When I took my daughter to see the film Paddington, we had to leave early because she was afraid of Nicole Kidman. If my daughter had any sense, she would have insisted on leaving long before Nicole Kidman shows up. She would have run screaming from the cinema during the opening scene, when Paddington slides down a chute into a cauldron of boiling marmalade. He spends the rest of the film in remarkably good health, given that he effectively napalmed himself.
Making your own marmalade may seem like an unsufferable middle class softy trait, but it’s actually very risky, like an Indiana Jones adventure or an assault on one of the many death stars. Happily, it culminates in an elevated version of marmalade that makes the stuff on the shelves in Tesco look like garbage, and the people who buy it like utter imbeciles.
This recipe is adapted from Delia Smith’s – I’ve taken the sweetness down a bit, and added ginger.
Cooking time: 4-5 hours probably
900g Seville oranges (about 6 or 7)
2.25 litres of water
1.7kg granulated sugar
1 piece of fresh ginger (I don’t know how much exactly – just a bit. One stalk, or lump, or whatever it’s called. A tumour of ginger. You know how fresh ginger comes in knobbly lumps? One of those. The bigger you get, the more gingery it will make your marmalade. I don’t know – do what you want. But don’t forget to peel it.)
6 or 7 pieces of crystallised ginger in syrup
Cut the oranges and the lemon in half and juice them into a big pan, using a sieve to collect all the pips and mush. Put all the pips and mush onto a muslin.
Cut the peels in half again, and then chop them as finely as you like. Finely chopped peel gives less texture but also less trouble, whereas thick peel can be a nuisance to spread – particularly if your marmalade has a loose set.
You might want to examine your hands for cuts at this point, as the skins of six oranges and a lemon contain citric acid, and if you have any skin abrasions you’re basically inviting every molecule of that burning acid to a pain party on your nerve endings.
Finely chop the crystallised and fresh ginger and put them in the pan. You can grate the ginger if you like, but it’s quite a fibrous root and grating it leaves you with intact fibres, which look like hairs. They don’t affect the flavour at all, but whenever you serve your marmalade to anybody you’ll feel obliged to warn them that they may discover objects that look like hairs, even though they definitely aren’t – although, if you’re really honest, any given hair-like object that the recipient of your marmalade discovers COULD technically be a hair. You can’t rule it out – it’s not like you wore a hairnet or anything. I would just chop the ginger and avoid the subject of hairs altogether.
Make a little bindle out of the mush and pip-filled muslin and suspend it in the pan. You can do this by tying it to a wooden spoon and resting the spoon across the top of the pan, but I prefer to thread the end of the muslin through the handle of the pan I use, making sure that there are no stray flaps of fabric anywhere near the flame. Your pan might not have a handle though. You’ll figure it out.
Pour the water into the pan, bring it all to a gentle boil, and simmer until the peel goes soft. It takes 2-3 hours, depending on how thickly you cut it (and how soft you want it). I find the best way to test it is to scoop out a bit of peel and cut it with the edge of a spoon. If it cuts easily all the way through, bingo.
Once the peel is soft, take out the bindle and rest it on a plate. At this point you are at a fork in the road. In front of you is a ball of boiling mush, and you need to squeeze the pectin out of it. You can either leave the muslin to cool and squeeze it safely and comfortably a few hours later, or you can follow my example and impatiently compress the red hot muslin for a millisecond at a time and then drop it and silently scream in pain, over and over again, pausing occasionally to dab the tears from your eyes, until you’ve scraped off all of the cloudy orange mush that extrudes through the weave of the muslin and dumped it in the pan.
After running your hand under the cold tap and quietly weeping for 15 minutes or so, weigh out the sugar and pour that into the pan, stirring until the marmalade is clear. At this point you might want to review your safety protocols, because the substance in your pan will not only burn you but it will also stick to you, like a flaming blanket of terrible glue. Evacuate the kitchen area, ensuring that no children or cats are within 50 metres of the hob.
Crank the heat up to maximum, and when the marmalade starts to boil set a timer for 15 minutes.
Pop a saucer in the freezer.
And now the most important bit of all. When the timer goes off, take out the saucer and spoon a bit of marmalade onto it. When the marmalade has cooled, nudge it with the tip of a teaspoon. If it wrinkles, take the marmalade off the boil. If it doesn’t, try again in five minutes.
Ah, but what is a wrinkle? Not much is the answer. You want to take your marmalade off the boil at about the point that it forms a sort of half-hearted mucous globule when pushed. It needs to be the next point on the spectrum along from liquid. If its consistency even vaguely resembles that of the marmalades you can buy in shops, you’ve gone too far and might as well throw your afternoon’s work down the toilet or feed it to a pig.
You may think you want it to resemble marmalade from shops, but a) marmalade from shops tends to be too firm, and you’re just too ignorant to realise it at the moment, and b) it’s eventually going to set more firmly than it does on the saucer. The important thing is to hold your nerve and take it off the boil before it looks ready.
Pour it into jars, giving it a stir to prevent the peel from drifting to the top.
And then, well, just look at it. Look at it there. See how smug it is, judging you as it glows in those fancy Kilner jars (£1.75 from Ikea).