Adieu, grey January; Monday of the year, full of food-guilt, short-lived resolutions and tax self-assessments. Only a week old, February already seems a little brighter and with this, the first truly sunny day of the year, the spirits are lifting and thoughts are turning to the great outdoors. In fact, I am sure that the birds are singing just a bit louder today.
Of course, January wasn’t all bad. There was the sparkle of a few important birthdays, an engagement and the first instalment of what’s to be an annual ritual: a marmalade cook-up with Ma-BSG (let’s just call her Lady Marmalade). This is an inner circle I am proud to be part of; each February her amber jars are eagerly awaited by regular lucky recipients.
We used a secret family recipe (yup, I’d have to kill you), which employed nice old-fashioned things like muslin but this one in Skye Gyngell’s wonderful new book How I Cook will do nicely as it looks like typical, sunny, Antipodean simplicity and she always makes beautiful things (even her name is pretty). Roll on you summer days, so I can get me to her wonderful cafe at Petersham Nurseries and sip wine under the canopy amongst the flowerpots.
Please, PLEASE don’t shirk on the sugar (I did and ended up adding it later) – I know it seems an awful lot but those Seville oranges are bitter critters so it won’t be over-sweet and besides, the sugar has to fulfil the much useful task of SETTING the jam; you do not want goop. You will make a lot of marmalade, but it makes great presents and puddings, is fab with cheese, sausages or bacon and if all else fails just eat it à la Paddington Bear.
Seville Orange Marmalade
(makes about 2.5kg – that’s a lot of jars. Time to clean out that fridge…)
1 kg Seville oranges
3 litres water
2 pinches of salt
About 2kg caster sugar
Scrub the oranges clean then finely slice the fruit into pinwheels, using a sharp knife, leaving on the skin but removing all pips and the central pithy membrane.
Put the fruit, water and salt into a large preserving pan and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently until the peel is soft; this will take 1.5-2 hours. Remove form the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a large ceramic or glass bowl, cover and leave to stand in cool place for 24 hours.
The following day, measure the fruit and water into a clean preserving pan. Bring to the boil and for every cupful of mixture, add a cupful of sugar. Bring back to the boil.
Cook steadily for 20 minutes or so until setting point is reached. To check, put a teaspoonful of the marmalade onto a chilled saucer. (Make sure you take the pan off the heat first and let the mixture catch its breath here.) Leave it for a minute, then push with your finger – if the surface wrinkles and the marmalade appears to be setting it is ready. Take off the heat and remove any scum from the surface with a skimming spoon.
Leave to stand for 5 minutes then stir gently to distribute the fruit. Spoon into warm sterilised jars (wash them thoroughly then stand them on a baking tray in a cool oven for 20 minutes) filling them almost to the top. Cover the surface with a wax-paper disc or baking parchment and allow to cool, then seal the jars and store in a cool, dark, dry place (the BSG’s prize pickle shelf has had to be reorganised).