I really do not miss many things from the UK in fact to be honest the shopping list is very small – tea bags, birds Custard powder, evaporated milk and occasionally a piece of mature cheddar. But there is one thing that I really can’t live without especially during the winter months
“a good jar of orange marmalade”
Now marmalade is not readily available here, what sweet toothed Italian would ever consider eating a jellied fashion of oranges that make your teeth tingle with bitterness for their breakfast.
I was brought up on the stuff and absolutely adore it the more bitter the better. Robinson’s thick cut on hot buttered toast, – simple luxury.
So after searching high and low to no avail I finally decided it was time to make my own.
So where do I begin, I fondly remember my half term holidays spent at my grandmothers big old rambling house which nestled up on a hillside above the welsh coast. On cold damp February days my cousins and I could be found huddled into her little cosy breakfast room with a roaring fire in the grate. We would be perched on thick fluffy old cushions lifting us up to reach the large cold metal topped table in the corner of the room. It was next to a huge window which allowed us the most perfect view of the grey rippling sea and the occasional oil tanker bobbing on the horizon.
The floor was littered with huge baskets of bright shining oranges.
Through the doorway leading to the kitchen we could see an enormous pan/cauldron balanced on her stove. It was full of thick bubbling, spitting, gooey sauce, the steam would be rising and omitting this wonderful aroma of sweet syrupy citrus.
Grandmother would place a wooden cutting board and a small knife for each of us, she would peel each orange and place a mound on each of our boards. We would eagerly cut the rind into fine strips. This task seemed to take us hours as we competed with each other as too how many oranges we could achieve before play beckoned us outside.
Now many years on I am here in my kitchen standing scratching my head wondering – ” Marmalade what do I do and how do I proceed.?” I am just wishing that my Grandmother could appear in my kitchen.
After a few searches on the trusty internet I discovered a couple of recipes for the complete novice and even a chef on u tube giving me a step by step guide. I quickly realised that this can’t be too difficult and in fact the ingredients were very simple
Seville oranges, sugar, setting agent and lemon., how simple can that be!.
But nothing is that easy and I found the first hurdle was just to find the correct oranges for the job.
The very next morning, there I was happily queuing at my favourite fruit stall on the local market, there was a full display of shining juicy oranges.
Many different types on offer.
But when I asked for Seville oranges the assistant looked at me with shock horror saying ” no Spanish stuff here just the best and sweetest quality from Sicilia”.
How amazed she was when I proceeded to ask her which ones were the most bitter, she looked sheepishly around the stall in case any nearby customers could overhear her words and whispered to me discreetly pointing to the Tarucco oranges piled high on the corner of the stall.
I filled my bags with great enthusiasm not just did they look perfect, they were also just 1.50 euro a kilo what a bargain.
I set off home with much glee to begin the task and what a task. To strip, peel and slice the skin into fine strips without any pith..
Now i understand the reason my grandmother encouraged her young grandchildren to spend their holidays with her. I am unsure that she found the job as monotonous and time consuming as I do. She did love us all dearly but what a clever way to keep us out of mischief and to hurry her work along. Cheap labour comes to mind.
My first attempt of peeling took a whole morning for one kilo of oranges, this was extremely frustrating and immensely boring. Not to be beaten I tried modern techniques unheard of by Grandmother, in ways to eradicate the cutting job.
The food processor, not good it just turned into mush, a cheese grater just as bad and equally as gluey, various types of knives, potato peelers, cheese cutters but all in vein. I then tried to peel the oranges as you would normally and then strip the pith inside with a sharp knife.
This resulted in cut fingers and split nails and on one occasion I even left out the peel altogether which resulted in a rather anaemic tasteless yellowy yuck.
Sadly I do not have any enthusiastic grandchildren to do the job so i have finally resigned myself to the task the old tried and tested route.
I have even become quite adept at peeling the orange part of the rind and leaving the white pith on the orange segments. I cut it into small thin strips and later peel the orange once again to remove the pith before the flesh goes into the pan.
The process can take an hour or two!
“once the peel stripping job is finished I put it in a large pan along with the orange flesh and about 1 litre of cold water. I bring it to the boil on my log burner and leave it to simmer for a few hours.
I adore the heady scent of the citrus that wafts around the room, it brings back all the old memories so vividly.
The next part of the preparation always seems quite challenging, how to get the marmalade to set OH is always complaining as his marmalade runs off his bread before it reaches his mouth.
He rather tactfully mentions it is supposed to be more jelly like not a runny sauce. So each batch has become an experiment I have used lemons, more sugar and packets of fruit -a- pec sometimes it sets and sometimes it doesn’t I don’t know why maybe it is the oranges themselves or just me, the cook but there is one thing it tastes absolutely delicious even if we find it quite difficult to keep on the knife.
I have great pleasure at looking at the orange jars lined up along my cantina shelves.
Oh how we love our marmalade.
1kg of Tarucco oranges the largest you can find
1.2 litres of water
600kg of sugar
I packet of fruit a pec.
Juice of 1 lemon.
Peel the rind off the oranges leaving the pith, slice into very fine pieces, place in pan with the flesh of the orange, 1.2litres of water boil until about 750mls.
Add the packet of frutta pec, ( setting agent) lemon juice and 600gms of sugar boil rapidly and remove any of the white scum from the top of the liquid.
Test for setting on a cold saucer, then add to jars. It makes approx. 4 x 500mls. Of Marmalade.
Good luck let me know how you do, any other suggestions for improvement will be very gratefully accepted.
It is absolutely gorgeous with on crackers with dolce gorgonzola.