They’re doing it again. Warning of the imminent death of marmalade eating and the traditional British way of life as we tweet our way to extinction. A report this week announced that hard-pressed shoppers are buying fewer jars of jam and marmalade and this, we’re told, means fewer families sit down to toast and jam for breakfast than they used to. Yeah, right. You probably wondered what that guy with the clipboard was doing in your kitchen this morning, asking all those questions.
The facts are that sugar almost doubled in price from 2008 to 2009 and the price never really went down again, and higher fruit and packaging costs will have put some brands under continuing pressure. But maybe something else is going on.
Wilkin & Sons, the manufacturers of Tiptree conserves, report that sales of Thick Cut Tawny orange marmalade, their most expensive variety, rose by 25% last year, and I’m willing to believe that while the bland mid-market may be in decline, affordable (if small) luxuries become even more desirable when times are tough.[pull]At the World Marmalade Festival in Cumbria – held in February – the number of entries goes up by half each year.[/pull]
Yet behind all of this, I can’t help but detect an increase in the number of people making their own. At the World Marmalade Festival in Cumbria – held in February – the number of entries goes up by half each year. Ok, we had just short of 2,000 jars in 2013, but still it’s growing. For some it’s an economy, but for many it’s the sheer pleasure of it; in both the making and eating.
Seville orange marmalade is something wonderful; in essence, a curious suspension of fragrant, sweet and bitter oils, the peel simmered until tender then mixed with an acid, usually the juice of the fruit or citric acid, and sugar. All this is simmered to 104C then held at that temperature until a gel forms that holds the peel, floating effortlessly. Like breadmaking, it has an apparent simplicity that masks a complex science but one that suits home cooking easily. With the main Seville orange crop arriving slightly late this year, there’s still plenty of time to join in, and you don’t have to make enough to feed the entire neighbourhood.
A small batch of clear Seville orange marmalade
This isn’t the most energy efficient recipe as it only makes about 3 jars of marmalade, but it saves wasting ingredients if you just want to try making enough for yourself. Think of this as a guide rather than the never-fail recipe. For that insight you need to turn to an expert like Pam Corbin and her River Cottage handbook on marmalade. Arm yourself with some muslin, string, a good heavy-based saucepan and buy or borrow a proper sugar thermometer.
400g Seville oranges (about four)
1 litre water
800g white sugar
1 tsp soft dark brown sugar (optional but it makes the colour rosier)
With a potato peeler or sharp knife remove all the orange zest in strips, cut away any white pith then shred the zest finely and tie it in a small square of muslin. Finely slice the oranges, pith, flesh, juice and all, with the whole lemon, into a heavy saucepan, add the water and your muslin bag of zest and simmer for about 2 hours until the pith is utterly tender.
Pick out the bag holding the zest, and leave this to drain on a plate. Line a colander with a few layers of muslin, place over a bowl, tip in the entire contents of the pan, and leave it to drip undisturbed for an hour. You could squeeze any remaining juice from the pith, but it will make the marmalade slightly cloudy.
Discard the pith and pips, and measure the liquid in the bowl. You should have about 750 ml. Boil it down if you have more, or top it up with water if you have less, but make sure you have all of the liquid that can be saved from cooking the pith as this will contain the vital pectin that make the marmalade set.
Return the liquid to the saucepan, empty in the zest from the bag, and add the sugar. Bring to the boil, then quickly simmer until it reaches 104C and try and hold it at that temperature for about 5 minutes. A spoonful on a cold saucer should form a crinkly skin after cooling for 5 minutes. If it doesn’t, then try simmering a few minutes more but you may have to settle for soft-set. Then switch off the heat, leave for 20 minutes, spoon the marmalade into hot sterilized jars, seal with a cellophane lid and rubber band and leave somewhere cool overnight to properly set to a jelly..
Other fruity little numbers:
Other fruits give curious flavours to marmalade, related but strangely different to the fresh fruit. Lemons taste of sherbert, navel oranges taste like caramel, and grapefruit has much more complexity. But they need a little help to set if they’re not young and almost straight from the tree. What I do is take a chopped Bramley apple and 500ml water, puree this in a blender, then add the strained liquid (but not the pulp) to the pot when I cook the fruit. The pectin contained in the apple will ensure a good set with even tricky fruit like navel oranges.
World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain: http://www.dalemainmarmaladeawards.co.uk