“Five Quarters of the Orange” and Documenting Time

“Green-tomato jam. Cut green tomatoes into pieces,like apples,and weigh them. Place in a bowl with 1 kg. of sugar to the same weight of the fruit. Awoke at  three again this morning and went to find my pills. Forgot again that I’d none left. When the sugar is melted,stir with a wooden spoon. I keep thinking that if I go to Raphaël he might find another supplier. I daren’t go to the Germans again,not after what happened. I’d rather die first. Then add the tomatoes and boil gently stirring very frequently…”

An excerpt from Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris

And so the mystery evolves in this book by Joanne Harris (she also wrote Chocolat). The above passage was written in a recipe journal/album left to the main character, Framboise Dartigen by her mother, Mirabelle. She describes the album as “not a diary…there are almost no dates in the album,no precise order. Pages were inserted into it at random,loose leaves later bound together with small,obsessive stitches….My mother marked the events of her life with recipes,dishes of her own invention or interpretations of old favorites. Food was her nostalgia,her celebration,its nurture and preparation, the sole outlet for her creativity.” The album also contained secret messages encoded by her mother based on personal events and tragedies that took place in her village of Les Laveuses during the German Occupation of Paris.

I truly enjoyed reading this book –  it was my summer read. I found it intriguing that the character, Mirabelle Dartigen, who was a widow, chose this creative way to document such a hard time in her life. She struggled with personal demons during a turbulent time in history. She used food as a bridge between herself and her three children to keep them connected to her. But her children, especially nine-year old Framboise, had some special secrets of their own and so the story unfolds. Joanne Harris weaves this tale so beautifully with her descriptive words and imaginative plot.

So I started thinking about my travel journals,”reflective thoughts” journals, poetry journals, recipes scribbled onto scraps of paper journals, notes/photos/drawings/pressed leaves and pansies tucked into gardening books or art books, half-finished songs and stories in spiral-ringed exercise books just waiting for a stage and a scrapbook marked “Christmas” containing holiday cookies and  fruit cake recipes, music recitals and present lists. I’ve always felt good about writing things down on paper and  documenting movements of time,thoughts, moments and memories. Today we have technology to help with documenting time – hence the reason I also write a blog. It’s slightly different, yet somewhat the same – it’s meant for sharing, it’s meant to inspire.

© 2012 Ann Ivy Male


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