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.