February 10, 2011

Sweet Winter Sunshine: Marmalade Two Ways

There is something deeply satisfying about eating an orange in the dead of winter.  The juicy flesh defies the snowscape outside, and the sweet and sometimes tangy taste is an antidote to Mother Nature's heavy grey skies. 

Sure, you can buy an orange any time of the year, but now is the time to savour the fleeting season of the best of citrus fruits.  Seville oranges, with scarred and angry skin; delicate Meyer lemons, sweet and so deeply hued as to be almost orange; and my personal favourite, blood oranges, with their shockingly deep red flesh.

I wanted to capture the essence of this sunshine season in the only way we can: through preserving.  I began experimenting with preserves and canning last autumn, and was immediately hooked.  Science meets nature in an alchemy that's part art, part magic.  The best part is that you know you're participating in a practice that has changed only slightly in hundreds of years.

What better gift to give the season's citrus than honouring them in a pretty jar?  Here are two takes that will make your toast - and tummy - happy.

Blood Orange Marmalade
yields approx eight 250-ml jars

Marmalade came to its present incarnation in Scotland hundreds of years ago, but took hold more slowly in other parts of the world.  Today, orange marmalade is often part of the triumvirate of jams gracing the breakfast table.  Its combination of intense peel and jam is just the right taste to highlight a freshly toasted slice of bread slathered with butter.  But don't forget to use it as the Scots do, on everything from roast meats to desserts.

3 lbs blood oranges
6 cups sugar

Note: Marmalade typically calls for 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of liquid.  You can use this formula as a guideline for all types of marmalade.  For a fuller explantation of the science of canning, refer to my post on plum jam, which has a step-by-step tutorial on how to can.

1. Wash the oranges thoroughly, soaking in hot water if needed to remove dirt from the skin.  Trim the tops and bottoms of the oranges and score the peel in several large strips.  Remove the peel, reserving the fruit. With a serrated spoon or sharp knife, remove as much pith as possible from the peel.

2.  In a large stainless steel pot, place the peel and fill with water to cover.  Bring to a boil and continue cooking at a boil for 10 minutes.  Drain and repeat, boiling the peel for a further 10 minutes.  Drain and let cool slightly.  Cut the peel into thin strips, no more than ⅛ in thick. Set aside.

3.  With a very sharp knife, trim membrane from reserved fruit.  Remove as much membrane as possible, and cut the segments into small dice.  Place the fruit and the reserved peel in a large stainless steel pot, add 1 litre water and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for approx 30 minutes, or until peel is soft when squeezed.  Measure the marmalade; you should have about 6 cups of marmalade mixture.

4.  Return the marmalade to a large stainless steel pot, and bring to a boil.  For every cup of marmalade, add 1 cup of sugar, stirring each cupful in until it is fully incorporated.  Boil until the marmalade reaches gel stage, about 12 minutes.  Be careful not to overboil the mixture.

5.  Skim marmalade if needed, cool slightly, can and boil for 10 minutes.  Cool marmalade and store for the long winter ahead.

Lemon-Scented Orange and Ginger Marmalade
yields approx 10 250-ml jars

2 lbs Seville oranges
2 lemons
1 oz fresh ginger
3 ½ qts water
4 oz crystallised ginger, finely diced
4 ½ lb sugar

1. Wash the Seville oranges thoroughly, soaking in hot water if needed to remove dirt from the skin. Halve the oranges and lemons and squeeze the juice out. Strain the juice into a bowl, reserving the seeds.

2. Strip the flesh from the oranges and lemons, reserving, and slice the rinds into thin strips. Place the reserved seed and pulp into cheesecloth, tie with kitchen twine and set aside.

The pectin's in the pith

3. In a large stainless steel pot, combine the orange and lemon peel, the cheesecloth and the water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the peel is very soft, at least two hours.

Blood orange marmalade in front; Seville orange marmalade in the rear

4. Remove the cheesecloth bag, stir in the candied ginger and the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, boil until the marmalade is at gel stage, about 30 minutes.

5. Take the marmalade off the heat, cool slightly, then can and simmer for 10 minutes.