January and February is citrus season and the timing is perfect to bring Mediterranean sunshine into our northern kitchens at the gloomiest time of year. Time to enjoy the the taste and colours of the ever-growing variety of brightly coloured citrus fruits that miraculously appear in our shops. And that includes Seville oranges, which can mean only one thing – Seville Orange marmalade.
As well as being the classic preserve of choice for your toast and delicious on all manner of toasted breads and buns, bright and golden orange marmalade makes a great cooking ingredient for cakes and puddings or a delicious topping for vanilla ice cream or pancakes. A jar given as a present is always well received.
I try to make time to make a batch every year. The season is short so it means finding the time to use the oranges before they are past their best. I like to keep it simple because I don’t think the intense bittersweet orange flavour needs any additions, providing it hasn’t been overcooked and retains some of that citrus freshness. So no whiskey or chillies for me.
I did experiment with ginger one year which was a better compliment but I think I actually preferred the purity of oranges alone. My favourite recipe does include the juice of two lemons but they’re citrus so I don’t count them as an additional flavour.
You’ll find a lot of different recipes out there with slightly different ratios of oranges, water and sugar and differing methods. I use Nigel Slater’s recipe which involves soaking the shredded peel in the juice and water overnight, along with the pulp, pith and peel tied up in a muslin bag. The whole lot is boiled up the next day before squeezing all the thick pectin-laden juice from the muslin bag into the pan and adding sugar, then boiling it as with any jam or marmalade.
The preparation is more time consuming than with a lot of preserves. The peel has to be removed and painstakingly sliced into strips by hand. I remove some of the pith as I like each strip of peel to have a uniform and tidy layer of pith made translucent orange in the cooking process. The excess pith goes in with the pulp and pips in the muslin bag, Its time consuming but the process delights the senses, with the scents of citrus zest and orange oil on your fingers and then the sweet syrupy aromas of boiling marmalade filling the house.
This method ensures soft and beautifully translucent strips of peel without having to boil for too long before adding sugar. And that all helps keep the flavours fresh.
As you can see from the pictures, I kept the peel quite thick and chunky. In fact I think I boiled it a little longer than I needed so together with the chunky peel it turned out a little thicker than I wanted – I like it wet and glistening gold in the morning sun and dropping off the spoon. But its easy to thin marmalade or jam thats too thick by adding a a few teaspoons of boiled water to the opened jar and giving it a thorough stir until its the consistency you want.
It at its best if it hasn’t been on the shelf too long but then again if the last jar is finished by early autumn it can seem a long time until the following January. So best to keep a jar or two to bring a taste of golden Mediterranean sunshine to those dark winter months…if you can.