Oranges are the only fruit…

To make proper Seville marmalade you need proper Seville oranges. These are only available in the shops here for a short time, usually around the latter part of January. This year I got a phone call from the local grocers to tell me that the oranges had arrived in the first week of January and hot footed it up to buy some. Glorious bumpy skinned, sunshine bright oranges were heaped up in very attractive wooden crates, I couldn’t wait to buy some and bring them home. Despite the problems with the electricity last week I managed to make eight jars of dark amber marmalade last week and made eight more today. The recipe is a mixture of ones I have read plus memories of my mother’s marmalade making. Mum wasn’t a great cook, she made good plain food with a fairly limitied list of ingredients. She was however a very good baker of Victoria sponges, Dundee cakes and scones and an excellent jam and marmalade maker. Her recipe for marmalade has long been lost but I can remember bits of it. I know it began with two pounds of Seville oranges which invariably rolled off the scales onto the floor to be chased by our little Border Terrier, Sheena Bhan, who was in her turn chased round the kitchen by my Mum! Looking at my recipe books I can see that 2 pounds of oranges need 4pounds of sugar but I do remember that Mum always used four ounces less and made up the rest with four caddy spoons of dark treacle. The caddy spoon was the spoon in the tea caddy used to measure tea into a pot (no tea bags in our house) and was roughly the size of a tablespoon with a very ornate teapot as a handle. Sadly it too has been lost but a plastic tablespoon sufficed. Mum used to mince the orange peels in her green enamel mincer but I find cutting them with scissors gives a more even size and retains the chunky texture better. I’m also a bit wary of using the mincer -imagining my fingers getting minced along with the peels.The only other ingredients were water and the juice of a lemon. The method involved three stages. First cut the lemon into eight wedges cutting vertically, leaving both pips and peel in place. These lemon slices go into a small pan with half a pint of water and all the pips from the oranges and are boiled for about ten minutes. The liquid is drained off into a preserving pan and the lemon slices and pips are put into a muslin bag. Meanwhile the oranges, which have also been sliced into eight vertically and had the pips removed earlier, have the flesh and pith removed and cut into small pieces. This goes into the preserving pan along with 3 and a half pints of water and all the orange peel cut into slivers. I cut mine approximately half an inch long by an eigth of an inch wide. The muslin bag is added to the pan which is brought to a simmer on top of the cooker, then put into the Everhot warming oven at 150degrees for about three hours. After this time the orange peels should be soft and almost translucent.  The muslin bag is removed and left to cool. At this point I add the sugar and treacle, I don’t warm it as it will start to dissolve while I deal with the muslin bag. Once that is cool enough to handle it is squeezed out so that all the pectin from the lemon peel and pips is removed. This is a sticky liquid which is added to the preserving pan to help the marmalade set. The pan is put onto the top of the stove on the simmering plate and stirred until all the sugar is dissolved completely before being moved to the boiling plate. The clean jars are put in the warming oven to sterilise while the marmalade is boiled. Once it reaches a rolling boil it usually takes about 15 minutes to reach setting point.The warmed jars are taken out of the oven and the pan is taken off the cooker and left for ten minutes to allow the peel to disperse into the marmalade and not rise to the top. Then it is ladled into the warm jars and the lids are put on while it is hot.The smell of the marmalade with its treacle undertone is such a lovely rich smell which brings back memories of the kitchen when we lived in Beech Hurst, a beautiful flat in a Victorian house with a red lino floor in the kitchen and a big cream AGA cooker. My father was in hospital and my Mum did a lot of marmalade and jam cooking, presumably to keep herself  from worrying about him. When he died and we had to leave the flat (it belonged to his employers) I do remember her packing boxes and boxes of jars which almost filled the larder at our next, much smaller, home.

The marmalade making today was complicated by the fitting of the wood burning stove in the sitting room. Poor Tilly is anxious at the best of times but took a particular dislike to the workmen today and was even more worried than usual so paced and whimpered much of the time until I was trying to stir the marmalade as it boiled when she decided she needed to be very close to me. Stirring boiling and spitting hot marmalade with a large dog curled up at your feet is not ideal but it did calm her down! The cream door her head is resting on is the warming oven door. I was very worried she would end up with hot drips landing on her but she survived unscathed.The wood burning fire is now fitted but we have to wait 24 hours before it can be used to allow everything to set and settle in place. The weather forecast is threatening a return to wintry weather so it will be ready just at the right time and we are looking forward to cosy evenings by the fire.

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