Felix´s Oranges and Their Wonderful Marmalade
February normally brings cold and rain here. What it also brings is trees heavy with beautiful, juicy oranges. Now, those lovely bitter Seville Oranges do exist. You see them lining the streets of that stunning city and pretty much every other city in Andalucía. What happens next is that they get picked and sent off to England where excited cooks turn them into delicious marmalade. We can´t buy them here!
Fortunately, our lovely friend Felix the Baker, grows oranges, lemons and avocadoes behind the old flour mill. He grows so many that he´s always giving them away. Luckily for me, I´m one of the lucky recipients and February oranges mean Orange Marmalade. I don´t think my recipe is any different from standard ones. How it turns out depends on how juicy the oranges are, how much pith (and therefore pectin, which is what makes the marmalade set) they have, how much “shred” you want to have or if you prefer a “jelly”.
What you´ll need if you want to give it a go
- For every kilo (or just over) of oranges, two kilos of sugar and 2.25 litres of water
- The biggest, heavy based, saucepan you have
- A wooden spoon
- A large square of muslin (or a clean, large, cotton handkerchief)
- String (not coloured, or you´ll end up with rainbow coloured marmalade!)
- About 6 regular sized jams jars and lids per kilo of oranges
Making marmalade is a labour of love if you are going to do it by hand. Even if you take a short cut and mince the peel in the food processor, you´ll only cut the time down by a little. I made marmalade with 2 kilos of oranges, and on and off it took me the whole day. The rewards? My house smelt wonderful, and still does the next day, and 11 jars of delicious homemade, organic orange marmalade.
You´ll start by washing and drying the oranges, cutting them in half and juicing them. If you have a gadget to help you do this, so much the better. The juice goes into your super size pot. Any pips or pith that start to clog up the juicer will go onto your square of muslin, or piece of cloth. It´s a good idea to line a sieve with the cloth and rest it over a bowl to catch any precious juice that may still drip out.
The half shells are now cut into four slices, for ease of handling, and with a sharp knife (I use a small serrated one) you need to cut away more of the pith that remains. This is done rather like cutting melon flesh from the skin. The pith also goes onto the cloth. Don´t worry too much if you can´t pare it right back as any pith that still remains on the skin will boil away, whilst doing it´s magic, with the skin. The oranges I used had lots of pith, so I saved half and will use it to make an orange jelly later in the week.
The orange skins now need to be cut into shreds. How thick or thin is down to you. One year I did this in the food processor, which leaves you with small chunks rather than shreds, but the taste was still wonderful. This year I patiently sliced, and sliced…and then sliced some more to end up with beautifully thin shreds of orange. You can relax a little now as the hardest part is over. You may find that getting to this stage takes you a few hours. Ignore cookery books that tell you it takes 45 minutes. All lies!
Now, take the cloth square and tie it up. I usually leave the string quite long, put the bag into the pot and then tie the other end of the string to the pot handle. This helps you to press on it gently now and then to remove the pectin which will be forming, and then to remove the bag easily at the end.
Put the shreds of orange and your water in to the pot and bring to a simmer. You will leave this simmering for about 2 hours, pressing the cloth bag occasionally with a wooden spoon whilst enjoying the wonderful smell that fills your house.
Once the two hours are up and you´ve recovered from all that juicing and shredding, it´s time to start boiling. Remove the bag from the pot, put it into a bowl to cool down a little and when you can handle it comfortably (I recommend rubber gloves for this) squeeze it as dry as possible, putting all the juice that comes out into your pot.
At this point, put a couple of saucers in the freezer…all will be explained.
Add your sugar to the pot and gently dissolve it. You need to think now about sterilizing your jam jars. At this point I normally put them into my dishwasher with the lids. Otherwise you need to wash them in hot soapy water, rinse them and put them, upside down, into a very low oven.
Back to the marmalade. Once no sugar crystals remain, turn the heat up and get that jam boiling. This is why you now understand the rationale behind such a huge pot. When jam boils fast, it rises, so you do need to keep an eye on it. I let mine boil over yesterday which meant taking it off the heat, cleaning the caramelized jam off the stove, and losing about a jar of marmalade. Damn! Real life cooking. If you have a sugar thermometer, check that the jam has reached the correct temperature (which I´ve just checked and it´s 105°C or 220°F). Fear not if you don´t have a thermometer. I didn´t until earlier this year, and it´s never been a great problem. Boil the jam until it starts to rise (the froth will look white) and keep it at a boil for a few minutes, lower the heat and put a teaspoon full (be careful, boiling jam really does hurt) onto one of those saucers you put into the freezer. Leave it to cool for a minute then push the jam gently with your finger and the surface should wrinkle – that´s setting point.
If it´s not ready, then boil for another five minutes and repeat. Getting to this point can take about 45 minutes, it depends on the quantity you´re making. I´d recommend doing the saucer test even if you have a jam thermometer. I, being an impatient sort of person, didn´t do this when I made my most recent batch of marmalade, and had to unpot and reboil it the next morning as the marmalade had not set and the shreds of orange had all floated to the top of the jars leaving me with pots half full of jelly and half full of marmalade. Lesson learnt.
Once the marmalade has reached setting point, remove from the heat and leave to stand for about 20 minutes. If there is any scum remaining, skim it off. Take your jam jars out of the dishwasher or oven, they should still be warm, and get ready to fill them. I find it easiest to ladle the marmalade into a large jug and then pour into the jars. If you have a waxed disk to put onto the surface of the marmalade before screwing the lid on tightly, then fine. If not, don´t worry! Make sure those lids are tight and as the marmalade cools down, a seal will be formed and you can keep that marmalade (if you can resist) until you make next year´s batch.
If you want to label the jars, and why wouldn´t you, wait until the next day when they have cooled down. Right, I´m off to see Felix and give him a jar of marmalade.