Scraping a zester across the dimpled skin of an orange or hovering a split lemon very close to your nostrils and inhaling against the damp is the equivalent of culinary angel dust in winter. Not only can they literally boost mood by raising serotonin levels, but citrus fruits are the earthly embodiment of the Mediterranean sun; bright plump orbs filled with a promise of sustained sunshine in the tunnel of winter.
There is no better way of duping the senses on a rainy Sunday afternoon than by plopping a few oranges, grapefruits and a lemon into a pan of simmering water for a few hours, chop up when soft, stir in twice the amount of sugar (off the heat according to my mother) and boil it up until setting point. The only real messy part is bottling it up and gifting it without sticky fingers.
Not only do you have the satisfaction of jars filled with the promise of summer to come, but smug access to a whole range of marmalade puddings and cakes that will taste all the better for using homemade.
I used Jane Grigson’s recipe for marmalade in her Fruit Book – simply because I am lazy. Instead of doing all the cutting and shredding when the fruit is hard – you boil them until the skin is soft then cool and shred which means much less effort. Instead of being a purist and using just oranges – I added a grapefruit and a lemon (the lemon is good for adding in more natural pectin).
Scrub one and a half kilos of citrus fruits and put them in a pan with three and a half litres of water. Simmer until skin is tender, normally about one and a half hours.
Remove the oranges from the water, cool, halve and remove any pips (I didn’t have any). Put the pips in a piece of muslin. Cut up the orange flesh into thin shreds (thickness depends on personal preference) and return to the water. Add 3 kg of white granulated sugar off the heat, stirring until it has all dissolved and return to the heat.
Hang the little bag of pips over the side of the pan if you have them so they release their pectin. Bring to the boil and boil vigorously until setting point is reached. Test for setting by placing a tiny spoonful of syrup on a cold saucer and putting it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes. If setting point is reached a wrinkled skin will form.
Leave the marmalade to stand for 15 minutes to allow the peel to settle, remove the bag of pips and discard, then pot the warm marmalade into warm sterilised jars and cover. The bitter tang will fill your kitchen and you will begin to have marmalade with everything – in bacon sandwiches, with cheese, in yoghurt, neat from a spoon; domestic bliss from which it will be difficult to return for the less aromatic supermarket versions.
Once you are bored of snorting the glistening orange stuff straight– move on to puddings. Nigella’s Marmalade Pudding Cake is straightforward and delicious with custard – although I doubled up on the glaze to make it even stickier. Dan Lepard’s Marmalade and Treacle Puddings, which he recommends making in old teacups, are even more delicious not to mention quirky.
If you think you’ve got what it takes then enter yourself into the World’s Original Marmalade awards and National Marmalade Week is 2 – 9 March. For more on preserving, especially courses in Cornwall by River Cottage’s Pam Corbin and Liz Neville, then go to tresillianhouse.co.uk and read a review here as well as more recipes.