Tuesday, 13 May 2014

In the present political climate, Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

What with Russia annexing Ukrania piecemeal, so-called Muslims abducting schoolgirls, the UN reporting that torture is as prevalent as ever, and the British electorate (the white bit anyway) openly declaring its ugly xenophobia, now seems a good time to tell you my easy recipe for Seville orange marmalade. Actually I should have told you earlier as, here at least, the Seville orange season is coming to an end.

First steal some Seville oranges. (Easy in Greece as most Greeks consider them useless and inedible, and let them rot and fall off the trees.) Weigh them, entire as they are, and make a note of the total weight. Cut them up into little pieces — thin slivers or fat chunks, according to how you like your marmalade — and tip them — peel, flesh, pith, juice, pips and all — into a plenty big enough pan. Add just a little water — just enough to stop it burning — burning is the bugbear in marmalade making — and put it on the gas or electric ring. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, then reduce the heat and keep cooking (and stirring!) until the pieces of skin are at least partially softened, or al dente, or however you like it. (Scoop a bit out and try it if you can stand the bitterness).

Take the pan off the heat and add the same weight of sugar as the original weight of the oranges. (You made a note, remember?) Ordinary white granulated sugar, don’t be fooled into buying ‘special preserving sugar’ or whatnot. Now go away and do something else for a while; until tomorrow if you like.

When you come back, it is important to have all the utensils you need ready to hand, as if you turn your back on cooking marmalade for a second it will stick to the bottom of the pan, burn, and be ruined with a vile acrid taste. So ignore visitors, ringing telephones etc. You will need: a wooden chopping board, such as the one you used for cutting up the oranges. Your wooden spoon. Enough jars, with tightly fitting lids. A dinner plate. A ladle, preferably one with a little spouty bit. A thick cloth. A teaspoon. Take the lids off the jars and put them in a row so as to get the right lid on the right jar later. Put the jars in a corresponding row on the wooden chopping-board. (This latter is to lessen the possibly glass-cracking thermal shock when you ladle in the hot marmalade.) .

Now relight the gas and bring the mix to the boil, stirring continuously with your wooden spoon. When it’s boiling turn the heat down, and use the teaspoon to take a drop or two out of the pan and put it on the plate. Leave this drop a minute or two to cool, (Don’t stop stirring the pan), then tilt the plate. If the drop runs down, you need to boil the mix some more. Keep doing this test until the drop stays where it is or only slides down very slowly. The marmalade is now ready, but keep stirring, and at the same time (some dexterity needed) use the ladle to scoop out just a little marmalade and try to get it into one of the jars. Then a little scoop into the next jar and so on. Fill the jars slowly, going along the row one by one and then back again, and not completely filling one jar and then the next, (thermal shock, remember.) when a jar is fullish, grasp it firmly with the cloth (it will be very hot) and screw the lid on quickly, so as to create a partial vacuum as it cools, so the marmalade will keep until opening and not go mouldy. As the pan approaches emptiness turn the heat off.

When all the jars are full and their lids on, put pan and ladle and wooden spoon and plate and teaspoon in the sink to soak. Leave the full jars on the wooden board for a couple of hours to cool; then you can wash their outsides as you will inevitably have dribbled some marmalade down the sides.

Note that this marmalade contains all the orange including the pips. They are quite edible and part of the ‘real marmalade experience’. It is a myth, perpetuated by old-fashioned prep-school matrons, that eating orange pips causes appendicitis.

It is an unsolved mystery of marmalade making that one kilo of oranges plus one kilo of sugar does not, in spite of there being very little evaporation, equate to two kilos of marmalade, in fact it comes out to little more than one kilo.    

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