What’s that buzz of excitement you can feel in the air? Forget the Brits. And it’s definitely not the Oscars. No (brace yourself) The World’s Original Marmalade Awards 2018 is happening on Saturday 17th March. Held at Dalemain Mansion in Cumbria, every year thousands of jars of marmalade are entered and scrutinised by a panel of formidable WI judges. The estimable aim is to encourage more people to taste, make and buy marmalade.
There are not many things I would willingly crawl out of bed for, but the bittersweet pleasure of marmalade is one of them. Paddington Bear was on to something. The perfection of golden shreds of candied citrus fruit in glistening amber jelly sat atop a slice of warm buttered toast and complemented by a nice cup of tea – could there be a greater British breakfast?
Well, actually, although this preserve has placed itself firmly amongst the likes of fish & chips and roast beef as a quintessential British favourite, its origins are somewhat more exotic. At first it was made from quinces which the Romans cooked slowly with honey until they set. In fact the name marmalade derives from ‘malomellum’ which is Latin for quince or sweet apple. It was only in the sixteenth century when ships began importing citrus fruits from the Mediterranean that it became the bright orange Robertsons variety we recognise today.
For me a supreme jar of marmalade has to have that dark underlying flavour of molasses balanced by bright notes of zesty citrus. Cooking time is paramount so that the peel is soft and tender but still with that bite which gives the jelly some body. The goal is a marmalade that allows you to sink a spoon in but is perky enough to hold its own on a piece of toast and not slop despondently. And of course the finest Seville oranges are essential.
I had a free afternoon last weekend and decided to dispel the winter gloom by dusting off the preserving pan and filling my kitchen with the steamy summer scent of oranges. Here is my recipe, settled upon after several winters of experimentation.
Lady Marmalade’s Marmalade
Makes about 5 jars
1kg Seville oranges
2kg caster sugar
Cut your plump oranges and lemons in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl, being careful to pick out any pips. Then remove the peel from each half and place the remaining pith along with any pips into a muslin bag.
Slice the peel into thin strips depending on your preference of marmalade texture. Rough and ready is my preference.
Place the peel strips and juice into a large stainless steel preserving pan along with 2 litres of cold water. Tie the muslin bag with its pips and pith to the pan handle so that it dangles in the water. Bring to the boil on the hob and then lower the heat. Allow to simmer for approximately 2 hours and savour those fresh orangey aromas!
With a spoon carefully pick out a piece of peel and if it is soft to touch then you can remove the pan from the heat. Take out the muslin bag and set it to the side to cool. Add the sugar to the juice and peel and stir in. Put the pan back on a low heat stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. (A tip is to heat the sugar in the oven for 5-10 minutes first as this speeds the dissolving process). Then bring to a rolling boil and squeeze the remaining juice from the muslin bag into the pan as it contains lots of pectin, vital for a good set.
Boil hard for 10-15 minutes and then to test whether it has set spoon a small amount onto a saucer and place in the fridge for a couple of minutes. If the surface wrinkles when you draw a finger across it has set.
Using a funnel ladle the marmalade into sterilised jars and cover with a waxed seal, cling film or cloth.
I like mine unadulterated but why not experiment and try Nigel Slater’s Orange, Lemon and Ginger or Lime and Lime leaf marmalade? Or once you have your cupboards stocked how about making a Marmalade Cake courtesy of Jamie Oliver or even Delia’s cheat’s version of duck a l’orange, Roast Seville Orange Glazed Duck with Port Wine Sauce.