Oranges and lemons, say the bells of Seville

I can grow tomatoes, peaches and grapes outdoors on my plot, yet even at my most optimistic I could never hope to raise, without a greenhouse, a whole tree of oranges that would be anywhere near enough to make a batch of marmalade. It is possible to grow citrus fruit in this country – after all, the Georgians and Victorians loved their orangeries – but they need to be undercover for a large part of the year in the south and for the whole year in the north.

But I am growing, for the first time, a small lemon tree named ‘Eureka’ and a kaffir lime whose leaves have an extraordinary scent and can be used for Thai curries. At the moment they are in pots in a sunny but not too warm spot in our house. There may even be full-sized fruit this time next year, after spending the summer outside before coming back indoors in November. But any citrus I grow in the UK will come nowhere near the taste of Seville oranges, and as these make the best marmalade, they have to be bought.

So although this blog is 99% about what I grow and eat, I make an exception for Seville orange marmalade because it is so delicious and so easy – if you have the patience to finely chop orange peel.

Seville oranges are more sour than your average Jaffa and feel much firmer. They become available in January, and they’re still available in the UK from supermarkets and food markets for another couple of weeks. You need about 2lbs of oranges to make around 8-10 jars of marmalade.

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Seville oranges back from market ready for the jam pan

My Dad gave me this recipe, which is a straightforward version – you just have to decide whether you want it looser (add more water at the boiling of juice and peel stage) so it oozes over your morning toast, or more firm (use less water) and if you want thick or thin cut peel. This may be more about how much time and patience you have to cut the peel – if you’re after fine saffron-like slivers of orange, then you will be there a long time.

 

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Halving the fruit shows Seville oranges are full of pips – these will help the marmalade to set

2lbs of Seville oranges

1 lemon

2lbs (approx) of jam sugar (granulated sugar is fine but you may not get as good a set)

Water

Cut each orange in half, around the middle (rather than end to end) and squeeze out all of the juice into a jug. Do not discard the pips or the peel, which are both essential. Place the pips into a scalded or sterilised jelly bag or a square of muslin and tie it up with some white cotton (you don’t want to use navy thread and find it bleeds blue in the pan). The pips contain high amounts of pectin, which help the marmalade to set, so this stage is crucial. Pour the squeezed juice into a pan and then place the jelly bag full of pips in the juice. Add the juice of one lemon to add to the general pectin-setting fest. Do not heat it yet.

Next, you need to slice your peel. Scrape out and discard the white pith from each orange half, then using a sharp knife cut the halves into slices – about 3-5mm thickness should be OK.

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I sliced my orange peel quite thickly – partly on taste grounds, partly to save time

At the end of this process you should have plenty of orange and white strips. Add the peel to the juice and bagged-up pips in the pan. If the juice does not cover the peel, add enough water to cover. This is the moment when you need to decide how firm or sloppy you want your marmalade: add a little bit more water, in addition to the topping up, if you want it looser so it’s not all about the peel. Simmer the orange mixture until the peel is soft and the white part becomes translucent. It could take as long as an hour to soften. While this is simmering, sterilise some jam jars and their lids by washing them in hot soapy water (or even better, putting them through the hottest wash in the dishwasher) and then rinse. Do NOT dry with a tea towel, which will be like Glastonbury for bacteria, but place them wet in an oven at 160C or gas mark 3. When the jars are dry they should be sterilised.

Back to the pan of simmering, shimmering gold: once the orange slices are soft, remove from the heat and squeeze the pip-filled jelly bag until you’re sure all the liquid, which will be basically pectin-infused orange juice, has dripped into the pan of juice. This is like liquid gold so keep squeezing until the pips squeak, as it were. You can then discard the pips and bag.

Next, weigh the total juice and slice mixture and add the same amount of sugar to juice/pulp. Jam sugar is preferable, but granulated would be ok if you are also using a lemon to help with the set. Mix sugar and pulp together and bring to the boil. While this is underway, put a saucer in the freezer. When the mixture starts bubbling fiercely and creating what looks like miniature lava explosions on the surface, it will probably have reached the setting point. To test this, remove from the heat and put a teaspoon of the mixture on the very cold saucer and return it to the freezer. After three minutes of chill, check to see if it has formed a skin. If it hasn’t, the setting point hasn’t been reached and you need to get a rolling boil on again, checking and testing until you get a skin. If it has, the marmalade is ready.

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Marmalade going down the funnel into a jar

While the marmalade is still hot, pour into sterilised jars. A funnel might help stop spills – although you will need one with a wide neck or else the slices will get stuck. Screw on the lids and label them. The Seville orange marmalade will be set and cool enough to eat by breakfast the next morning.

 

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