Monthly Archives: February 2014

Marmalade 2014

This collection of notes already contains four posts on the weighty matter of marmalade. Four conflicting posts enumerating my frustrations and joys. This year, having made three batches in a row, I think I’ve arrived at a method that is  satisfactory, and keeps the work and mess to a minimum. No muslin, and the marmalade contains everything but the pips.

Here is The New Improved Method. You will need:

  • 8 “one pound” jam jars (they’re called “one pound” but are roughly 300mL in capacity)
  • 1kg Seville oranges (round up, if they’re loose then beware of imitations dropped in by ignorant or malevolent shoppers, the real ones have thick squidgy skin)
  • 2 lemons (aiming for 100mL of juice)
  • 1.5kg caster sugar (you could go for up to 2kg, and adulterate with 50g of Muscovado)

Twist off the little buttons on the base of the oranges and give them a good wash and scrub, as the skins are good at collecting dirt, especially the bits around the buttons. Slice the oranges in half through their equators; not top to bottom. Balance a sieve on top of a large bowl and squeeze the juice of the orange halves into the bowl, so the pips land in the sieve. Most of the pips will come out, but you’ll need to tease out the remainder with a metal teaspoon.

Finely slice up the peel, picking out the remaining seeds as you go. I find the easiest way to do this is to fold each squeezed half down the middle. Slice all the way through, including the connective tissue and any remaining flesh. You don’t need to discard this as it will dissolve during cooking. Add the peel to the juice, and top up with 1.5L of water, and cover the bowl. Put the pips into a small bowl (or large teacup) and cover with water. Leave both for at least 24 hours, and 48 won’t hurt. Refrigeration not necessary.

The following day, tip the peel, juice and water into a large pot. Stainless steel and internal gradations are both good qualities for this pot. (There is a specialised utensil called a Maslin Pan, should you find this becoming an obsession.) Use a pot that can take at least six litres, as it can get frisky and you don’t want it to boil over. Safety first: this stuff is hot (hotter than boiling water) and will stick to your skin.

Grab the teacup where you’ve soaked the pips. They will have exuded most of their pectin, and the water will have turned to jelly. Upend this onto a sieve over the pot, and give it a good shake to get the jelly into the pot. A splash of water from a freshly boiled kettle will help dislodge. You can then chuck the pips away: no need for that piece of muslin. (If you’re putting on a show you can tie the pips into a square of muslin and plonk them in.)

Top the pot up with cold water to two litres, bring it to the boil, and then reduce to a very gently bubbling simmer. After an hour, fish out a piece of peel, cool under cold water, and check that it can be easily crushed between your fingers. In the unlikely event it won’t, then just keep going, checking every half an hour. It will be translucent by this stage. (Remove the muslin bag of pips if you’ve left them in.)

Add the lemon juice, and then top up with cold water to three litres.

We’re now ready for the sugar. I find that if I add it in one go, it tends to clump, so I stir and pour slowly. Stir gently, leaving the heat low, until the sugar has dissolved.

Turn up the heat as high as you dare, and get the stuff going, uncovered, at a rolling boil. You don’t want it to escape, but it can be as frisky as you like. Any stray pips will surface at this point, as may some scum. Skim both. Do not leave it unattended: perch on a stool with a cup of tea and a good book. It will need to be stirred every few minutes, to make sure it doesn’t stick on the bottom. It will froth viciously when you do this, so be prepared.

Now would be a good time to put your washed jars and lids into the oven (gas 2, 120°C) to sterilise. If you have a particularly brutal dishwasher, then make the necessary arrangements. Also, put half a dozen saucers into the freezer.

After half an hour of boiling you can start testing for “a set”. Precisely when this happens is dependent on how much pectin is in the oranges. Take a saucer out of the freezer, place a teaspoon of mixture (no peel) on it, pop it in the fridge and wait for two minutes. Take it out and run your fingernail over the surface: if the skin wrinkles, you’re ready. If not, keep repeating the test every ten minutes. A sugar thermometer will be useful, and will tell you it’s ready when it hits 105C. Also, the contents of the pot will shows signs of becoming shiny and gluey. Don’t forget to stir every so often. If it burns on the bottom you’ve got a right mess to clean up and nothing to show for your labours.

Once you have a set, turn the heat off, and leave it for 15 minutes. Then, give it a stir to distribute the peel, and maybe add a tablespoon or three of whiskey. Ladle it carefully into your hot jars. This is more easily said than done. Putting the pot in the sink, and having the jars lined up on one side is helps, and investing a few quid in a jam funnel will save an awful lot of wastage.

Finally, using a teatowel or something similar to protect your hands, put the lids on the jars. These now need to be parked somewhere at room temperature. The lids will sometimes loosen, so after an hour, gently tighten them. It should now be left undisturbed for 24 hours; do not refrigerate.

The following day, give a jar the gentlest of shakes, to see if it has set. If it’s sloshing around, see my notes on marmalade rescue. If it’s almost set, then leave it for another 48 hours and check again. Sometimes the lids loosen, so gently tighten them up again if necessary.

It can now be stored in a cool dark place for twelve months. It won’t go off after that, since there’s too much sugar, but it will certainly become less interesting. It’s never happened to me, but sometimes the sterilisation will go wrong, and it will go mouldy, so use your common sense if it looks or smells wrong.


Weeknight Dhal

Supper for two, or starter for four.

Wash 200g of split red lentils, and pop into a small saucepan with 500mL water, and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice a small onion, and place in another slightly larger saucepan with 10mL vegetable oil, on a medium heat. Stir regularly until the onion has gone translucent and soft, and then reduce the heat as low as you can, so it’s barely sizzling. The onion needs to be browned, but not burnt, which will take about half an hour.

Coincidentally, after half an hour, the lentils will have gone a pleasing shade of yellow, and all but collapsed. You may need to add a splash of water from time to time if they threaten to solidify. The cooking liquid will become creamy as the starch oozes out.

Into the other saucepan, add a pinch of chilli flakes, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, a teaspoon of mustard seeds, and two whole cloves, roughly crushed. Stir these as they fry for a minute, and then add the entire contents of the other saucepan, stirring to combine.  Add a teaspoon of turmeric, and allow the whole lot to simmer for a few more minutes before dishing up.


Marmalade Rescue

Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, marmalade will not behave, and will be there, the next morning, sloshing around in its jars, like syrupy orange juice. All your boiling and squeezing, not to mention that sordid business with the chilled saucers, was for nought.

All is not lost. Here is the distillation of conversations with wise mothers, a gentleman whose marmalade regularly wins prizes, and desperate searches on Google.

To get a proper set, you need the following conditions:

  • pectin – Seville oranges are loaded with it, but you can’t tell how much – according to Sally Wise the levels drop as the oranges ripen and the longer they’re left on the shelf
  • acid – don’t forget the lemon juice – Dan Lepard recommends 50mL per 500g original weight of oranges
  • temperature – the liquid needs to hit 105°C
  • liquid – the pectin can gel only so much liquid – Dan Lepard recommends double the original weight of the oranges

Here’s what I do to rescue:

  1. buy some pectin from the supermarket – it comes powdered, in sachets
  2. decant the jars back into the pot (this is particularly humiliating, especially if you triumphantly labelled it)
  3. add the juice of another lemon
  4. stir in the pectin powder (easier said than done as it clumps and you may need to thrash the mix with a whisk)
  5. bring to the boil and either test for a set in the traditional manner, or use a thermometer to ensure it hits 105°C

There’s a good argument to just keep your sloppy marmalade: boiling it again means you lose more of that orange flavour, and you risk ending up with something that’s perfectly set, but doesn’t really taste of very much at all. The sloppy stuff may run off your toast, but is excellent in puddings, cakes, muffins, and as topping for crepes.