Marmalade Marathon

What do you do on a drizzly and grey Sunday afternoon?  Make marmalade of course!!

In truth, the marmalade making marathon had been planned for weeks!  First of all there was the question of getting the Seville oranges.  This being the South of France they are not always easy to come by.  The Fete de la Bigarade in La Caunette, where I usually buy my Seville oranges, had unfortunately been cancelled this year.  I was bemoaning the demise of the fete with Valerie Tubeau (of Le Jardin de Valerie) a few weeks ago, when she offered to get some oranges for me via her wholesaler.  So I rashly said, “I’ll have six kilos then, please”, in French of course.  I wasn’t daunted when, a couple of weeks later, Valerie handed me a great big bag full of lovely orange globes.

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And so last Sunday I set to work!!  I have a tried and tested recipe which came from the “Constance Spry Cookery Book”, which I’ve used for the last 20 years or so.  It’s simplicity in itself and it works for me every time, without fail.  I don’t have the book to hand but the recipe goes something like this:  Pierce the washed oranges with a skewer and put into a large pan in a single layer.  Cover with water (they float, so I just put in enough water that they would be covered if they would not float) and bring to a boil.

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Simmer gently, with the lid on the pan, until the skin is soft enough for the head of a pin to be pushed into the orange without resistance (this takes about 1½ to 2 hours).

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Remove from the water and allow to cool, reserving the water.  When cool enough to handle, cut in half and remove the pips.  Put the pips into a basin.  Chop or shred the orange peel as you prefer and weigh the resulting mass (or mess :-));  add the fruit to your preserving pan.

Next measure the water you cooked your oranges in – the same amount cooking water as fruit, so if you added 500g fruit to your pan, you would add 500ml of cooking water. Add the sugar – double the weight of fruit, i.e. if you had 500g of fruit you would add 1000g of sugar.  Add lemon juice – for the above amounts I would use the juice of 1 lemon.  Lemon is very important as it helps the marmalade to set and will prevent the sugar from crystallising.

Finally tie the pips up in a muslin square and tie the resulting bag to the handle of your preserving pan, so that it can float in the marmalade yet be easily retrieved at the end.

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Now let the boiling begin!   Start slowly to allow the sugar to dissolve, then bring to a rapid boil, stirring with a long-handled wooden spoon.  I have a large wooden spoon which is used solely for jam and marmalade making.  While you wait for the marmalade to come to a boil, slip a small saucer into your freezer – you’ll need it later to test for the set.  Once the jam boils make sure you don’t get splattered as you stir – sugar burns can be very painful.  Keep the jam at a “rolling” boil  and start testing for a set after 5 minutes by drizzling a little of the syrup onto your cold saucer.   Leave to stand for a moment, then push the liquid/jelly with the tip of a finger.  If the surface wrinkles the marmalade will set.  The marmalade can take anything from 5 to 20 minutes of boiling to reach setting point.  I also use a sugar thermometer, and I would recommend that you use one if you can.  Most jams and jellies set at 105 degrees Centigrade / 220 degrees Fahrenheit, so I start testing once the boiling mass has reached that temperature.

Be sure that you have your clean jam jars ready and close to the cooker, and the jam funnel and a ladle to hand.  I use only twist off jars, and usually I have enough of the same kind for each batch of marmalade – I find them easier to store that way.  As soon as the marmalade has reached setting point, ladle it into your jars, and immediately put the lid on.  I keep my jam pan on a very low burner during the jar-filling process in order for the marmalade to stay hot to the end.  I used to turn the jars over, and leave them to cool that way, but I find that it’s not really necessary and only results in messy lids (or worse, the air gap at the bottom of the jar if the jam/marmalade sets well :-)).

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So there you are – that was the Constance Spry recipe!!  I ended up with 23 jars of marmalade from two batches.

Next up I made a recipe from a book called “Sensational Preserves” by Hilaire Walden:  Apple and Ginger Marmalade.  This recipe uses 225g Seville Oranges, 675g cooking apples, 1.6kg sugar, 2 teaspoons ground ginger and 115g preserved ginger.  I hadn’t planned all that well, I realised, because I’d forgotten the preserved ginger;  but I did have fresh ginger and decided to substitute that.

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The oranges were to be peeled and the peel finely shredded.  Being lazy I decided that I would let the food processor do the shredding, or rather the chopping in this case.  The orange flesh was chopped (by hand), with the pips being reserved and tied into a muslin bag with a length of string left to tie the bag to the handle of the pan.  Also into that pan went the chopped orange peel and flesh, the muslin bag, and 1.4lt of water and the whole was then simmered for 1 to 1½ hours until the peel was soft and pan contents reduced by half.

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Meanwhile the apples were peeled, cored and chopped and put into another pan with 150ml of water, and cooked for about 8 minutes until pulpy.  My apples were called Tentation, a beautifully fragrant apple, but not strictly speaking a cooking apple, so I mashed them up a bit at the end.  Once the orange peel is soft, the muslin bag is removed (squeeze well with the back of the spoon to extract all the pectin), the apple pulp is added, then the sugar, along with the ground and preserved ginger (fresh ginger for me this time), and the whole brought to a boil once more.  I also added the juice of one lemon, which was not called for in the recipe. The recipe indicates that it may take as long as 25 minutes of hard boiling to reach the setting point.  I made a double quantity of this recipe but only added one quantity of water and simmered the peel with the lid on.  My reasoning was that there is no point in boiling all the excess water off once the sugar is added.  The jam set beautifully and filled 10 jars.

This was a marathon, so we’re not at the finishing line yet!!  From the same book as the Apple and Ginger Marmalade I decided to try the recipe for Oxford Marmalade.  This recipe used 675g Seville oranges, 1.7lt boiling water and 1.4kg sugar.  The recipe called for the oranges to be peeled and the peel to be cut into chunky strips.  The flesh is to be chopped, with the pips reserved in a basin.  The pips are then covered with 300ml boiling water, and the chopped peel with the remaining boiling water, and both are left to stand  (covered) overnight.

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Next day the contents of the bowl with the pips are tipped into a sieve set over a bowl – all around the pips a jelly has formed, which is natural pectin.   Citrus pips have a particularly high pectin content, and the pectin helps jam and marmalade to set.

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The aim is to wash all the jelly from the pips, so the water from the bowl is poured over them several times, and then the pips are discarded.  The soaked peel and the pectin water go into the jam pan, and are simmered for 2 to 2½ hours – the longer the boiling the deeper the colour of the end result, said the recipe. Unfortunately, after that the instructions of the recipe became somewhat vague.  There was “top up with more water during boiling if necessary” – which made me wonder as to how much water was supposed to be left with the peel at the end of the boiling time.  Next the sugar is added and it said “boil gently until the desired colour is reached”, another question mark for me, I thought that the preliminary boiling time of the peel was influencing the colour of the marmalade.  Undeterred I brought the pan to a rolling boil and stirred and waited.  The indication was for 15 to 20 minutes of hard boiling to reach setting point.  It took a good 20 minutes before the thermometer reached 105 degrees, but even then the saucer test proved unsatisfactory.  I continued to boil for another five minutes, before I decided to stop and pot the jam – I was worried that it might turn into a nasty sticky mess, but as it turned out the marmalade set – a very soft set but still it set.  There is not a lot of fruit, but the colour is nice and dark – and the final proof will be in the eating.  I filled 14 jars with Oxford marmalade.

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Last up I made a recipe given to me by a friend and neighbour in St Chinian.  Margaret’s marmalade is always very nice and I thought I would give her recipe a try.  The recipe is for 700g of Seville oranges, 2.5lt water, juice of 1 lemon, and 2.5kg sugar.  The washed oranges are halved and squeezed to extract juice and pips.  The peel is chopped and put into a bowl, with the juice and the pips tied into a muslin bag.

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The whole is then covered with the water and left to stand for 24 to 48 hours, covered.  I used the food processor once more to chop the peel.  I remembered Margaret’s comment about enjoying more fruit in her marmalade, so I tweaked the recipe somewhat :-).  I doubled the quantity of oranges, but kept the rest of the recipe the same.  When ready to make the marmalade the soaked peel (with the muslin bag) is cooked for approx. 1½ hours until soft.  The muslin bag is squeezed, removed and discarded, and the sugar and lemon juice added. The boiling to setting point took a bit more than 10 minutes and the marmalade is a lovely golden colour!  This recipe filled 12 jars.

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And that is the end of the Marmalade Marathon – I think I’ll have enough marmalade to last the next couple of years, don’t you??   There’s nothing nicer on hot buttered toast than some good marmalade!

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Oranges and Lemons

You wouldn’t really know from looking at these photographs, but the weather last Saturday was particularly cold and windy.  I braved it to go to La Caunette for the Fete de la Bigarade, an annual event which always happens towards the end of February.P1010375

The Fete de la Bigarade takes place over two days, and for me there are always plenty of reasons to go:  Pepinieres Baches from Eus have a huge stand selling all kinds of wonderful citrus trees AND Seville oranges for making marmalade.

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This year I treated myself to a Kaffir Lime tree, whose wonderfully fragrant fruit and leaves are a “must have” ingredient for a Thai green curry.  Try it if you can get some fresh leaves!  There are so many different citrus trees and it’s all very tempting, especially when they have all the various citrus fruits laid out for inspection.

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There certainly is variety, and if I had more space in the garden and perhaps a greenhouse I would try some of the more tender varieties.  As it is I will have to make sure that I bring the Kaffir Lime tree inside before the first frost.  Another reason to go to this fete is that there are lots of other interesting plants, many of them from specialist nurseries, which come from far and wide.

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A lot of these plants are hardier than we imagine, and tolerate frost pretty well.

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I was very intrigued by the aloes, but could not think where I would put them without giving up something else in my garden.  Several of the exhibitors had their stands outdoors, among them my friend Gill from La Petite Pepiniere de Caunes, where I can always find something interesting – another reason for the visit.  Other exhibitors are located in one of the tents – Valerie Tubau from Le Jardin de Valerie in Agel was one of the lucky ones.  She was selling her new range of marmalade along with her regular preserves and jellies.  Her lemon marmalade is sensational and you can find her at St Chinian market every Sunday!

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This Clivia was found in another tent – I love the flowers but have not been very lucky growing this plant. Close by was a stand selling nothing but mimosas, and at another stand I found the beautiful Equisetum.  In the tent next door was a stand by Boulangerie Patisserie Claude Coussy from St Marcel sur Aude – they had some delicious crunchy cookies, which were orange flavoured.

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The fete takes place in and around the village hall in La Caunette, and in the hall there were several more stands, including a wonderfully colourful display of orchids,

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a stand selling all things saffron (Daniel Cazanave from Soual in the Tarn), among them this wonderful looking saffron syrup,

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and then there was chocolate!!  Emmanuel Servant of Douceurs d’Oc had brought along some great things.  Emmanuel is based in Marseillan (home of Noilly Prat – that’ll be in another post some time!) and produces wonderful hand-made chocolates.  He had some gorgeous looking (and tasting) chocolates involving oranges!

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And the pistachio cakes were great too!  Of course I also  came away with a bag of Seville oranges, which I’ll use to make a Seville orange tart, and my take on key lime pie, using Seville oranges instead of the limes.  No marmalade this year!  Oh, and somewhere I have a recipe for a Seville orange rice brulee, which is divine!  I can just see that this could be devastating to the waistline 🙂

This year I gave the lunchtime meal in the village hall a miss – it’s usually good fun and the menu looked great, but I’d arranged to see friends in La Caunette for lunch, so perhaps another year?