I have long been a marmalade lover, but have never, until now, made it. I have fond memories of it being made in our family kitchen, and have often thought about making it, but the Seville orange season is short, and I am extremely unorganised.
Well, actually, I would say I’m not so much an unorganised, but most definitely a ‘sit in the camp of procrastination’ type of person. I can talk, at length, about what I would like to do, and explain, in detail, how it will happen. However, the reality of getting up and actually doing it, so often eludes me. In fact, my big sister and I have quantified the timescale between talking and doing as approximately two years.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule, as, for example, cleaning. I talk about, or at least think about cleaning, almost every day. And almost every day I fail to clean. Imagine my joy when I eventually get round to doing it though eh? It always looks so much better. No surprise there.
And this allows me to sashay, seamlessly, (quiet at the back) onto the subject of marmalade. As you are probably aware, Seville oranges, used to make marmalade, have a very short appearance in the fruit calendar, and not everywhere stocks them as they are as bitter as can be. Which is, of course, what makes for great marmalade.
The rule of thumb for marmalade making is double the amount of sugar to fruit. Basically, that’s it. Our first attempt was orange and pink grapefruit, but to be honest I think any fruit that has a bitter or citrus edge to it would work well.
Now here’s the thing. All marmalade makers will tell you, it’s not so much about the ingredients, as the method. So we followed Nigel Slater’s method for our first batch.
Quarter the skins of the fruit, peeling them, and slicing. Just a little note of caution here. We sliced them downwards, and then had to use the scissors on them later as we felt the strands were too big. They also don’t shrink as much as you think they might.
Next, we squeezed the juice, by hand, into the bowl with the peel in it, de-seeded the pulp and put all the seed in a piece of muslin and tied it up. The pulp we chopped with the mezzaluna and added to the bowl of skin strands and juice.
Add 2.5 litres of water, put in the muslin bag of pips and leave in a cold place overnight. I left the bowl in the outhouse with a plate over it. As the cats have access to the outhouse, I didn’t want them sticking their inquisitive noses into something that doesn’t concern them.
The next day pour the contents of the bowl into a large pan and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer gently until the peel has gone translucent and soft. Take out the muslin bag and leave to cool. Add the sugar. Stir until dissolved and bring the whole thing to the boil. Squeeze any juices left in the muslin bag, into the pan.
Leave on a rolling boil for approximately fifteen minutes, making sure that any white, fluffy scum is taken off the top. Take a spoonful of marmalade and put onto a plate, in the fridge. If it thickens up, your marmalade is done. If it doesn’t, keep boiling and trying out every ten minutes or so.
Now then, we used old jam jars, sterilised, for our marmalade, which is great, but does have a couple of disadvantages. Firstly, for some reason, not all the lids fit the jars they were supposed to, and secondly, we actually didn’t have quite enough jars so now have a couple of small glass bowls filled with marmalade. Mind you, we are so proud of ourselves that I can’t see them being full for long.
We have, obviously, ‘quality controlled’ the marmalade with some bread and butter and a cup of tea, and I can assure you it is absolutely delicious. And that’s the thing about marmalade, the rules are simple, the ingredients are yours to experiment with, and the results are delicious.
I do, however, have a slight ulterior motive for extolling the virtues of marmalade this weekend. For those of you with Scottish connections will know that tonight is Burns night. Haggis, neeps and tatties abound. Poetry is read, whiskey drunk and all things relating to the Bard are celebrated.
Not everyone will be aware, though, that the first industrial manufacture of marmalade was also founded in Scotland.
James Keiller and his wife Janet ran a small sweet and preserves shop in the Seagate section of Dundee. In 1797 they opened a factory to produce “Dundee Marmalade”, a preserve distinguished by thick chunks of bitter Seville orange rind.*
There is also a Scottish legend that goes something like this:
The creation of Orange Marmalade in Britain occurred by accident. A ship full of oranges supposedly broke down in the port of Dundee and the ingenious Scots made marmalade out of them.*
We’re a canny lot y’ken.