Marmalade

Marmalade has a long and interesting history. There is an apocryphal tale that it was invented for Mary Queen of Scots. When she sailed to Scotland to claim her throne she was terrible sea-sick and was given marmalade to cure this. There is another sweet story which touches on Mary’s beauty and a chef dreaming of it whilst making a mixture of oranges and sugar for one of her many ailments. But the early marmalades were made from Quince, the fruit is called marmello in Portugese and marmelada was made from it. This is what I call quince cheese and it was a product made mainly in Portugal and Italy and exported all over Europe. Boxes of it can often be seen in still life paintings of the 16th century.  Marmalade as we know it is a much more modern confection which I spent 4 hours making today. Mainly because it was simply too cold to sit by the computer and hanging around the AGA was really much to be preferred.

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It took BD and I about an hour to separate the pith & seeds from the skins. I separated and he cut the peel into chunky strips. All the while listening to Radio 4’s Food Programme.

 

I decided that once we’d finished  prepping the fruit I would use the Thermomix to blend the pulp and juice, as it can blend very finely. Better than anything else I own. It was a bit of a gamble as it came up a pale orangey colour, but I thought it would clarify once I added the sugar.

Every year I think I’ll cut down on the sugar in my marmalade recipe. This has two drawbacks, one is flavour, the other is that sugar is the only preservative in my recipe. It’s a really easy one. For every kilo of Seville Oranges you need 500mls of water and 2 kilos of sugar. The time consuming bit is prepping the fruit. Once the pith and juice has been blended to a thick goo, the pips are in a spice bag and the peel  of the marmalade oranges has been cut into strips, and actually the size of your zest is a very personal thing. I would liken it to what size cigar you like. Personally I love a little thin cigar, whereas BD likes a big Monte Cristo. So in went the blended pulp, juice and the peel with the water. I pegged the three spice bags with the pips to the side of the pot. Below you see it at a rolling boil. It takes quite a while to bring it up to temperature and I stir all the time.

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I used my grandmother’s silver marmalade spoon to stir. Silver was the chosen metal to stir lots of things with, partly because stainless steel is quite a new invention and you would not want to stir an acidic mixture like this with an iron spoon. It would rust. I do have a really beautiful Norwegian wooden spoon, the size which would suit the average Troll. This time however I decided to use my Farmor’s marmalade spoon. The loveliest thing about it is actually the fact that it has been worn down on one side by stirring. Clearly the person who stirred with this spoon was right-handed. I’ve decided that I’m going to give it to my eldest son because he is left-handed and very skilled in the kitchen. Should he decide to make jams and marmalade this silver spoon would perhaps be evened out?

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Look at the set on that spoon!

For many years I wanted my marmalade to be darker and there are several ways to achieve that. The most difficult is to allow the marmalade to boil till the sugars caramelise. This is for the sophisticates of the marmalade world. Lots try to cut corners by using either dark brown sugar, which is dicey if you want it to last till next year. There is not enough sugar in proper brown sugar to preserve the marmalade and a food colour is really not the done thing with food aficionados like me. Nor is the addition of caramel acceptable. So if you want it darker, let it boil for longer, but you’ll be stirring a lot because it’s not until the sugar turns to caramel that you get the right colour and then it can be tricky to control so the whole thing doesn’t burn.

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And then finally it is there and my little spice bags filled with the pips have swelled with pectin to give my marmalade a perfect set. I take the pot off the heat, I hoke out the seed bags and I let it rest for 10 minutes of so. Mostly because I’m a very messy potter. When I pot up marmalade it goes everywhere and if it’s hot it rather hurts to be splashed. I love it when my  regiments of potted up marmalade stand to attention with evenly distributed fruit. Hats off or hats on, take your pick, either way it is sunshine in a pot, thank you Spain!

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