Kitchens up and down the UK are currently scented with orange, Sevilles to be precise, as they’re pared, boiled and sugared with the alchemy of heat and time to create marmalade, a very British obsession.
Many of these Sevilles are bought in Waitrose supermarket, whose annual stock is sourced from a beautiful farm in southern Spain, only a few kilometres from the city of Seville.
Drive 2o kilometres east of the city to Mairena del Alcor and then between the rather grand stone and iron gateway and you’ll find yourself in Ave Maria Farm. Led by Amadora Gahona, this family run farm has belonged to the family since 1935 and has been growing oranges commercially for over 60 years. Mairena del Alcor translates from the old Arab word Mairena for Maharana (water of fountain, thanks generous flow of natural water from local aquifers) and Alcor (rolling hills).
Gift of nature
“Ave Maria oranges mature and ripen naturally at the perfect rate due to the seasons of the year,” says Amadora. “Our friends, the bees, help us in this aspect. Everything at the Ave Maria farm is a gift of nature”.
Sevilles are harvested throughout December and January, before the trees are covered with gorgeously, sweet scented white blossom. Harvested by hand in late April to early May their essence, Neroli, is used in perfumes such as Agua de Sevilla (the perfume, not the cocktail!) and is even rumoured to be a secret addition in Coca-Cola!
“Here the soil is full of minerals, in particular phosphorous, which contributes a special sweetness to our Ave Maria Sevilles, which makes them stand apart from all other types,” says Amadora. “Nature gives us this amazing balance. This, along with the respect that our family has for the production of the Ave Marias, a production which is protected by the organic stamp, and the passion that the family feels for the citrus world (allows us to grow such amazing fruit). Here we love what we do”.