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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Marmalade

In the midst of winter, when Christmas is over and spring is still a long way off, when we know the days are getting longer but can't really see it yet, at this lowest point of the year, Seville oranges are in season. This might not seem like much to get excited about, as these oranges are bitter and not very tasty, but make marmalade out of them and they bring sunshine into the kitchen.

I've made small quantities of marmalade (and other jams) from time to time over the years in a saucepan or two, but this year I decided it's time to invest in a proper jamming kettle. After all, I'll be doing quite a lot of this sort of thing. So it was that I headed off to Charlie's in Aberystwyth - a shop that has almost no shop front at all but all kinds of wonders inside - and purchased a shiny new jamming kettle. I bought the stainless steel one, which cost twice as much as the aluminium one, but I reckon if I'm buying equipment that I expect to last a lifetime, I should really get the best.

The next day, I headed off to the greengrocer's, where I overheard a lady say that she'd caught the first scent of spring in the air that morning. A bit early, I thought, but cheering nonetheless. I hadn't done much by way of calculations, but thought four or five pounds of oranges would be a goodly quantity. Grandma's recipe, which I always use, starts, "Allow one tangerine and one lemon to each pound of Seville oranges," so I duly bought six lemons (one for general cooking) and about ten satsumas (five plus some for eating. These are near enough to tangerines, I think).

Next step was chopping the fruit, which I set to work on that evening. I have a serrated knife which I use for this purpose and tomato salads in the summer, and not much else. It stays pretty sharp. I had almost five pounds of oranges, plus just over three pounds of the other fruit. Eight pounds of citrus fruit is a lot. I chopped away for a good two hours, maybe more, and although I got a stiff neck (really should have sat down to this job, but Ian was using the table), the kitchen smelled wonderful, so I quite enjoyed the task. By the time I'd finished, the kettle was more than half full.

Next, consult recipe: "For each pound of fruit add three pints of water and leave to soak overnight." Hang on, for eight pounds of fruit that's 24 PINTS of water! The kettle, which has a helpful scale up the side, takes 15 pints. Hmmm. I added nine pints (the fruit already being six, apparently) and left it overnight, to ponder the question further in the morning.

Clearly, I wasn't going to get all of the marmalade into the jamming kettle to cook. The point of buying the kettle was not to need to make jam in batches any more. Oh well. I ladelled out half of the mixture into the big mixing bowl and added water to what was left in the kettle (much calculating required here). I now had fruit and water in the right proportions, but the kettle was still too full, as I still had to add sugar and it would rise up as it boiled. OK, needed another big container. I cast around the kitchen and lighted on the wine-making bucket. I ladelled more mixture out of the kettle into that, leaving five pints in the kettle, then put that on the hob to boil. This took quite a long time.

Golden citrus fruit in a shiny new pan. What could be nicer?

Next part of the recipe: "For each pound of pulp, add 3/4 pound of sugar"... a few more calculations... HOW MUCH?! I have 8 lb fruit and 24 pints water - say one pint weighs one pound (it doesn't, but near enough. Some will have evaporated), that's 32 lb pulp, so a total of 24 lb sugar (why couldn't Grandma have just said, "To each pound of fruit allow 3 pints water and 3 lb sugar"? I guess that just wouldn't be Grandma). I'd bought a 3 kilo bag...

No, really, that has to be too much sugar. I looked at a more modern recipe, which called for 2 lb sugar to each pound of oranges, plus lemon juice (not whole lemons). Much less sugar. Many calculations later, and I'm not at all sure how I arrived at this, I decided on 5 lb sugar for my 5 pints fruit-and-water (one third of the total quantity of fruit).

Boiling the first batch took a lot longer than the recipe said, and that was long enough. In fact, it took most of the day. I probably could have turned the heat up to spead it along a bit, but I was in the kitchen anyway, baking for a party the next day, so I didn't mind just leaving it. I did notice rather a lot of condensation on the kitchen windows by the end of the day, though.

I had clean jam jars in the oven, sterilising nicely, and eventually dripped a bit of the mixture on a chilled plate and decided that it was looking distinctly marmalady when it cooled, so ladelled it into the jars. Eight jars (of various sizes) and this was only the first batch!

I got straight on with the second batch, after some complicated pouring of mixture from one container to another to get the right amount of water and the right amount of fruit. With the heat a bit higher it cooked faster this time, and I was still baking anyway. I had to use some smaller jars for the second batch and ended up with eleven, so nineteen jars of marmalade so far, plus a ramekin dish, plus a small saucer, because I hadn't heated enough jars.

This is a lot of marmalade, especially as Ian doesn't like it. Can I get through nineteen jars in a year? Probably not. Some relatives may be getting home-made marmalade for Christmas next year - sorry folks. Alternatively I could call it two years' supply, but that would mean missing out on the kitchen-based sunshine that is marmalade making next January. I don't think so.

Note for future reference: 'four or five pounds' of Seville oranges is too much.

It's delicious, by the way, with the reduced sugar content. There's really no need for that much sugar, but then Grandma always did have a sweet tooth.

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