Friday, 27 January 2012

My Mum's Marmalade

Seville oranges are in the market. It’s time to make marmalade. The season is short so it’s now or next year. I’m not a big fan of marmalade – or any jam – on toast, but Dot is, and I think it’s cool so I like to make it. This attitude has got me into trouble in work before now. When I was a pastry chef in Liverpool I ordered a case of bitter oranges for no other reason than that they were in season. The next day a staggeringly large box appeared. The biggest batch I could reasonably muster in a day, and still get my other work done, didn’t nearly use half: I ran out of sugar; it took hours chopping up the rind as finely as possible, getting all sticky with pulp...

The Chef said I needed to get my priorities straight. He pointed out all the other things I should have been doing rather than “having a nice time making marmalade!”
– And what are you going to use it for?

– Um...

I hadn’t really thought about that... Of course there are plenty of ways to use it: steamed sponge puddings with custard; ice cream; sorbet; stuff with dribbles of dark chocolate sauce and bittersweet orange syrup intermingled; toast... Orangey dessert combos were created. I had a nice time. When I ought to have been doing something else...

When I bought my oranges, the lady at the stall trilled Qu’est-ce que c’est bon, la confiture d’oranges amères!* . And I thought I was the only marmalader in town! Clearly not. Although the British definitely love it more. We've invented a much cooler name...

As with most preserving escapades, the tricky bit is finding enough jars. The rest is a piece of... well, it’s easy.

Don’t forget to sterilize the jars. Wash in hot soapy water, rinse well and drain, upside-down, on a rack in the oven set to 140°C. They’ll be fine in there till you’re ready for them.

I bought just over a kilo of oranges – 7 fruit – for every 4 or 5 you’ll need a lemon. Unwaxed. Chuck in a pan with a thick base, large enough to comfortably accommodate all at once. Cover generously with water and boil for a couple of hours, till the fruit is soft and soggy. (You might need a weight to stop them from bobbing above the level of the water).

Put a few small plates or saucers in the fridge to cool.

How much sugar?! I had enough. Just.
Once soft, remove all the fruit, drain a bit, and weigh. Reserve the liquor. You will need 2lb of sugar and 1 pint of liquor for every lb of fruit. This seems like a lot of sugar. It is. But it is necessary. Dissolve your sugar in your measured liquor (if you don’t have enough, add water).

Meanwhile prepare the oranges and lemons: chop into quarters and scoop out the seeds and flesh into a bowl. These citrus innards contain the pectin that will set your marmalade so they need tying up in a tea towel or muslin, then adding to the sugary liquid. Next, scrape your petals of fruit to reduce the amount of pith on your ‘bits’. This should also be reserved, chopped up a little, and added to the mix. Then slice the skins as finely as possible – or in big bits, if you’re bold or lazy – and into the pot too.
Weigh. Quarter. Scoop. Depith. Chop. Chop. Chop. Sticky.

The jam should be boiled fairly fiercely until it reaches around 104° (obviously, be careful – don’t walk off). I have recently acquired a thermometer to give me an idea but you can tell by looking; it starts to appear jammy. It could take between 10 mins to half an hour. In spite of my thermometer, I still do the grannies’ jam trick with saucers: when you think the mix looks right spoon a blob onto a cold plate, return to the fridge for a minute to cool properly, then push a line through the syrup with your finger. If the surface crinkles, the marmalade is done. If not, boil a midge’s longer, and try with the next plate...

The marmalade will be cloudy, because we included the pith. If this is upsetting to you, omit the pith. Don’t leave out the bits of skin though. That’s just wrong. I have seen recipes with whisky thrown in at the end; this seems unnecessary to me. Try it if you want, but I’d rather drink the wee dram to perk me up for potting!

When ready, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly before filling your jars – still hot from the oven. Fill right to the top with your mix. It should look like proper marmalade already! Don’t be tempted though, to stick your finger in and have a lick! Ouch! Sugar burns are amongst the very worst. Screw or clamp the lids on and turn upside-down to sterilise completely. Put a little label on to remind yourself when you made it – you’ll probably be eating this stuff for years!

And don’t forget to make sponge pudding! Yum... And custard! Mix half-and-half with golden syrup so the Victoria sponge’s lava cascade is not too bitter. Mmmm... I might make that next...
1 kilo of oranges makes this many jars of marmalade. Mum know's best!

What she said. ↓

* Golly! Marmalade/bitter orange jam is nice!

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