Marmalade. I haven't been a big fan of sticky, sweet confections at the breakfast table but I stayed with my mum recently and had some of her marmalade on her home-made bread. It does have an amazing awakening property: the zingy, bitter Seville orange taste with the sugar hit. I can see the point. I took a jar (and a loaf) home with me. It didn't last long, and since I happen to be living in that small window of late winter when Seville oranges are available in the shops I decided to make some for the first time.
I was reminded of the time my older brother had bought a load of Seville oranges by mistake. They were going cheap at a market and he was rather shocked when he peeled one and tried to eat it. Having been put straight by a friend - and no doubt laughed at - he decided to use them up by making marmalade. It was good marmalade but more the kind that you need a sharp knife to slice up. Very tasty but not the kind of thing you could ever possibly spread on toast. The chunks of peel were quite chewy and enormous - probably an eighth of an orange each - and were jammed together into the jars with just a bit of orange 'jam' in between.
I thought about trying to make marmalade like that but he is not around to ask the recipe so I looked on-line for recipes and asked my mum too. I wanted to get something a bit darker and stronger than normal and also quite fancied the idea of putting fresh ginger in too. So this is how I made it...I got 1.5kg of Seville oranges and three (unwaxed!) lemons. I washed them (hardly necessary I think) then carried out the following operations on each orange or lemon in turn: I cut them in half crosswise (cutting across the segments - the same way you would cut a grapefruit in half) and scraped the pips out into a bowl with a teaspoon. The flesh and pith I then scooped out from the peel and without bothering to cut up threw into the big jam pan. I got a sharp knife and sliced the peel quickly into fairly wide strips - up to 1/4" (5mm) wide and 1 1/2" (40mm) long and threw those in the jam pan too.
(I'm giving actual measurements for the strips, not because the exact size matters but just because 'wide' will otherwise mean different things to different people. I once read in a leaflet that came with some kind of medical cream, "Warning: do not use too close to the eyes," and thought, "Great. How am I supposed to know what 'too close' is unless you tell me? Is 5mm too close? Is 20cm too close? What idiot wrote this leaflet?" I didn't buy the cream.)
So, I did that with each orange and lemon, and I did it wearing rubber gloves as I had been told that otherwise you can get stingy hands. I then added 4 litres of water to the pan. I poured any juice that was in the pip bowl into the pan and tied the pips into a 'muslin' bag and dropped that into the pan too. I had been told to simmer the whole lot for 2 hours but I probably simmered it for at least 3 hours as I had to go out and get more ginger. I reckon I put in 300 grammes of root ginger, peeled and sliced. That sounds a lot but the ginger flavour turned out to be surprisingly mild. By the way, all the white pith and stringy bits just seemed to boil away and dissolve so just throw it all in. And boiling the pips up? That's to get the pectin out so it will set. The lemons are also added mainly to help it set.
So, 2 or 3 hours of simmering, in which time the juice reduces quite a bit, and then I added 3kg of sugar. (I was told later by a neighbour that one must use cane sugar and not beet sugar. I have no idea how that could possibly matter but she was adamant and I take her word for it. I did, as luck would have it, buy the cheapest sugar I could find, which was Sainsbury's own-brand, 'fairtrade' sugar that would have been made from cane rather than sugar beet, so that's OK.) Oh yes, I made sure to add the sugar gradually and make sure it dissolved fully by careful stirring. Then I turned up the heat and boiled it rapidly. I kept checking a spoonful on a cold plate to see if it was going to set, and after about 25 minutes of fairly rapid boiling the spoonful did 'skin over' on the plate. I boiled it a another few minutes just to be safe and then turned the heat off. (I did find towards the end of the boiling it started to 'catch' on the bottom. I got away with it and there are only a very few 'brown bits' in the finished marmalade and no 'burnt taste' at all, but that's something to watch out for. Next time I will keep checking and stirring while it is boiling, especially towards the end.)
I had washed a bunch of empty jam jars, poured boiling water in them and on the lids to 'sterilise' them. On my mum's advice I had then heated the jars in the oven so that they would not crack when boiling marmalade was put in them, but next time I wouldn't do that; I would instead just preheat/sterilise them with boiling water, shake the excess water out and use them like that. Having left the marmalade to cool a few minutes, I ladled it into the jars and screwed on the lids. (On reflection I should have left a bit more of an air space under the lid - say 10mm - so that a good vacuum can develop as it cools. That way the lids would have been more 'sucked in' and I would have had more confidence that the seal was good. As it was, 80% of the jar lids had an obvious and reassuring concavity to them and the others, which were probably fine, I decided to eat up first, just in case.)
That's it I think. The whole operation took HOURS and I'm not sure I would do it again in a hurry, or if I do I will borrow a bigger pan and make a larger quantity to make the time investment worthwhile. I might try and use larger jars too - like old 1kg sauerkraut jars or those 'Kilner' re-usable jars with the rubber sealing rings and the clips. As it was I got a dozen normal-sized jars out of it. (Normal size = 400g or 1lb roughly.)
And how was the marmalade? Oh yeah, it was OK. Really. My first impression was that it was too sweet but I think that's because I'd been doing too much 'tasting' while I was making it and was a bit sick of it. After a few days and coming back to it in normal quantities on toast I now really like it. The flavour and texture is just about right for me - quite strong and tangy and pleasantly chewy. The ginger taste is quite mild but it's nice to see the ginger slices suspended in the jar and when you chew a slice you get a little ginger hit. I also discovered it is excellent on porridge in the morning, and used like that the sweetness isn't overpowering but the taste comes through very well. For the next batch I may use less sugar - well not exactly less sugar because then it may not set, but I may use more fruit so the balance between taste and sweetness is shifted towards taste. I may need to boil it down more and it may then end up thicker but I think I'll try that.
All in all a success I think.