I haven’t made marmalade since I was married. I had stuffed it away in the file marked “cosy home craft activities for smug marrieds and happy families”. Yes, I know now that this is a crazy way of thinking and so this week I decided that it was time to exorcise that demon and fish the preserving pan out of the garage. I picked up the oranges and sugar from the supermarket and set to the task one a Sunday morning when I knew there were no child ferrying duties required for most of the day. Although it has been a few years since my last batch I was confident that I knew what to do and so I just had a brief check in a recipe book to get the correct quantities – BIG mistake! Having spent one and a half hours squeezing and shredding I was distracted by the tween waving maths homework under my nose and the teen demanding lunch (“why is there NEVER any food in this house?!?) and made a mistake of such epic proportions that the whole lot had to go straight in the bin. I won’t lie, I almost had a little cry and spent most of the day sulking and blaming my children for something that was almost completely my fault. OK, it was COMPLETELY my fault. So, after a couple of weeks to lick my wounds I found myself having a marmalade déjà vu on a sunny Sunday morning. This time, however, I learnt from my schoolgirl error and Delia Smith was firmly in the recipe book stand. If you are thinking of boiling up some oranges of your own, here are some tips from my experience. our own, here are some tips from my experience.
Gather together 900g of Seville oranges, (they have a limited season in January and February but you can bung them in the freezer until you are ready to roll) 1.8 kg of granulated sugar, a lemon and some old jam jars. You will also need a large saucepan, ideally a preserving or maslin pan, chopping board, sharp knife, orange squeezer, measuring jug, small bowl, a few saucers, waxed discs and cellophane lids, string and a piece of muslin about 30cm square. Scald the muslin in boiling water to sterilize it and place it over the small bowl. Now, time to get squeezing; cut all the fruit in half and extract all the juice which you can tip straight into the pan. Don’t throw away the mush and pips that collects in the top of the squeezer, scrape this into the muslin as you will need it later.
Now it is time to find your inner chopping Zen. This really does take ages so just go with it and you might find it quite therapeutic – I did. Using a small sharp knife cut the orange peel into strips. The size of the strips is up to you, I like a thin shred but I know there are some chunky devotees out there. As you painstakingly chop and slice add the shredded peel to the juice in your pan, making sure that any stray pips and pulp join the others in the muslin square. When you are done you will have (a) prune like fingers (b) sore wrists and (c) a pan full of lovely shredded orange and lemon peel. Add 2.25 litres of cold water to the pan of juice and peel. Next you need to tie up the corners of the muslin to make a little bag containing the three Ps – pips, pith and pulp. This really is a magic bag as it contains pectin (so that actually is four Ps…) which is key to your marmalade setting. Attach the magic muslin to the handle of the pan so that it is suspended in the juicy water. Pop it on the hob and bring the whole lot up to simmering point. Simmer gently, no lid, for about two hours. You are aiming for the peel to be completely soft when you gently squeeze it between your fingers.
Time for a sneaky coffee now and clear the decks for the next stage. Oh, a quick word about jars…you need to make sure your jars are clean and sterile before the marmalade goes in. There are two ways of doing this, thoroughly wash, rinse and dry them (make sure you use a clean tea towel) and then place in a moderate oven for five minutes. Alternatively you can run the jars through a hot dishwasher cycle which is less faff all round. Back to the marmalade; you need to warm the sugar in a low oven, I lined a roasting tin with foil and tipped the sugar onto it. Test your peel and when it is completely soft you are ready to proceed. First, pop the saucers into the freezer to cool down, you will need these a bit later. Then, remove the muslin bag and place it in a bowl to cool and tip all of the warmed sugar into the pan of hot citrussy deliciousness. Keep it on a low heat and stir from time to time until all the sugar crystals have dissolved. You will know when this has happened when you lift out your wooden spoon and there are no traces of sugar crystals at all on the back of the spoon. When the sugar has melted turn the heat up to high and, taking the magic muslin bag, squeeze out all of the stickiness into the pan. If you have asbestos fingers you can do this with your bare hands but if you are, like me, a mere mortal than use Delia’s suggestion of squeezing the bag between two small plates. It’s much easier on the skin and means that you get to keep your fingerprints intact. You are coming up to the slightly stressful part of the operation now so get rid of any distractions – time to focus! As soon as your marmalade reaches a fast boil (really bubbling loads) set a timer for 15 minutes. When the time is up, take one of the saucers from the freezer and put a spoon of mixture onto it then put it in the fridge to cool. When it has cooled you need to test to see if the marmalade has reached it’s setting point. Gently push the mixture on the saucer with your finger, if it really crinkles up then it is ready, if it is still a bit runny then you need to carry on boiling and repeat the chilly saucer test every ten minutes. This stage is all about confidence – if you stop boiling too soon your marmalade won’t set and if you carry on too long it will be too dark and thick. With that in mind, always remove it from the boil while you are doing the saucer test, just in case.
Remove the pan from the heat and leave it to sit for twenty minutes. Sometimes there is a lot of scum on the top, try stirring in half a teaspoon of butter to disperse it and spoon the rest off. Put your clean and sterile jars into the oven for five minutes as they need to be hot when you pour in the marmalade. Spoon or pour the marmalade into the jars, if you have a funnel in your kitchen armoury that’s even better. Cover each one with a waxed disc and then dampen a cellophane lid before securing it over the jar with an elastic band. The heat/moisture combo will make a nice seal on the cellophane. You are done! Time to stand back and admire your home craft handiness. It is very hard not to be a bit show offy when you have made marmalade, and I did find myself giving away three jars mainly so that I could make sure that people other than my children knew that I had produced a preserve all by myself. I think I’ve got the bug now, next time it might have to be strawberry jam…