Pamplemousse: three stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. When we attempt to communicate flavours through words such as ‘salty’, ‘sweet’, or ‘sour’, we are assuming a shared understanding of tastes. People generally agree on the flavours of saltiness, sweetness, sourness and umami. Bitterness is less well understood, partially due to a lack of childhood flavour education: in English-speaking countries, children are rarely given bitter foods. Pamplemousse is a bitter fruit, but you can avoid most of the bitterness by removing the pith and eating only the flesh. I prefer to extract the juice and drink it, heavily diluted with soda water. Pamplemousse may also serve as a meat replacement: one peels away the pith. The pith is then dipped in eggs, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried. This meal is known as bistec de toronja.
Syzygy, my batman, came to visit me. After the fire broke out in the laboratory, I was bedridden for several days. I recall very little of the first few days, but on the fourth day I became lucid. My pillowcase was covered in splotches of black soot; I think it came from inside me. I asked Syzygy about the fire. The orange grove was razed, as was the laboratory, but the fire did not reach the main house. Seeing the soot on the pillow made me feel weak. I lay back down.
I awoke again at twilight. My clothes felt clean, but I needed to brush my teeth. I could not tell whether it was a new day’s dawn or an old day’s dusk, and furthermore I did not know when Syzygy will next visit, so I decided to perform my own ablutions. Getting up, I noticed an unfamiliar stiffness in my left leg. I inspected my leg: it was quite lame. After reappropriating a curtain rod to steady myself, I managed to make it to my washbasin. By the end of the hour I had made myself respectable, and I went downstairs.
In the dining room, I found my eldest nephew. He was drinking his evening orange juice. When he saw me, he got up and helped me to my chair. I asked him whether anybody was harmed in the fire. He explained the situation: nobody was harmed. All of the oranges were destroyed, except for a few barrels that had been stored in the scullery. There was perhaps a month’s worth of juice left, and the next closest orange grove was at least three months away by sea. If my nephew were to continue drinking orange juice alone, he would surely starve before any shipment could arrive. We attacked the problem of his allergy with renewed vigour, and worked methodically through the kitchen. We started in the bakery supplies: bicarbonate soda, buckwheat flour, sesame seeds. Everything returned as before. We worked through to the fruit and vegetables: canned spinach, fresh spinach, tomatoes, radishes, all with similar fate. Our motivation and hope faded as we continued through the rest of the kitchen.
Dejected, I opened the liquor cabinet and poured myself a drink. I decided to have a pamplemousse pony: tequila, pamplemousse liqueur, and soda water. I drank one. The sweet citrus flavour was perfectly balanced by the tart twang, with just enough bitterness to need another sip. Pamplemousse, the orange’s bitter cousin! I yelled incomprehensibly and forced the drink into my eldest nephew’s mouth. My face flushed hot and I could hear my heart beating, but the drink stayed in. It was a success. There was a pamplemousse plantation just a five weeks’ journey away. If we left tomorrow, there was a chance that we would make it in time.