In praise of oranges

A First World War letter from a Palestinian orange grove, an orange (lower case) song, and this winter’s favourite orange cake recipe.

Truman Ward Ingersoll, diorama of an orange tree in Los Angeles

Truman Ward Ingersoll, diorama of an orange tree in Los Angeles Image: Wikimedia.

Someone with my name, writing to his mum one hundred years ago from Palestine, where 1/7th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) is recovering from the Battle of Jaffa, with the Second Battle of the Somme looming:

The wet weather stopped a few days ago & it is now beautifully fine. We get a good view of the [Judean] hills from here & can sometimes see the monastery at Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. We have had a case or two of typhus, so I have been conducting a very fierce offensive against the louse, which carries it. I got all the men’s clothes heated with a disinfectant mixture, much to their relief, as the lice prevent them from sleeping. We also fixed a disinfecting plant up in the buildings of a huge orange & lemon farm near by. The C.O., Q.M. & I went down there & got caught in a drenching shower of tropical rain, which rapidly turned the soil of the orange groves into thick clinging mud. There is nothing I know in the agricultural line so beautiful as an orange grove. You look between a long row of trees, laden with bright yellow oranges standing out against the green of the leaves & think to yourself that that there can be no life so peaceful & idyllic as running an orange farm… There must have been thousands of pounds capital sunk in that orange farm, as they had a very elaborate irrigating plant & storing sheds. Now the oranges rot in heaps, the domestic cat has turned wild, the jackal & an occasional hyaena inhabit it, & fill the night with musical selections of their own. One chooses an orange carefully for its size & colour, & finds in it a flavour one never quite realised before.

Update: A later letter mentions photos of orange trees – maybe in the Ancestral Box, but not it seems in the Thompson history, The Fifty-Second (Lowland) Division, 1914-1918, for which he provided many of the photos, including the – for then – naughty one of the men skinny dipping at Gaza:

My annual jam cycle: a cupboard full of blackberry in summer, ditto of marmalade in winter. Boiling marmalade recalls the heavenly smell of the countryside south of Valencia in January years ago as some fool in shorts and a t-shirt cycled up onto the meseta and into a blizzard. The soil is so fertile that José Padilla’s regional ditty merely mentions oranges:

La blanca barraca,
la flor del naranjo,
la huerta pulida
de almendros en flor.
El Turia de plata,
el cielo turquesa,
el sol valenciano,
van diciendo amor.

es la tierra de las flores,
de la luz y del amor.
tus mujeres todas tienen
de las rosas el color.
sin sentir como perfuman
en tus huertos el azahar.
en la tierra valenciana
los amores encontrar.

Here’s a experimental version of the song, imitated from a piano roll before I figured out my street organ’s air pressure requirements:

Goethe, translated by Walter Meyer:

Knowest thou where the lemon blossom grows,
In foliage dark the orange golden glows,
A gentle breeze blows from the azure sky,
Still stands the myrtle, and the laurel, high?
Dost know it well?
‘Tis there! ‘Tis there
Would I with thee, oh my beloved, fare.

Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn,
Im dunklen Laub die Goldorangen glühn,
Ein sanfter Wind vom blauen Himmel weht,
Die Myrte still und hoch der Lorbeer steht?
Kennst du es wohl?
Dahin, dahin
Möcht ich mit dir, o mein Geliebter, ziehn!

So, not Ulster, where the Orangemen for some reason also stay clear of citrus songs.

Chocolate, marmalade, and candied orange tart


250 g plain flour
25 g rice flour/semolina
25 g almond flour
20 g cocoa
70 g granulated sugar
130 g salted butter in small pieces
1 egg


300 g crème fraîche/sour cream
300 g high-cocoa chocolate (> 70%)
2 tbsp icing sugar


2 oranges
200 g granulated sugar
250 g marmalade


Whizz the pastry ingredients, knead into a ball, cover with clingfilm, and refrigerate for an hour.

Wash and slice the oranges, discarding the ends and the pith but not the peel. In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 200 g sugar in 250 ml water, put in the orange slices, return to the boil, and then simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring carefully & occasionally.

In another pan, melt the filling ingredients over a low flame, stirring, then allow to cool.

Butter and flour a 24 cm cake tin. Take the dough and roll into a 1 cm sheet. Cut out a piece the same size as the tin base and put it into the tin, then construct low pastry walls around the edge of the tin using the rest of the dough, making sure there are no gaps. Cover the exposed dough tightly with aluminum foil and fill the base with baking beans. Cook in a pre-warmed fan oven at 190 °C for 15 minutes, then take out of the oven, remove the beans and foil, and allow to cool.

Pour in the filling, level out, and refrigerate uncovered for three hours.

Remove the tin and trim the pastry walls down to the level of the filling. Lightly warm the marmalade if cold and spread a thin film over the filling. Decorate with the candied orange slices and leave a while so that they set in the marmalade. Serve with single cream.

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