I’ve developed an annoying habit of working song references into my writing. I could offer sincere apologies…but I don’t see the need! While this practice is probably acceptable in the blogging context, I am not quite so sure that my attempts to weave in references to the greatest hits of Whitney Houston went down quite so well at work. And that, dear reader, is a shame, a there are two seminal works – “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” and “How Will I Know” that suit pretty much any situation that you will be faced with…
I digress. It’s the time of year when Seville oranges appear. Olé!
Seville oranges are good for one thing – and that is marmalade. You’ve never confuse them with juicing oranges more than once! And it’s that tangy tartness that makes for wonderful preserves.
And that’s why Lady Marmalade has been hummed with much enthusiasm recently, as I’ve been trying to get to grips with the tricky issue of marmalade. Indeed, you may wish to play it in the background (go on…go on...). You see, the thing is that while I am pretty happy to make jam or jelly, I’ve always thought of marmalade as “a bit too difficult”. However, I was in Barcelona recently, and the trees in some of the parks still bore oranges from last year, and I took that as a sign that 2012 was the year that I should give it a go.
What I do know about marmalade is that it’s a bit more of a dark art than my favourite jam, raspberry. Raspberries require no preparation, and are already pectin-rich. This means you just measure out equal amounts of fruit and sugar, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and boil until set. Marmalade, on the other hand, requires you to get the right sort of oranges. We need Seville oranges. These are rough little things, with mouth-puckerng juice and a real tang to them. Then you need to do “stuff” with the pith, juice, seeds and peel, then you need to separate out the peel, then you need to strain the mixture, then boil it…so you see why I’ve always been a bit apprehensive.
However, 2012 is going to be the year of dreams of winning gold in London, and I was going to make my marmalade. So I went looking for a recipe. What become pretty clear in no time was that there are many, many variations out there, but no single “right” way. This is probably inevitable when you’re trying to make something as traditional as marmalade. Finally, I stumbled upon a recipe by Dan Lepard which looked sufficiently easy for the novice to succeed with. It involved cutting the peel off the orange, shredding it, then putting it into a piece of muslin. Then you cook everything (and I mean everything) to get a zesty liquid, discard all the pith and pips, and just open the muslin cloth and add the zest, then boil with sugar. Simple.
Then I made it. And you know what? It was simple. I did the fruit peeling and boiling on a Saturday (filling the house with the fantastic smell of orange oil) and left the mixture to drain overnight. On the Sunday, I boiled it up with sugar and bottled it. And now, I have six jars of beautiful marmalade, the colour of red amber and laced with delicate strands of vibrant zest.
Yes, I said strands.
Yes, I’m one of those people.
The world seems to split into those that love thick cut marmalade – with the great big chunks of peel – and those that like it fine cut. I fall into the latter camp, as I much prefer the marmalade to quiver on my toast, with lots of bits of peel sticking out. But I have a few oranges left, so I may well try my hand at a thick-cut recipe in the near future.
I couldn’t be happier with this marmalade – the method is quite easy, and the result is, frankly, stunning. The colour is beautiful, it has a delicate, soft set that quivers on the spoon, and it has a flavour that really wakes you up in the morning. Delicious!
Now just one question remains….what exactly is that magnolia wine they sang about in Lady Marmalade? Hmmm…
To make Seville orange marmalade (Adapted from Dan Leperd):
• 600g Seville oranges
• 1.1 litres water
• 1.2kg white sugar
• 2 generous tablespoons dark brown sugar (optional)
Wash the oranges in hot water and dry.
Cut the peel off the oranges in strips. Remove any bits of pith from the strips of peel. Cut the peel into fine strands, put into a piece of muslin, and tie very securely with a piece of string.
Cut the oranges in half, squeeze the juice into a large pan, chop the remains and add to the pot. Add any bits of pith you cut from the peel. Add the water and the bag of peel strips. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft.
Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or a jelly bag, pour in the orange mixture and leave to drain – at least an hour, but overnight doesn’t hurt.
Measure the liquid form the oranges – you should have just over one litre. If not enough, add a little more water.
Add the orange zest and sugar, and heat the mixture until it comes to a rolling boil. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears.
When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!
(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the marmalade will be very thick and sticky.
(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.
Worth making? I am surprised how easy this recipe for marmalade is, and the flavour is absolutely delicious on toast to give you a bit of a citrussy wake-up call in the morning. Highly recommended!