“If I had nowhere to go in the world, I would come to Ojai. I would sit under an orange tree; it would shade me from the sun, and I would live on the fruit.” Krishnamurti
It is hard to do justice to how central the orange is to Ojai. After a few hours of green forested land and glinting orange orbs, you find yourself stepping over dead and dying fruit. Blackened, hollow oranges lie dead on the branch. There are only so many oranges you can carry on a walk until the sight of yet more oranges lolling at your feet, often cloven in two by insects and small animals, feels like the end of a particularly debauched feast.
The fruit that we ate was pleasingly sour. There were lemons too, and grapefruit and tangerines. We walked through avocado groves, their long leaves scissoring the sky. Horses stood nearby on a patchwork of green. Because of the rain, the grass was almost neon and along the street were honesty boxes with trays and bags of fruit, all for a dollar – a nice round figure. Amazing to think we were only an hour and a bit from Los Angeles and its manic, urban sprawl. Up the road was Santa Paula, home to Mud Creek Ranch and their tantalizing bergamot trees.
A year ago, I began this blog and wrote about my first encounter with bergamots. So it feels right to revisit them after this weekend in Ojai, where citrus perfumed the air and sank into the pores. It came with us in the car, back to LA, as we let go of leaves and branches along the way. It would be wrong to surmise that Ojai is just oranges. But sometimes it’s good to simplify. Oranges are at its core. They are the view. The view Beatrice Wood looked out on, as did Krishnamurti, and countless free-ranging artists and thinkers who have called this place home. Where going out, as the saying goes, is really going in.*
The bergamot is the most intense experience you can have with your pants on. So heady as to be almost nauseating, a little goes a very long way. A marmalade or curd made exclusively with this fruit would be too punishing, but combined with lemon and orange you have a touch of the exotic, which is just enough.
For a citrus fruit, the bergamot has a deep, oily character, and the zest has an olive-green hue. The bergamot, orange and lemon curd below is unctuous and rich, rather like a citrus mayonnaise. If you find bergamot hard to come by – or just don’t fancy it – replace with lemon and adjust the sugar, according to taste. Don’t be tempted to use only oranges, as the results will be appalling sweet. Curd needs acidity to work.
Adapted from Skye Gyngell, My Favourite Ingredients
Zest & juice of 2 bergamots, 3 lemons, 1 orange (to make 300ml/10 oz juice)
125g (¾ cup) of sugar
6 organic egg yolks
180g (¾ cup) of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Rub the citrus zests and sugar together – the essential oils in the peel are released in this way. Mix the juice, sugary zest and egg yolks together in a heatproof bowl until well combined. Stand the bowl over a pan of just-simmering water and stir continuously (meaning; a lot, but feel free to look around etc) with a wooden spoon as the mixture begins to warm and eventually thicken. Many curd recipes claim this takes about 7-10 minutes. I have not known the thickening to occur under 20. Also, do not be alarmed by the sheer amount of juice here – it does eventually surrender. The spoon will start to drag, and once the mixture coats the back of it, remove from the heat and immediately stir in the pieces of butter. Strain the curd through a fine strainer into a warm sterilized jar. Seal and store in the fridge for about a week – it doesn’t last that long generally.
* I’m paraphrasing from naturalist John Muir.