The new year brings in the grey, sharp months between Christmas and Easter once again. Then you catch a bug, and or, a cold and when you’re feeling ill but on the road to recovery, what to do? Make marmalade!
It was a family tradition that as a teenager I witnessed the passion and thoroughness of my father making marmalade, and my mother making jam. But it was the vast amounts of marmalade which looked like an assault course compared to anything else, it took days. We all helped: chopping, watching the stirring, the setting, then the waiting, all created in a large preserving pan and after all this, with warmed jars, wax lids and labels, we had enough marmalade to last us at least a year or two.
Some jars were a golden glossy jewel colour and others were darker and rather stiff to spread. The cupboards were stuffed with it. At the tender age of about 8, as I was a fussy eater, I even had my own special ‘no peel’ marmalade, my father was so keen to get me hooked.
So for the next few decades I decided I would bypass this palaver and be quite content with shop-bought quality marmalade. And so far, it’s not bad, but I knew it wasn’t to be compared to the sharp, bitter, memory of my childhood marmalade….was it really that complicated or necessary?
I was ill but groggy and on the mend and decided I needed to make something, so I embarked on studying the old recipe book, the dependable 1973 ‘Cookery Year’ Reader’s Digest, with many variations of the main Seville Orange recipe. ‘If I made it in a half batch’ I thought, ‘it wouldn’t be that hard, would it?’ So inspired by the ‘Marmalade Oranges‘ I had spotted in a box, (from Seville) in Waitrose, I embarked.
With a mere 5 oranges to peel, slice, gather pith, pips, and put into a muslin bag, boil together, it wasn’t too much bother. Although a fair bit more complicated than making blackberry jam. Nevertheless, it was a novelty….After a mere 40-50 minutes of simmering the various ingredients in different ways in a modest saucepan, boiling it altogether with the most obscene amount of (preserving) sugar I have ever used….much to my amazement the setting test worked on the cold plate and finally my golden jar of ‘breakfast wake up call marmalade’ was a reality!
Subsequent attempts produced good success, a third trial seemed to be rather runny, but I simply boiled everything for rather longer until the setting seemed adequate. I also discovered that, contrary to expectations, only my local Waitrose and one shop in West Kent, as well as ‘Fortnum and Mason’, had Seville oranges. So times have changed.
If ever anything brings the past back to life, it’s an old family recipe. There are of course masses of recipes to choose from. Apart from the older Reader’s Digest version, Delia Smith’s works very well and Fortnums looks promising. But of course it’s the unique taste is quite something, on toast with proper butter, it is special any time of day. So just try making one pot of marmalade and you’re hooked!