Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Making Marmalade

What’s the first image that bounces into your head when you think of oranges? Sun-drenched Floridian orange groves? A cool glass of juice on a warm summer’s morning? A Spanish hillside covered with dark-leafed trees punctuated with glistening fruits? A cold February day with the heaviest snow in almost two decades?

Well. Perhaps not the last one.

For most people oranges mean summer. They scream sunshine and refreshment – glorious bursts of evocative taste, that perfect balance of sweet and sour and a delicious onslaught of juice. But for one type of orange, much beloved by preserve makers the world over, the short season comes in the dead of winter.

Seville oranges are famed for their unique bitterness and unusually high pectin content: two qualities that make them ideal for making British-style marmalade – a bitter-sweet fruit preserve that is one of the best ways to start the morning. Smothered lavishly onto thickly sliced toast and served with a mug of steaming coffee, it is almost as traditional as the Full English (but significantly less likely to give you a coronary).

It is kick-start and a treat of the sort that makes getting out of bed a little less painful. Which is exactly what breakfast should do.

The Seville orange season is short which leaves a little window for making up a batch that should (hopefully) last you the year. Providing you don’t give away too many jars.

With the snow forcing the entire country to come to a grinding halt yesterday, we decided to do something productive, something that would make the house smell delicious and something that would make the prospect of getting up this morning a shade more appealing.

We already had a couple of kilos of oranges ready and waiting along with two lemons and a large bag of sugar but we hadn’t got round to turning this pile of citrus into something worthy of gracing a slice of toast. Yesterday, however, the conditions were ideal.

It was cold outside and a layer of snow was providing the surrounding countryside with a pretty and appealing blanket. After the obligatory walk, snow angel making and snowman building, the prospect of cooking up a batch of marmalade to warm ourselves up was made even more tempting.

It is a fairly laborious process but in a way that is both therapeutic and satisfying. After the vaguely leathery peel has been removed, it has to be sliced – it forms the main constituent of marmalade – and then boiled up with the juice from the oranges along with some water and the pith and pips housed inside a muslin bag (this is where that glorious pectin lies).

Other recipes are less time consuming, Nigella Lawson’s is possibly the simplest we saw but it was Nigel Slater’s from last weekend’s newspaper that we chose to try.

Once the peel has been simmered for an hour, or until it has turned translucent, the muslin bag is removed and in goes the sugar. The whole lot is boiled hard until the setting point is reached when it is decanted into sterilised jars, sealed and left to cool.

The great thing about making your own preserves is you can tailor it to your exact tastes. Want it sweet with tiny slices of orange peel that melt into your toast? Fine. Prefer a bitter, chunky marmalade to see you right until lunchtime? Not a problem.

We plumped for the latter and now have seven jars of delicious preserve just waiting to be spooned over thick slices of bread and melting butter. We didn’t wait long before diving in and despite the cold and the dark and the wind this morning, getting out of bed was that little bit easier knowing that we had little jars of sunshine ready to wake us up.

For the full recipe, see Nigel Slater’s page on guardian.co.uk

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Alicia Foodycat said...

I like a fine shred marmalade, but when I was making mine the other weekend I got SO BORED with the slicing and cleaning out the pith. I was very pleased I was only doing 600g of fruit!

Maggie said...

Yum. I would love to do this!

Hopie said...

What a wonderful way to spend a snowy afternoon. It definitely looks warming, maybe because orange is such a warm color! When I'm in the right mood, I don't mind repetitive tasks in a recipe. They can be very meditative and relaxing sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I love marmalade, but finding a decent one here in the US is somewhat hard. Thankfully a bunch of friends seem to have taken pity on me, and now I have a fridge full!!! makes me want to have breakfast 3 times a day..

Just Cook It said...

Foodycat - It can be a chore, that's for sure. Worth the effort though.

Thanks Maggie, you should give it a go

Hopie - I agree. Thomas Keller says something similar. I think it is in the introduction to the French Laundry book - about how peeling and chopping and dicing can be meditative.

Matt - well, you know what Maugham said: to eat well in England, it is necessary to breakfast three times a day.