Monday, 19 March 2012

The Last of the Sevilles

The Last of the Sevilles

As I embark on my last batch of Seville marmalade of the year, I realise that I’m testing the limits of science. My oranges were bought at the end of February, so have less pectin than the first fruit of the year because the pectin levels diminish throughout the season. To compound the problem, I had to freeze them to stop them going off, which I’m told reduces the pectin even further.

Even if I had started making marmalade in January, as I should have done, I still wouldn’t be using the most pectin-rich oranges of the year, as the Seville orange season now starts in December – it’s been creeping forward for some time. But as far as I’ve noticed, the shops generally don’t stock Sevilles in December, presumably because no one has time to make marmalade before Christmas. (Though if you can find the time, it makes a whole batch of useful gifts for those tricky recipients – work colleagues, distant relatives, schoolteachers etc. And you’re in the house anyway for hours on end, waiting for the various delivery companies to arrive bearing gifts during their specified window of 7am to midnight, so you may as well use the time wisely.)

As it’s clear that I’m making marmalade with geriatric Sevilles, I may have to do something about this pectin issue. One bit of advice (from Pam ‘The Jam’ Corbin, advising at last month’s Marmalade Awards) was that I could try adding an extra lemon and/or a grated cooking apple to my mixture, which will add acidity and pectin respectively, both of which help the marmalade to set. So not only will it set faster and therefore avoid my crime of over-boiling, but also it will offer a pectin boost to my wilting oranges.

I'm also told by the lovely Dan Lepard, who I stalk at a press event so that I can pick his brains about marmalade, that if I use too much sugar it can affect the set. I quiz him about sensible proportions to try (he once used 600g sugar to 1kg of oranges, but warned that it was an extreme experiment and very bitter) and head back to the kitchen to work out a formula.

So, armed with Dan’s advice, a cooking apple, an extra lemon and a jam thermometer and all I have learned so far from Jane Grigson, Delia and my mother, I will have another go. This is marmalade by committee – but a fine committee, so I expect great things.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Surreal Marmalade

Surreal Marmalade

One of the pleasures of writing about marmalade is that it often takes one in quite unexpected directions. For example, while idly trawling the internet recently for quotes about marmalade, I came across an intriguing snippet involving Chinese carpets, a theory of inanimate objects and a man named Clark-Trimble. 

The quote was by humorist Paul Jennings and it went like this:

‘When numbered pieces of toast and marmalade were dropped on various samples of carpet arranged in quality, from coir matting to the finest Kirman rugs, the marmalade-downwards-incidence (µ∂I) varied indirectly with the quality of the carpet (Qc) – the Principle of the Graduated Hostility of Things.’

I was intrigued. What on earth was the context? And what is the Principle of the Graduated Hostility of Things? I continued searching, assuming that it was just a piece of nonsense – but then I saw it quoted in a proper academic essay by Daniel Chandler, entitled 'Technological Determinism'.

Curiouser and curiouser. I read on.

In the essay, Chandler is discussing Technological Animism (stay with me, it gets funnier) as the basis for a philosophy called Resistentialism, summed up as ‘Les choses sont contre nous’ – Things Are Against Us. The essay then refers, quite seriously, to the Clark-Trimble experiments of 1935, in which (and here’s where the Chinese carpets come in) Clark-Trimble investigates his theory that the world’s inanimate objects are engaged in a war against its human occupants.

I’m now completely gripped, though rather feel as if I have wandered into a Douglas Adams novel.

The essay runs thus: 
‘During some research into the relation between periods of the day and human bad temper, Clark-Trimble, a leading Cambridge psychologist, came to the conclusion that low human dynamics in the early morning could not sufficiently explain the apparent Hostility of Things at the breakfast table – the way honey gets between the fingers, the unfoldability of newspapers, etc.

‘In the experiments which finally confirmed him in this view, and which he demonstrated before the Royal Society in London, Clark-Trimble arranged 400 pieces of carpet in ascending degrees of quality, from coarse matting to priceless Chinese silk. Pieces of toast and marmalade, graded, weighed and measured, were then dropped on each piece of carpet, and the marmalade-downwards incidence was statistically analyzed. The toast fell right-side-up every time on the cheap carpet, except when the cheap carpet was screened from the rest (in which case the toast didn't know that Clark-Trimble had other and better carpets), and it fell marmalade-downwards every time on the Chinese silk…

‘The success of these experiments naturally switched Clark-Trimble's attention to further research on resistentia, a fact which was directly responsible for the tragic and sudden end to his career when he trod on a garden rake at the Cambridge School of Agronomy.’

That final sentence rather gives the game away; and Chandler then admits; ‘Resistentialism was actually dreamt up by the humorist Paul Jennings in 1948, but it is one of those schools of thought which ought to exist, and which in our most technologically frustrating moments we devoutly believe to be true.’

The whole of Jennings’s essay is in Dwight Macdonald's book, Parodies; and for the whole of Chandler’s essay, which includes an explanation of why a photocopier knows what you’re thinking, click here. (I’m including the link to give it full credit, in the hope that no one will mind my pilfering this long extract for your amusement.)

The main benefit of discovering this delightful piece of work is that when I next see a piece of toast heading for the floor, marmalade-side down, I can say, wisely, ‘Ah ha! Clark-Trimble was right! Les choses sont contre nous!’ to general admiration.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Invention of Marmalade

The Invention of Marmalade

Discussing marmalade (again) with a friend, and he asks The Big Question, which is, of course, ‘Who invented marmalade?’

I thought I knew the answer, but after stumbling through something about Portugal and quinces and an alleged shipwreck of Sevilles in Scotland, I realised I still wasn’t sure. So I went back to my most reliable source – The Book of Marmalade by C. Anne Wilson – and tried again.

It’s a long story, but I can confidently report that the answer is: We don’t really know.

The thing about recipes is that it can be hard to pinpoint exactly who invented what. Plenty of people made things without writing them down, obviously, and even when recipes were written down, it was usually only in each cook’s personal ‘receipt book’, many of which haven't survived for us to see, thus confusing the historical record. And even then, the writer wouldn't necessarily say where the recipe came from. So when a Seville orange preserve pops up in an ancient printed or handwritten book, it can be hard to know the true origins of the recipe; was it invented, adapted or just plain copied? 

What’s clear is that marmalade has had a long evolution, from Greek and Roman medicinal quince sweetmeats to the Seville orange marmalade that we know today. When I’ve reduced those few thousand years to a couple of sentences, I will report back.

Marmalade in the News
In an earlier post, I mentioned the fact that men are quite keen marmalade-makers, possibly because it involves very large cooking pots. But this letter to the Daily Telegraph in August 2010 suggests that there may be other reasons.

‘SIR – My husband of 27 years has been making the marmalade ever since we married. Upon being asked when he started making marmalade, his reply was: “When I discovered that my wife didn’t.” '

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Marmalade Helpline

Marmalade Conversations
Have lunch with a marmalade-making friend; I take a jar of Batch Two as a gift and make him admire the hand-cut peel. He later emails me to tell me that he started an office discussion about marmalade after our lunch, and found that there is an insect called a marmalade hoverfly. But his colleague misheard and said ‘Marmalade Helpline? Is there such a thing?’

Which is a rather nice idea. Run by the WI, of course.

I planned to ignore such non-edible distractions on this site, but can’t resist looking up the hoverfly and it is, in fact, rather beautiful, with black markings that look like a selection of false moustaches. As you'll see if you click here.

And, once more, I am delighted that people talk about marmalade at work.

The Britishness of Marmalade
One thing that interests me about marmalade is how it has become a symbol of Britishness, an essential foodstuff without which the country’s morale would surely collapse. As we didn’t invent it and it’s not even made with a native crop, I’m not sure why this is. But it has become so; and this blog will frequently present evidence that this is the case.

For example, last year the Radio Times printed a diary written by actor Ben Miller, who had moved to Guadeloupe for six months to film the wonderful ‘Death in Paradise’ for BBC1. I particularly liked this entry:

‘15 August 2011: What I really miss are the most clichéd things about England. Things I don’t even generally care about when I’m in England. I have started fantasising about marmalade. They have orange jam here, which is really not the same. I have invited a friend out. I have pretended I want to see him, but really I just want him to bring some marmalade. I hope he doesn’t read this.’

Note to Ben Miller: if you ever go back and make Series 2, I promise to send you at least one jar of marmalade for moral support. In fact, could you write it into the script? Although then your character might cheer up a bit, which would never do.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Making Marmalade 2: Jane & Delia

Making Marmalade: Jane & Delia

‘I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.’
D H Lawrence

As this is National Marmalade Week, this is clearly a good time to crack the perfect marmalade recipe.

Since Batch One, I’ve had two more attempts: Jane Grigson’s recipe from English Food and a Delia Smith recipe with variations.

Jane Grigson’s recipe uses 3lbs oranges, 6lbs sugar (lord help us) and 6 pints of water, which looks rather a lot of water at first. But this batch is twice the size of my first one, so – courage. I boil the oranges for the required 1 1/2 hours then break off till the evening to finish it off. The cooked oranges sit in a bowl, quietly collapsing. Several recipes tell you to cut up the oranges first, but I can’t imagine why – the cooked oranges are as soft as butter and much easier to cut.

The finished marmalade is pretty good; lighter than Batch One and not as strong and a really beautiful, deep golden colour. But still quite intense and syrupy, so clearly I haven’t sorted the over-boiling thing.

Delia Smith’s recipe suggested cooking the mixture slowly for 2 1/2 hrs to get a dark, thick vintage-style marmalade. Which sounds tremendous, but I need a lighter style for proper comparison, so I cooked it for the usual 20 minutes, which was fine. I also took out two Sevilles and replaced them with sweet oranges, just to see what would happen.

Delia has an interesting method of removing all the pips and pith, putting them in a saucepan with some of the boiling liquid, cooking them for 10 minutes, straining it all through some muslin back into the cooking liquid, then discarding the muslin bag and letting the whole thing sit overnight.

This tasted tremendous when warm, with a distinct aftertaste of sweet oranges. That sadly faded when it cooled, but it’s still quite a good marmalade. But it’s not that different from Batches One and Two – and still syrupy (all of which, I add hastily, is clearly the fault of the cook, not the recipe).

I am aware that this is starting to sound a bit geeky, and will reassure you that my aim is to simplify the recipe, not complicate it with 79 fiddlesome technicalities and variations. I will find the perfect recipe sooner or later, so if that’s what you’re hoping for, just skip these bits and wait for a post entitled The Perfect Marmalade Recipe; it will come, I promise. Eventually. 

I had to pot Delia-with-Variations in a hurry while it was still very hot, which meant that all the peel floated to the tops of the jars; so I turned them upside-down and instructed G to invert them in about half an hour, hoping it would even out. This worked, though he did admit that quite a bit of shaking was involved. But the peel was evenly distributed, just as it should be. Crisis averted.

I know that you are supposed to pot it hot, to sterilise the lids and ensure that it doesn’t go mouldy, so I was a bit puzzled; but have since read that if your marmalade is the right consistency, the peel doesn’t float. So more work needed there. And I really need to get a jam funnel. Trying to pour hot, sticky marmalade into small-necked jars in a tearing hurry while dressed in smart work clothes is not to be recommended. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A King's Breakfast

Marmalade on Film
I waste quite a bit of time on the internet trying to establish exactly what Maggie Smith said about marmalade in Gosford Park.

There is a bit of business with one of the servants, who looks anxious and says ‘Does she have to have marmalade? Only Dorothy made too little of it last January and we’ve run out of the homemade. I don’t suppose she’d care for strawberry jam instead?’ Then cut to Maggie Smith playing the Countess of Trentham, saying sniffily to her breakfast tray: ‘Oh dear. Bought marmalade? Dear me, I call that very feeble.’

In those days, the well-heeled (i.e. those who had their own cooks) used ‘bought’ marmalade only when the homemade stocks ran out. For the likes of a countess, buying it ready-made was rather a non-U thing to do. Had the Countess been able to see a few years into the future, she’d have been horrified to see Edward VIII asking Fortnum’s to send marmalade and kippers to Paris for his wedding breakfast in 1936. A little taste of home for the recently exiled, perhaps.

Marmalade in Verse
And all of that reminds me of The King’s Breakfast by A A Milne, which, despite being anti-marmalade, is so nostalgic and pleasantly silly that I have to include it here. Click the link and enjoy.

Proof that everyone has something to say about marmalade no. 3
Brief chat with two friends in the café; I tell them I’m blogging about marmalade because it’s so easy to get people to talk about it. Is it really? they say, then talk about it for a good 20 minutes.

Tamsin starts things off by saying she saw a promising jar of marmalade in the local delicatessen, ‘but I couldn’t buy it, because I didn’t like the label. It was just awful.’ Marmalade-sellers beware – you are judged by your covers (and a lot of them are awful).

She adds that she used to put marmalade on her fish fingers at breakfast at boarding school. I am mostly horrified that they had fish fingers for breakfast. Then again, I did once read that the aforementioned Edward VIII ate his breakfast kippers with a dab of marmalade – it was in the papers, so it must be true – so she and her schoolmates might have been on to something.

Kirsten counters that with her favourite snack: Marmite and marmalade on toast. Together.  Marmite and honey I can recommend; but marmalade? (Of course, now that she’s put it into my head, I have to try it. But I may have to build up to it.)

Another 20 minutes of my life spent happily discussing marmalade.