Freddie (nearly 5) often asks me for marmalade sandwiches – ‘like Paddington Bear’. So, quite a few weeks’ ago, I promised that when marmalade oranges arrived in the shops, all the way from Seville in Spain, we would make marmalade together. Thus, when I spied a box of ‘marmalade oranges’ in Waitrose on Friday I simply had to buy some and it was arranged that Freddie would come round to my house the next day to make marmalade.
I love the enduring affection we have for Paddington Bear. Of course the recent films have helped his current popularity, but the books have always been popular with children. He’s been around so long I even remember being introduced to him at school when I was young enough for my teacher to read books to the class aloud at a ‘quiet time’ of day. And now Freddie loves them too.
I also love that the very best marmalade oranges – that come all the way from Seville – are available only for a short time between the end of December and mid-February. Of course you can make marmalade with other oranges (indeed other citrus fruit) but it’s never quite the same as the wonderful Seville oranges which give the marmalade a fabulous bitter taste alongside its sweetness.
So embedded in our minds is the connection between Seville and marmalade that it’s easy to assume that marmalade originated in Spain. Although there are – as happens with this kind of foodie history – a number of stories, it’s generally thought that marmalade originally came from Portugal. In the 17th century a fruit preserve made with quince was called marmalada, which came from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo; later the quince was replaced with oranges. Then, according to Scottish legend, the Seville orange became a popular choice when a storm-damaged Spanish ship carrying a cargo of the oranges sought shelter in Dundee harbour in 1797. The Keiller family bought the oranges and used them for marmalade – hence the fame of Dundee Marmalade with its bittersweet taste.
I used to make marmalade with Seville oranges every January when my kids were small; it became quite a family tradition. I’m not quite sure when and why it stopped. But it had been so long since I’d made some (or chutney, which I also used to make regularly) that a few months’ ago I gave my preserving pan to my daughter, thinking I wouldn’t use it again. But then the need for some marmalade making arrived in the form of Freddie and Paddington. So, I made a quick stop at a nearby TKMaxx yesterday after buying the oranges in the hope of picking up a reasonably priced large pan. Luckily I found one! Later in the day, I found a perfect Paddington book to share with Freddie … all about Paddington and marmalade sandwiches … and in which he goes on a trip to Hampton Court Palace, which is local to us, and where Freddie and I had an outing together in the summer.
There is no doubt that bought marmalade – however expensive it is – never compares well to a good homemade one using Seville oranges. But in these more health-conscious times when we’re more aware of the need to avoid eating too much sugar, marmalade does contain a shocking amount of the stuff. I think that’s one of the reasons why I stopped making it … It caused me to caution Freddie that one really shouldn’t eat lots of it … But I didn’t want to spoil the fun by preaching too much about sugar and we just had great fun together making the orangey treat.
The sugar dilemma did lead me to consider making one with less sugar; sometimes fruit juices are substituted. But then I was anxious not to experiment and it maybe all go wrong; I didn’t want to disappoint Freddie by having a cooking disaster. So, with the help of Delia Smith and Gary Rhodes, whose recipes are pretty much identical (twice the weight of sugar to fruit), we took a very traditional route. Unfortunately I couldn’t source organic oranges but I did use organic sugar!
I thought I’d follow Gary’s recipe which uses just 450g of oranges rather than Delia’s 900g … I was sure that would be plenty. But then when I weighed out 450g oranges it really wasn’t very much, so I added on a few more to make 800g. Then I had fun with the arithmetic trying to work out the other measurements!!
Seville Orange Marmalade
- 800g Seville (marmalade) oranges
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 litres water
- 1.6kg granulated sugar (see below)
- 1 packet pectin (optional if not using preserving sugar)
- a preserving pan or large saucepan
- about 8 glass jars (see below)
- waxed discs or baking parchment cut into circles to fit the jars
Before you get started, have some clean jars ready. I used old jam/chutney jars which I’d kept. They were clean but I ran them through the dishwasher another time. I poured boiling water over the lids to sterilise them.
First of all prepare the oranges. Cut them in half. Squeeze out the juice into the large pan through a sieve. It’s important to catch all the pips for their pectin content.
Now, Nonna (as I’m known to Freddie) was definitely in charge of the sharp knife. It’s important to think through avoiding danger, but also of ways little kids can safely help. So … I cut the oranges and left Freddie carefully picking out the pips (having explained their importance to making the marmalade set and thicken). He was very happy doing this and putting them into the large piece of muslin which I’d set over a bowl to catch any juices (which would go into the pan). Remember to keep the orange shells.
There are actually a lot of pips in the oranges and so more came out as I used a citrus squeezer to get the juice out; they were caught in the large sieve over the saucepan. Juice all the oranges and also the lemon. Put the pips and flesh in the sieve into the muslin with the other pips.
When all the oranges (and the lemon) were juiced, I took the half shells of the oranges and cut in half again. Then, with a very sharp knife, I cut off the pith as close to the outer zest layer as I could and put it with the pips in the muslin. Then I cut the zest into thin strips of peel. This is of course to your preference – whether you have thin peel or thick peel.
I cautioned Freddie to keep well away from the sharp knife, but gave him the job of tipping the shredded peel – which I put in a bowl – into the saucepan with the juice. Again, he was happy doing this – feeling he had a ‘proper’ job.
When all the orange skins have been cut up and are in the pan, pour in the water.
Next, gather the pith and pips in the muslin together, forming the muslin into a ball. I tied string around the top to hold it all together. I explained to Freddie that it was important these went into the marmalade for flavour and to thicken it, but we didn’t want to eat them or find pips in our marmalade, so we had to keep them separate. I let him gently lower the muslin bag into the pan (because at this step everything was still cold).
Now bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer (not boil) for about 1-1½ hours until the peel is soft. Give it the occasional stir, especially to make sure all the bits of peel are in the liquid. After about an hour, lift a couple of pieces out with a fork or spoon and squash with a spoon or your fingers (take care – they’re hot!) to see if they’re soft through. If not completely soft, then cook a little longer.
When the peel is soft, remove the muslin ball from the pan and transfer to a shallow bowl to cool. Squeeze out as much of the liquor as you can and put it into the pan – it contains valuable pectin. Some people do this by squeezing it between two saucers. Delia says she uses her hands – but it’s very hot!
Now add the sugar. I’d been uncertain about whether to use preserving sugar or not. In the end I opted for organic golden granulated and because I happened to see a box of pectin sachets, I bought them and added one of those too. But the whole process should work without … I was just ‘playing safe’ … I’m pretty sure that in the past I’ve just used granulated sugar (but don’t use caster!).
Mix the sugar into the hot juice and zest. On a fairly low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved. It’s very important that the sugar dissolves before you turn the heat up to high otherwise it may not dissolve properly and the marmalade will be grainy.
Now turn the heat right up and boil quite vigorously for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, put 3-4 saucers in the freezer. Put the clean glass jars into a low oven (120C) to warm through. You have to put the marmalade into warm-hot jars.
During this process, I made sure Freddie kept his distance. I let him look at the mixture boiling fast but was careful that he wasn’t close enough for any of the very hot liquid to spit on him. It didn’t actually spit, but it’s not something you can take a chance with. Very hot sugary marmalade spilling on anyone would be dangerous but especially a little one.
After the mixture has boiled rapidly for 15 minutes, take from the heat and check for setting. Take a cold saucer from the freezer. Spoon a teaspoonful of the marmalade into the cold saucer. It should quickly cool. After a short time – a few seconds to a half minute – gently push the mixture with a fingertip. If it crinkles, then it’s set. If it doesn’t, boil the mixture for another 5-10 minutes, then check again. Remove from heat when ready.
Allow the marmalade to cool and settle in the pan for 20 minutes. Skim off any whitish foam that has risen to the top until the mixture is completely clear.
Using a ladle – and funnel if you have one – transfer the marmalade to the warm jars, taking one jar from the oven at a time so the others stay hot. I wrapped a tea towel round, not only because the jar was hot, but to protect my hand if the hot marmalade dripped down. Immediately put on a lid (which you’ve lined with the waxed disc) and tighten.
Leave the jars of marmalade to cool. Label them once the jars are cold. Freddie and I decided to call ours ‘Freddie & Nonna’s Seville Orange Marmalade’. Don’t forget to add the date too.
You can then use the marmalade straight away. Store spare jars in a cool place and they’ll keep – unopened – for about a year. Once opened, it’s best to keep it in the fridge and use up within 3 months. Though … as my son said when we got it back to his house, ‘It’s never going to last that long … we’ll eat it up too quickly!’
I really enjoyed making marmalade again and was quite excited to remind myself of how good homemade marmalade tastes. I just love that bittersweet flavour. However, I don’t actually eat a lot of marmalade so out 8 jars (of varying sizes) to be shared, I only kept one for myself and one to take to my daughter’s when I visit on Sunday. A third we dropped off at our friends Jane & Terry’s on the way back to Freddie’s house because they’re always so kind to us, and such fun to visit, that both Freddie and I love seeing them. The rest – 5 jars – went to Freddie’s house. They were still a little warm. I told him he’d have to wait until breakfast time the next morning to taste the marmalade (though he’s tasted quite a bit during the ‘testing for done’ stage!).
Well of course the marmalade had to be tasted this morning. I spooned some on to some buttered toast and ate it along with a cup of good English breakfast tea. It is very good. The bitterness of the Sevilles balances out the sweetness … though, to be honest, it is still quite sweet and I think if I were to start making marmalade regularly again, I’d experiment with less sugar. Maybe next January! Meanwhile … have some fun making marmalade while the Seville oranges are available, especially with little ones (remembering all the safety tips) and a few words from Paddington.