Preserving. It conjures up contradicting images of prettily labelled containers on checked tablecloths and body parts floating in rusty jars. Strange, I know. Aside from that it has been one aspect of cooking that I have always been apprehensive of. It is a tradition in our family to make some kind of jam – nectarine, mulberry and apple, apricot, mango, essentially whatever fruit is in abundance – each summer. But that is always a group effort and I am not responsible for coaxing it to the correct setting point, not burning the pot in the process and also not spilling it all over the kitchen table.
This summer I was determined to put my fears behind me and take the jump. I made blackberry jam. All. By. Myself. Surprisingly the process was glitch free – a major relief, as we had driven two hours on a near 40C day just to pick the berries ourselves!
I felt as though I had achieved something momentous, if I can make jam I can do anything, right?. So during the grocery shop last week I impulsively bought 3kg of Navel oranges. At the peak of their season, they were ridiculously cheap and I couldn’t resist the chance to prove my proficiency in jam making once again. Egotistical, moi?
Conversely, the overwhelming feeling that I had on completing the marmalade production was “if I ever decide to make marmalade again, I am crazy”. It took a solid four hours to make, my hands went all pruny from the juice and the smoke alarm started screeching. Twice. The second time around, I pulled it out from the socket and opened all the doors and windows, letting in the icy cold air from outside. Any notion I had of preserving being quaint was dispelled around the same time that my shriveled fingers began to go numb from the cold.
Have I well and truly put you off making marmalade yet? The end product actually turned out just fine. Bearing a slightly darker colour than most shop-bought marmalade and a beautiful piquant flavour, it converted someone who didn’t particularly like marmalade to one who ate a whole teaspoonful on it’s own. It does have a quite chunky texture, with a high percentage of rind, however I think that it only adds to the appeal!
Try it if you are game – this recipe uses Navels, however you could easily use Seville (the traditional orange to use) instead. Simply don’t add any pith to your muslin bag and replace half the lemons with more oranges, as they possess a higher pectin content.
Navel Orange Marmalade
Makes approximately 1 litre marmalade (I had five 200ml jars and about a tablespoon left over).
2kg Navel oranges (about 10)
2.1 litres boiling water
Muslin cloth or old pillowcase or stockings. I used part of a ripped up sheet – just sterilise it well with hot water first!
Sterilised glass jars
Preheat oven to 150C.
Wash oranges and lemons.
Top and tail the fruit. Remove rind from the fruit by peeling as thinly as possible (use a good quality vegetable peeler). You want as little pith on the rind as possible. Cut into very thin strips (julienne) with a large, sharp knife. Stack a few similar sized segments of rind on top of each other to speed up the process. Place strips in a very large saucepan or jam pot.
Remove the pith from the fruit using a downward cutting action (following the shape of the fruit) with a large sharp knife and place in a bowl.
Cut the fruit in half and use your fingers to pick out any of the ‘stem’ (looks like pith). If you come across any pips, reserve in a small pile. Place flat side down and thinly slice (about 3-5mm thick), producing semi-circle shaped slivers. Place in pot along with strips of zest.
Place pips and about half of the pith in the center of a piece of muslin cloth. Draw the corners together and secure with an elastic band. Place in the pot and cover with the boiling water. Turn the heat to high and boil furiously for 20 minutes, stirring regularly.
Meanwhile place the sugar in a baking tray and warm in the oven for about 20 minutes, being careful to not burn or caramelise it.
Add the sugar to the fruit mixture, stirring well and boil hard for another 45 minutes. Stir frequently and skim and scum (white bubbles) from the surface.
Place a small saucer in the freezer at the 30 minute mark. Remove lids from jars and place on a baking tray in the oven to warm.
After 45 minutes, take a small teaspoon of the fruit mixture (it should have reduced significantly and be quite syrupy) and place on the cold saucer. Place in the freezer for one minute then remove and gently push the marmalade with a finger. If the surface wrinkles it is done. If the mixture remains runny, add about 1 tablespoon of Jamsetta to the fruit mixture, stir well and cook for three minutes. Test the mixture again. Using a small jug or narrow serving spoon, dollop the marmalade into a jar, filling to about 1cm from the rim. Screw the lid on tightly and quickly flip over to create a seal. Repeat with remain jars.
Flip jars back over, wipe off any drips with a hot, damp cloth and leave to cool.
Source: Slightly adapted from my Aunt’s famed Seville Orange Marmalade.