Monday, 19 January 2015

Marmalade Secrets

Marmalade Secrets

So, that didn't work very well.

I tried this recipe, by a very respectable food writer, but I had a sense of deja-vu as I watched the pot boil... and boil... and boil... but not set. It was how my marmalade went the first few times I made it – lots of boiling, slow to set and a rather syrupy result.

So what went wrong? I am reluctant to blame the recipe, as it may have been something I did (like workmen not blaming their tools, it's best not to blame someone else's recipe). Although I did notice that it doesn't have any lemons in it, which is unusual – lemons are high in pectin, and every other recipe I've used does include lemon juice or pips or both. So that might have helped.

But it might also be the fault of the oranges. I made my first batch with lovely, petite, smooth-skinned oranges from my local wholefood shop, Earth. But the second batch was made with oranges from Sainsbury's, which were very much the Ugly Sisters to my original oranges. See?

The ones on the left are from the supermarket; the elegant little orange on the right is from Ave Maria, which (I now discover) is the place to buy your Sevilles, as it is a renowned organic farm selling very high-quality oranges. So I feel very fortunate that they've found their way to Kentish Town. The peel on the Sainsbury's oranges was pale orange with green patches, and so thick and lumpy that, as I was slicing it tonight for Batch 3, I discarded some of it, as it was spoiling the overall look. I'm beginning to think that they weren't actually ripe, which would mean not enough pectin. Hmm.

However, despite blaming the oranges, I've decided that any recipe worth its salt requires that the pips be soaked first rather than cooked first, as that's what seems to work – so I'm sticking to that kind of recipe from now on.

As usual, the original question – what's wrong with my marmalade? – has led me down several interesting paths. After writing Tuesday's post, I ended up buying a biography of Constance Spry; this time, I found an account of a visit to the Ave Maria farm and watched a video on the science of making marmalade, including some lovely pictures of Seville's orange trees. Both of these were on the website of marmalade expert Vivien Lloyd and are worth a few minutes of your time as you wait for your marmalade to boil. And while Seville's street oranges may not be the finest raw ingredients, I loved the image of abundant oranges growing on every corner, just waiting to be marmaladed.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Dan Lepard's Marvellous Marmalade

Dan Lepard's Marvellous Marmalade

Well, that was easy. I made this recipe a couple of days ago and it is just The Business; it tastes superb, it set beautifully and, despite my anticipated laziness, it's no more of a faff than my usual recipe. I could see it was jellifying even while I was pouring the ingredients together. It didn't even have to reach the required 105C (unless my thermometer wasn't working) – it was about 103C but already setting like mad after less than 15 minutes' boiling.

The end result (labels designed by 6-year-old Jack)

In fact, this was such a resounding success that that I'm tempted to call off my intended search and declare this the winner. But for the sake of thoroughness, I'll try a few more methods, just to see what happens.

I'm also going to add Constance Spry to my testing list. G was making her Potage Palestine for supper, so I was leafing through her epic cookbook while I waited for my food, and found two marmalade recipes, both of which, intriguingly, seem to have been provided by men: 'Orange Marmalade (Mr Ringrose's)' and 'Orange Marmalade (Colonel Gore's)'.

It shows how the writing of cookbooks has changed; today there would be a long and effusive explanation of who these men were and how she came by their recipes; but here, nothing, which is far more fascinating. I decided to investigate and became even more fascinated;  and ended up ordering her biography, promisingly entitled The Surprising Life of Constance Spry, which may or may not furnish an explanation. I will report back.

Monday, 12 January 2015

January! At Last!

January! At Last!

Hooray! January is here, the Sevilles are in and at last I can refill the pantry with marmalade. We ran out in late October and have been surviving on shop-bought marmalade ever since, which is rather painful for a marmalade addict like myself. Even the good stuff is just too sweet and bland. No bitterness, no bite, no jarringly acid edge. It's just not bracing enough.

After a disappointing score (15/10, ahem, shows what I know) at the World Marmalade Awards for last year's efforts, I must pull up my socks and find a more reliable recipe. I like the flavour of mine, very sharp and rich and intense, but it rarely sets properly. By the time I get halfway through the jar, I can pretty much pour it on to my toast. So after a bit of research, I've decided to test a couple of recipes that Google seems to think are popular: one by Dan Lepard and another by Thane Prince, both trustworthy names but with slightly different ingredients and methods.

Just for good measure, I'm also going to try an Aga recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis (I don't have an Aga, but my friends Tim and Tor do, so I shall test it there and leave some behind as payment. Might have to leave several jars, as the thing costs a fortune to run, like sending ten-pound notes straight up the flue, Tim says).

So - first off is this recipe from Dan Lepard, who I met at the Marmalade Awards last year; he strikes me as a very painstaking sort of person when it comes to perfecting a recipe, and he is very keen on his marmalade, so I am sure it's going to work. However, his method requires you to juice the oranges and slice up the peel first, rather than boil them whole and cut them up when they're nice and soft, as I usually do; so as I'm very lazy, it may not be for me. But it also requires you to measure the liquid halfway through and match it to the weight of oranges, which is what many of the experts seem to do. So that may be the trick. We'll see.

John Aglionby and Dan Lepard judging artisan marmalades
at the 2014 World Marmalade Awards

P.S. Since the last annual marmalade fest, I've also produced another baby, who has just started to eat proper food. Having failed to instil a love of marmalade into my 7-year-old son (he is a honey-and-peanut-butter man), I'm going to get it right this time. So despite generally avoiding sugar and citrus, I did give her a tiny dab of marmalade yesterday. She licked at it and gave me a bit of a puzzled look. And then she stuck her tongue out for more. Yay! (If any health visitors are reading this, yes I know, but it was just a lick, the rest is all mashed avocado and organic yogurt.)