Late January means one thing to lovers of home made marmalade - Seville season. The sour, pippy fruits that make such delightful breakfast fare are around for such a short time that one must snap them up the moment one sees them. So like so many other marmalade fiends I am currently overseeing a bubbling pan of peel and filling the house with wonderful citrus oil steam. I am taking advantage of the hour and half needed to get the peel really soft to write this up but when I add the sugar I will be giving the pan my full attention.
Marmalade makers can be divided into two camps - boilers and choppers. Some boil the fruit whole and then slice while others slice first, soak then boil. It depends what kind of marmalade you like I think the initial slicing results in a fresher tasting, lighter conserve. Actually now I think about it, it might be three camps if you count the hand chopping versus food processor debate. I cut my peel by hand it takes time but good marmalade is worth it and gives you greater control over the size of peel in your marmalade.
I always make sure to buy twice as many marmalade oranges as I need. They freeze beautifully and by June when I have run out of marmalade I boil them up whole up and make another batch (the peel goes a bit spongy making it harder to chop). This means that by the end of the year I am a member of both the boiler and slicer camps. Tonight I am chopping, boiling, pouring, skimming, testing and praying it will turn out to be a clear, wobbly jelly. It may sound strange but spending a few hours in a warm, steamy kitchen listening to Edith Wharton's The Custom of The Country on Radio 4 is one of the most delightful evenings I can imagine. Will my marmalade set? You will have to wait til tomorrow to find out.
Well I don't like to boast but my marmalade has set beautifully, a glorious amber with the slices suspended as if by magic with a lightly wobbling jelly. I won't give you a recipe as everyone has their own, I use Marguerite Patten's Sweet Seville Marmalade recipe in her fantastic book on preserving (part of Grub Street's excellent The Basic Basics series). My only advice would be boil hard, use a thermometer and test early, my marmalade reached its setting point at just 17 minutes (once past the setting point it will never set no matter how long you boil it).