There cannot be many things that my husband and the society grand dames played by Maggie Smith have in common, but a lifelong passion for marmalade is surely one of them. In Gosford Park, Maggie Smith’s Countess of Trentham denounces those households shabby enough to serve shop-bought marmalade, and by series 2 of Downton Abbey, the Countess observes that marmalade cocktails are the fashionable drink-of-the-moment; a heady sign that the roaring twenties are on the horizon.
My husband prefers his marmalade on toast, preferably daily if not twice-daily. Like Paddington Bear, he feels somehow incomplete if he discovers himself to be in a marmalade-free environment, and when planning trips abroad will pat his pockets to check for marmalade in the way that other men check for wallets and boarding passes.
My Valentine’s gift to him this year, therefore, will be a year’s supply of marmalade, with personalised labels and even a few travel-sized jars of the exact proportions to fit in a pocket. An unusual present, perhaps, but one which I think will hit the mark. If you haven’t tried making marmalade, or perhaps haven’t yet even tasted marmalade (an acquired taste, many believe), it’s definitely worth a try. Here’s what you’ll need;
True British marmalade uses Seville oranges, a citrus fruit so bitter that were you to unwittingly suck on one your mouth would probably shrivel up with shock. Add 2 kilos of sugar however, and it becomes blissful. You can make marmalades with all kinds of different fruit – divine recipes abound on the internet – but classical marmalade requires a very bitter orange which is – appropriately enough – in season in the bitterest of winter months.
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients and a large pan, start by preparing the oranges…
Now comes the complicated part (though I managed it, so fear not..). Take out your muslin bag and give it a squeeze to release the final juices before you discard it. Now add the juice of your lemon, give it a stir and pour in all the sugar. Keep it on a low heat as the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil.
Place your jam jars in a hot oven to sterilise; they’ll need about 10mins, then switch off the heat and keep them in there until you are ready to pot up.
If any scum from escaped orange pulp surfaces, just skim it off as you go. If you have a jam thermometer, wait for the temperature to reach 104.5C/220 F – that’s your setting point and time to turn off the heat. If you don’t have a thermometer, place a plate in the fridge and then periodically – and carefully – spoon a small amount of the marmalade onto the chilled plate. When this wrinkles when touched lightly, you’ve reached setting point.
Once you’ve turned off the heat, leave the marmalade to cool for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to distribute the rind. If you pot it up straight away, the rind will all rise to the top of the jar; it won’t change the taste but aesthetically it looks a bit odd. Take your jars out of the oven and fill each one to just below the rim. It should look something like this;
Now place a wax paper disc on top of each before sealing quickly with a lid. Once the jam has cooled, you can have fun with decorative labels, tags and cloth covers. For my husband, I designed these simple ‘Man of the House’ labels, then cut a striped cloth disc to cover the metal lid, securing with a simple rubber band. I found some vintage silver teaspoons in our local charity shop, so I tied one of these to each jar, and then finally – given the Valentine’s theme – added a chalkboard heart peg to denote each month’s jar of marmalade.
It will be possibly the heaviest Valentine’s gift I’ve given him, but also one of the thriftiest, which is always handy so soon after the Christmas frenzy. If you try this do let me know how you get on, and if you’re an aficionado of jam and marmalade-making already, please do share any favourite tips or recipes; I’m a distinct amateur but can see this becoming quite a passion…
By the way; the vintage weighing scales I used for the first photo in this post were a recent find, buried in the depths of a local antiques mill; I found them in a roomful of period kitchenalia, from wooden butter pats to round wooden sieves and all sorts of mysterious turn-of-the-centry kitchen gadgetry that must have seemed cutting edge at the time.