic, bitter orange is called naranj (from Persian narang and Sanskrit naranga meaning fragrant). In the Italian and Spanish language, the fruit is called naranja. And even English takes the word and color ‘orange’ from naranj = aranj.
In literature, we read of gardens and orchards in Mamaluke palaces full of citrus—sweet orange grafted from the bitter orange trees, lemons, grapefruits, kumquats. The practice of making marmalade and preserves of quince appear in the Book of Ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII. The Moors in Islamic Spain praised the orange tree and its blossom through poetry and bitter orange trees still grace the streets of Seville today.
February in the Fayoum is bitter orange season. In Egypt, the finest bitter oranges come from the soil of the Fayoum. The pungent fragrant blossoms fill the month of May and after nine month the fruit is ready for harvest.
But before I get carried away, my connection between marmalade and Mamalukes will not be found in the annuals of history; it is a simply story of a day shared with a deep sense of connectedness that evokes joyfulness of experiencing.
The February day begins with bitter, sweet chunky, semi-liquid orange marmalade; a delicacy extracted from the finest Fayoum narang from the farm of Bayt Hewison. A breakfast of warm croissants dripping with homemade bitter orange marmalade guaranteed to wake up the taste buds. And there were those thoughts… of Arab tradesmen and orange groves that spread across the Mediterranean.
At dusk I find myself in the City of the Dead at the Mausoleum of Sultan Faraj Ibn Barquq (1382-1399 AD). The magrib call floats through the streets and I sit in the splendor of the mosque where the ceiling is supported by columns and lanterns float in the dimming light, my palms open to receive the beauty that lies in this very moment.
Marmalade Days – a photo journey, click here
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