I really wish someone would invent Smell-o-vision for computers, then you could smell what I smell. The gorgeous, heady scent of simmering Seville oranges has to be one of the most pleasant aromas – ever. Earlier today, as the fruits were bubbling away I nipped upstairs (sounds a very daring dereliction of marmalade duties, but it was the pre-sugar stage) and found the aroma was even more powerful up there. I was sorely tempted to lay down with one of my sunbeam-comatose cats and forget the preserve making altogether. But I didn’t and here I am with a dozen jars of deep amber marmalade cooling on a table, ready for labelling – and slathering.
The odd thing is that until recently I didn’t even like marmalade. I would describe myself as ‘not a marmalade person’, just as people here in the UK may also describe themselves as ‘not a Marmite person’. Love or hate territory; nothing in between. My wonderful neighbour Kath, a retired catering manager, faithfully brings over a jar – or three – of homemade marmalade at this time of year. Kath knows that I don’t indulge because ‘I am not a marmalade person’ but that Mr A and Miss R love it. Mr A goes through an embarrassing amount of Kath’s marmalade. One recent early morning however, I accidentally put some of Kath’s marmalade on toast. How do you accidentally put marmalade on toast, you may ask. Before you surmise that I was hung-over (I don’t do hung-over) I must say in my defence that it was still pitch-black outside, and with dodgy kitchen lighting I mistook marmalade for my beloved apricot and vanilla jam. The thing was, I really liked it. Surprised, yes, but pleased. The marmalade I had eaten before must have been mass-produced, shop bought stuff. You know the kind – all sugar, no bite rubbish. This was still sweet, but it had an underlying bitterness that was very appealing. I have since fallen in love with my friend Deirdre’s dark marmalade and asked for her recipe. Quasi-scientist that I am, I also looked at a number of recipes (all vaguely similar) and techniques (wildly differing) before combining my own instincts with elements of Deirdre’s recipe and some from Pam ‘the Jam’ Corbin’s recipe found in Preserves. So, here I am, surrounded by jars of dark, toffee-ish Seville orange marmalade wondering how many salad-only days I must endure to make up for the obscene amount of toast and marmalade I will go through today.
The Science Bit: Available from mid-January to the end of February, Seville oranges (Citrus auranitum) are strictly for marmalade and medicinal purposes. In the interests of research I tasted a little raw juice, and gagged – don’t be as foolish as me. In common with other oranges, Seville oranges are great sources of Vitamin C and fibre, but also have useful amounts of some B vitamins, beta-carotene and alpha-carotene, lutein (for eyes), potassium and tumour-preventing beta-sitosterol, hersperetin and naringenin. The high amount of pectin found in Seville oranges are not only great for achieving ‘set’ with marmalade (you should never have to add commercial pectin) but it also binds to some carcinogens that are produced in the gut and carries them out of the body. When ephedra was banned some ‘natural’ weight loss medicines started adding bitter orange extract in its place, but clinical trials have shown it to be a dud and potentially dangerous in higher amounts. I would stick with the marmalade.
Sterilising Jars: Seeing a gleaming row of homemade marmalades and jams lined up in the pantry (with the prettiest jar on your kitchen table) is such a satisfying sight. That all of those hours of hot boiling and stirring can produce something to enjoy for months to come is a great feeling. However, it will be marred by ruinous mould if the jars aren’t sterilised. Doing this is a bit of a bore but necessary to ensure your precious jellied nectar remains micro organism-free. There are probably at least three ways to sterilise your jars. My preferred method is to wash the jars and lids in very hot, soapy water, rinse them and put the jars only in a low oven (120C/250F) and the lids in just boiled water. ‘Bake’ and ‘soak’ for five minutes and dry the lids thoroughly before using. When making marmalade or jam it’s a good idea to do all of this just before you need the jars, so they don’t have time to pick up any germs.
Almost Ready: This is where all the kerfuffle about marmalade comes into play. Some – like Delia Smith – favour an elaborate multi-stage rocket-science process that, to my mind, would suck all of the joy from preserve making. Whereas others I’ve read about are more of the scary chuck it all in with no timings given variety. I am in the MOR camp: proper measurements, some timings, but also using your nose and instincts. It seems to have worked for me on this recipe and with similar preserve recipes. If you like every step spelled out to you then the Delia one is the one to go for – it’s got many fans – but if you like the idea of trusting your instincts a little I hope you try this one.
Tawny Seville Orange Marmalade
What You Need
1.5kg/3.3lbs Seville oranges, scrubbed and stem nubs removed
2 lemons, scrubbed
3kg/6.6lbs preserving sugar (or granulated sugar)
Knob of butter (about 25 g/2 tbsp)
Equipment: Large preserving pan, but any large, wide heavy-bottomed pan will do (stainless steel preferred); long-handled wooden spoon; more sterilised jars and lids than you think you’ll need (I use ‘hand-me-down’ jars so my collection is all shapes and sizes); muslin/jelly bag – or 2 x metre square pieces of muslin/fine cheesecloth + culinary twine; cutting board; large sharp knife; colander; large bowl; 2 saucers; large roasting tin (this is not a misprint); ladle
What You Do: Cut the fruits across the segments. Put into the preserving pan with 3 litres/3.17 quarts of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2 hours with the lid on. Halfway through the simmering heat your oven on very low (100C/212F), pour your sugar into a large roasting tin and heat the sugar for about one hour. This odd little trick will ensure that the sugar dissolves quickly when added to the remaining ingredients. You don’t have to do this but it does cut down on the time it take to boil and may help prevent the sugar from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is very useful with ordinary granulated sugar which dissolves more slowly than preserving sugar. At this time also pop your saucers into the fridge so that you can later test for set (that is to say, when the marmalade has achieved the right balance of solidity).
Strain the fruits into a colander and allow to cool enough to handle – keep the liquid. When cooled, scoop out the seeds and membrane from the fruits and place in the muslin bag, or a bowl/another colander lined with two muslin pieces. Take the peel and slice it into thick, medium or thin shreds, according to your own preference. I tackle this sticky task by stacking three scooped peels, slicing them in long quarters and then cutting finely across the quarters. Put the cleaned preserve pan on the hob/stove and add in the shreds and any clinging membrane (which will melt with slow cooking). Tie up the muslin cloths or muslin bag of seeds and pulp and add this to the pan. Measure the cooking liquid – hopefully you will have 1.7 litre. If not, add a little water to make this up, or strain off some if you have too much. Cover the shredded peel with the watery juice and add in the warmed sugar. Bring the pan to the boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
At this point you can have a delicious marmalade within about 15 minutes of boiling. And this may be what you want. But boil slowly – bubbles just breaking all over the surface – for a further hour and you will have a toffee-scented, almost dessert-worthy, marmalade. During this hour or so stir frequently to prevent the sugar burning. It may spit violently and foam up so I don a long silicone kitchen glove to prevent adding to my small family of arm and hand burns. When it reaches what I term as the toffee stage the smell will change so that the toffee smell overrides the orange smell. It will also look glossy and opaque. This is the moment to boil rapidly for a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat and take a saucer from the fridge. Place a teaspoon of marmalade on the saucer, allow it to cool for one minute, then push it with your finger. If it wrinkles you have set. If it doesn’t, re-boil for a further few minutes and test again. When it’s done, add in the knob of butter and stir in one direction until most of the scum disperses. Or you can skim it off with a slotted spoon rather than use the butter. Let the marmalade settle for 10 minutes before carefully ladling into sterilised jars.
Uses: On toast of course but also in cakes, as a topping for cakes, pancakes and steamed puddings, as a glaze for ham, in bread and butter pudding instead of the usual currants, in sandwiches with soft cheese. Pam Corbin recommends marmalade in sweet and sour chicken.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad!
Makes 8 x 450g jars