Every year, without fail, my mum whips up a batch of the most delicious marmalade. It arrives in January - the only time of year when the bitter Seville oranges are available - and disappears by about February, spread liberally on as much toast as my household can consume.
Now I’m a mum, I feel it’s about time I popped my marmalade cherry, and got my hands sticky in the kitchen too. Besides my own mum, help of another kind is on hand in the form of Marmalade: A Bittersweet Cookbook by Sarah Randell, food director of Sainsbury’s Magazine, who’s written some lip-smacking recipes for marmalade and what you can do with it - marmalade-glazed bacon sandwiches anyone?
“Marmalade is part of our British culinary psyche, it represents us on breakfast tables all over the world and is something we are, justifiably, very proud of,” she says. And according to Randell, our love of marmalade dates back to the 18th century, when it was first made commercially by the Keiller family in Scotland.
“Mrs Keiller and her husband, who was a grocer, took stock of a batch of Seville oranges from a Spanish ship that had to dock unexpectedly on the coast of Dundee. Mrs Keiller set about making them into marmalade and Mr Keiller sold it. Around the same time, home cooks were beginning to experiment with recipes for marmalade-type preserves. But the name marmalade stems from the Portuguese word ‘marmelada’, which refers to quince paste.”
Paddington Bear boosted the preserve’s profile in the Fifties with his love for marmalade sandwiches - and now the film’s doing just that again, with sales of marmalade up 88% at Waitrose.
“We always had marmalade on the breakfast table at home. We were more of a toast and marmalade family than bacon and eggs, so it has always been part of my life,” says Randell. “A few years ago, I was asked to join the judges for The World’s Original Marmalade Awards. I was fascinated by the range and variety sent in from around the world, hundreds and hundreds of jars and every one was different. I was hooked.”
Her idea of a perfect marmalade is “a bright clear jelly with tender peel suspended evenly in it - the peel should be tender but still have a slight bite”.
Her recipe for Classic Seville Orange Marmalade begins with the words, “Put the radio on”, so that’s just what I do...
But sadly, after two days of prep, I over-boil my concoction at the final stage and end up with a fragrant - but very runny - goo.
It’s disappointing after the effort, but it tastes amazing, so I pour it out into my jars and slap on labels reading ‘Kate’s Runny Marmalade’.
Make your own marmalade while Seville oranges are in town - or just try one of Sarah Randell’s recipes using it..
:: Wrinkle Test - For anyone who doesn’t know what a ‘wrinkle test’ is, after your saucer’s been in the freezer for about 15 minutes, place a spoonful of marmalade on it. Push your finger through the marmalade on the plate - you’re looking for it to wrinkle and not flood back in to fill the gap. If it’s not ready, turn the pan back on, simmer for five minutes and test again.
Make your own marmalade
(Makes about 7 x 340g jars)
1kg bitter Seville oranges
Juice of 1 fat lemon
2kg granulated sugar
Put the radio on. Halve the oranges and, using the tip of a knife, flick out any obvious pips on to a double-layered square of gauze (or muslin), about 30 x 30cm. Squeeze the juice from the oranges into a very large bowl (or a large lidded plastic box), add any extra pips from the squeezer to the gauze and add any fleshy bits of orange to the bowl.
Now, cut each orange half into quarters and, using a knife, scrape out the membranes inside - put these and any more pips you find on to the gauze square. The next job is to shred the pithy peel as uniformly as possible into thin, medium or chunky shreds, as you wish; discard the buttons from the ends of the fruit as you go. Transfer the shredded peel to the bowl too.
Gather the gauze square together to form a money-bag shape, twist the top and tie it with string - an extra pair of hands comes in useful here. When you tie the string, leave one long end - you can use this to tie the gauze pouch onto the pan handle and immerse it in the liquid when you cook the peel.
Put the pouch into the bowl to join the peel and juice. Add 2.25 litres of cold water, making sure everything is as immersed in the water as it can be, then cover with cling film (or a lid) and leave it overnight. I usually put the bowl in the cellar or garage.
The next day, tip everything from the bowl into a preserving pan and tie the gauze pouch to the pan handle so it sits on the base of the pan. Bring the whole lot to simmering point over a low-medium heat and simmer the peel until it is really soft - you should be able to squish it easily in your fingers; this will take about one-and-a-half hours. The liquid will reduce as the peel simmers, and you will see a tidemark around the inside of the pan.
Once the peel is soft enough, remove the gauze pouch from the pan, pressing it against the side with the back of a wooden spoon as you do so, to extract as much pectin as possible from the pith and pips - put the pouch into a bowl and leave it for 10 minutes to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, halve and squeeze the lemon and tip the lemon juice into the pan with the sugar; stir over a low heat. Give the gauze pouch a final squeeze to extract the last of the pectin into the marmalade; wearing clean washing-up gloves makes this easier. You can now discard the pouch, as its work is done.
Preheat the oven to 140C/fan 120C/gas 1. Keep stirring the marmalade from time to time to help dissolve the sugar. This is an important stage, so make sure all the sugar has dissolved before you move on to the next; it can take 15 minutes or so. I find that any pips I have missed usually pop to the surface at this point; scoop them out with a teaspoon. Put a few saucers in the freezer for the wrinkle test (see below) and put your jars and lids in the oven for 15-20 minutes to sterilise.
Now, bring the marmalade up to a rolling boil and boil it for 20-25 minutes or until it has reached setting point (use the wrinkle test). When the marmalade is ready, take the pan off the heat. Leave to settle for 15 minutes; this will help to distribute the peel evenly and make it less hazardous to pot. Give it a gentle stir in one direction to disperse any air bubbles.
Using a measuring jug and a funnel, transfer your marmalade into hot sterilised jars. Seal and leave the marmalade to cool completely. Give the jars a second wipe over with a hot cloth and dry them before labelling. Store the jars of golden marmalade in a dry, cool place, where it will keep for at least a year.