Lady Marmalade

Seville, the Spanish town famous for its sunshine, its architecture (and its barbers, according to the composer Rossini), but perhaps more humbly, it’s renowned for its bitter oranges – the type that befits the joyous pleasure (or so it is described) of being turned in to the burnt-sienna tones of the morning wake up call for the senses: marmalade.

Today was my first ever attempt at making marmalade, and whilst I would like to say it’s been a stroll in the park, it’s been more of an uphill slog across undulating ground in chronic rain.

All seemingly started well – the last of the season’s Seville oranges were mine for the taking at the local market yesterday; indeed, the stall-holder congratulated me on taking home the last of his bounty and I felt coyly smug in the knowledge that I was going to turn these seasonal short-livers into the most glorious rays of bottled sunshine.

Well, that was the plan in any case. And the enthusiasm was most certainly there. So after juicing, slicing, de-pipping and soaking overnight, today heralded the start of my marmalade marathon.

Out came my mother’s old pressure cooker (cheaper than a Maslin pan and much more comforting to the soul, bringing back happy childhood memories of that whistling sound from the kitchen that always preceded a Sunday roast). Although of course, any heavy-bottomed pan will suffice, I’m led to believe, whether it comes with memories or not.

Upon bringing the mix of water, pulp, pith and all to the boil, it was time for it to simmer down for 2 hours until it had reduced (which took a lot longer than I expected, and in fact, it didn’t reduce). The first in my catalogue of marmalade errors. It’s at this point where you question your intuition and the recipe individually then pitch the two against the other to see which prevails.

My instinct was telling me that there was no way the orangey mass had reduced by a third in two hours but the recipe said it should take two hours. On virgin marmalade-making territory, it’s a battle of will versus word. So the question arose – continue to simmer in the hope of a reduction…or plough on knowing it’s had its time? The latter won and so in went the sugar and lemon juice.

That’s when the panic started – the mixture had now increased by a third (well, naturally it would, owing to the dissolving sugar) and the volume of the pan was now worrying me. Maybe I should have kept it going on the simmer? Ah well, too late now. So I read on and the recipe says to bring to a rolling boil for around 25 minutes until the marmalade has reached setting point (cue much reading about setting points and how to test). A minefield of options.

Twenty-five minutes go by and we’re still a long way off the setting point – at least in the eyes of the time-old ‘crinkle’ test. Had it been a ‘trickle down the plate and drop off the edge’ test, it would have been done and dusted. But no…so I continue to boil it beyond the recommended time. And then I move onto test number two and get the sugar thermometer out. Hurrah – it’s reached its 104.5 degrees! Bingo.

Hmm, but it’s still very watery, I say to myself. But the jars are ready and I start pouring the syrupy gloop in. And then, in steps husband to say ‘that doesn’t look like marmalade!’. And he’s absolutely right. It tastes like marmalade, it’s the colour of marmalade, but by nook and by crook, I can’t get it to set like marmalade.

Now it could have been my total ignorance and naivety talking, as it might be that the real magic happens when you put it into the jars and leave it to cool – but who is to know when it’s your first go?

Back in the pan went the contents of the jars and the consensus was: turn it off, have dinner and then boil it again later to reduce it down. And that’s what we did, for another hour. By now, the marmalade had endured over three times the amount of heat that it should have, along with numerous bouts of prodding with a spoon, measuring with a thermometer and countless crinkle tests. By this point, I was ready to chuck the lot down the sink, but that’s not the point of The Pinny Project…so I jarred it and now I’m hoping for the best.

So here I present the fruits of my labour, or rather, the toiling labour of my fruits:

Three of the ten jars of marmalade I made today

Three of the ten jars of marmalade I made today

If there are any fellow marmalade makers out there who can shed some divine inspiration on my wrongdoings or share your Seville successes, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ve booked myself on a summer-time jam-making course. That ought to do the trick.

Pinny Girl


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