Finally the English winter we all know and love has got itself into gear and provided us with some seasonal consistencies. A frost at last! Bitter winds, icy mornings, cut glass skies. Just look at it!
Now that the truly wintry weather is here it’s time for one of the highlights of late winter-marmalade making. Last year my first attempt at making maramalade was fairly disastrous-the end product was almost completely crystalline, and black as the night. This year i swore to do it right, and it seems luck was (for once) on my side. There is something wonderfully comforting about marmalade. So reassuringly English (though i’m glad we scrapped the free golliwog with every pot scheme a good while ago) so unashamedly old-school, so quaint, so familiar, and so delicious. It reminds me of my grandmother; Paddington Bear lives on it (NOT MARMITE you advertising swindlers!) it’s up there with crumpets, kippers, tea, jam, ham, gravy, apples, pears, jelly, custard, toast, tea cakes, fruit loaf, scones and cream. If you want to start your day on the right foot, start it with toast and marmalade. Enough bitter bite to zing you awake, but a reassuring sweetness that caresses and leaves the appetite awakened and satisfied. And the sticky slick of it on top of a cold chunk of butter, then the crisp toast beneath- this is a combination that is hard to beat. All this, and its fun to make. Homemade marmalade tastes infinitely better than shop-bought. I know you probably think i say that about everything, but in fact i reckon most supermarket jams are pretty good, as good as the homemade version in a few cases. Marmalade howevere is quite an art, and done well at home it is worlds away from the sugary, flavourless jellied confection you buy in the shops. So here is the recipe that worked for me:
Seville Orange Marmalade
1.1 kg seville oranges
2 kg preserving sugar
1 dessertspoon black treacle (optional-this gives it a darker colour and more depth of flavour-it is called “Dundee Marmalade” sometimes)
4.5 pints of water
Chuck the oranges whole into a large saucepan/preserving pan. Pour in all of the water. Put a plate on top of the oranges to keep them submerged and simmer gently for about 3-4 hours. The oranges should now feel completely soft. Take them out, reserving the water, and cut them in half. Scoop out all the pith and flesh and seeds, until only the rind remains, then place all this pith mush in a muslin(or a clean jay-cloth) bag and tie it up tightly.
Slice the peel into desired widths, about a pound coin’s width is a nice size (i think) . Add the sliced peel back into the cooking liquid with the bag of pips and flesh. Boil the whole lot until reduced by two thirds. Warm the sugar in the oven, just until it’s warm through (put it in a roasting tin in the oven for about 10 minutes), then add to your reduced orange mixture, along with the treacle and bring the whole lot to a steady boil. Now use a jam thermometer or the “cold plate” test until setting point is reached. For the cold plate test-put a white plate in the fridge, then when you think setting point is near, spoon some maramlade onto the plate, wait a second or two, then push the marmalde with your finger. If wrinkles appear and the liquid moves reluctantly, setting point is reached. (it’s much easier to use a thermometer-if less hard-core)
Now pour into sterilised jars and seal. Enjoy on hot granary tost, dripping with butter.