Marmalade - the Bitter-Sweet Breakfast Treat

Now that most foods are available at any time of year, it’s hard to recall the excitement that the beginning of a new season used to generate.

But there is still one exception to the rule that you can have whatever you like whenever you like: the season for Seville oranges and their other bitter relations is still very much a flash in the pan and that's the way it looks like staying. They’re usually only in the shops for about six weeks from late December, so don't leave them at the bottom of your list.

Interestingly, although the more common sweet orange was a much later arrival in Europe, the bitter orange - of which the best-known variety, the Seville, comes from Spain - was known to the Greeks and Romans. As far as we know they did not make marmalade with them however - that didn't come along until about 1700 in (of course) Dundee - and it’s been a favourite breakfast treat ever since. What could be more delicious than a slice of wholemeal or sourdough toast with butter and tangy homemade marmalade - or perhaps a marmalade muffin to go with your coffee?

Making your own marmalade is very satisfying and, once you do it, you'll be hooked for life - even the best of bought can't compare with the fresh tangy flavour of home-made marmalade and it isn't hard to make either. And, just as good freshly baked bread makes an impression out of all proportion to the effort involved, serving homemade marmalade - and preserves - can be a great little USP in hotels and guesthouses, or anywhere that serves breakfast.

And, cold and grey as it may be outside, the aroma of marmalade through the house has a wonderful way of evoking the warmth and colour our oranges have left behind. A lovely way to spend a wintry afternoon.

Even if you haven't the time to make marmalade at the moment, the oranges freeze well so get them before they disappear - and then make sure that you choose a recipe which involves cooking the oranges whole (see below). Freeze them in weighed batches, adding an extra orange or two per batch to allow for any loss of pectin during storage if they're likely to be in the freezer for a long time - or, if you leave them longer than anticipated, you can add a couple of sweet oranges or grapefruit at the time.

Hints for success:

- Cooking citrus fruit takes much longer than other fruits because of the thickness of the peel, so a lot more water is needed to allow for evaporation. By the end of the first cooking stage, the contents of the pan should be reduced by half and the peel must be very soft - once the sugar is added, the peel will not soften any more.

- Pectin and acid content is important to obtain a good set in all jam and marmalade making; lemon juice is added to Seville orange marmalade to supply the extra acid needed to get a good set and prevent crystallisation.

- When the sugar is added it must be dissolved over low heat before bringing the temperature up to the boil. Once dissolved, a fast rolling boil is needed to bring the marmalade up to setting point. To allow for safe fast boiling, the reduced pulp should not come more than halfway up the pan. (A big heavy-based pan that is suitable for preserves will be useful for plenty of other things too and is a good investment, but it’s also worth considering sharing one with friends.)

- The longer you boil, the darker the colour and more 'mature' the flavour, but over-boiling makes a half-set, syrupy preserve. If your marmalade has reached setting point and you prefer it darker, add a little treacle instead of boiling it for longer.

- Setting point is reached when a sugar thermometer reaches 222ºF/ 105ºC, or simply when a little jam cooled on a cold saucer wrinkles when pushed with a finger or spoon.

- To keep well, the marmalade must be poured into jars which are clean, dry and warm, then left until completely cold before covering. Store in a cool, dark place.



This has been my go-to recipe (and a favourite in my books) for as long as I can remember, as it is easy and convenient, whether made with fresh or frozen oranges - and the flavour is great. Quantities given make about 4.1 Kg/9 lb marmalade, but it’s worth doubling them if you have a suitable pan.

1.4 Kg/ 3 lb Seville, or other bitter oranges
3 litres/ 5 pints water
2.7 Kg/ 6 lb granulated sugar
2 large lemons.

Squeeze the lemons and reserve the juice. Scrub the oranges and pick the discs off the stalk ends, then put the whole oranges and lemon peel into a large, heavy-based pan and cover with 2.3 litres / 4 pints of the water. Cover, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 1½ hours, or until the peel is quite soft.

Lift the oranges and lemon peel out with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. Halve the oranges as soon as they are cool enough to handle and scoop out the flesh and pips into a small pan. Add the remaining l pint/600ml of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes to extract the pectin from the pith and pips. Cut up the softened peel as coarsely or as finely as you like, or put it through the coarse blade of a mincer. (This looks messy at the time, but works out fine when cooked).

Put the prepared peel back into the pan containing the cooking liquid, then add the sugar, lemon juice and the strained juice from the pith and pips mixture.

Stir over low heat until dissolved (this will be quicker if the sugar has been warmed in a low oven beforehand), bring to the boil and boil fast for about 15-20 minutes until setting point is reached. (105ºC /222ºF on a sugar thermometer, or when a sample, spooned onto a cold plate and left a few minutes to cool, crinkles when pushed with a teaspoon).

Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes, then stir well to distribute the fruit evenly and use a small jug to pour it into clean warm jars. Small waxed discs may be put on top of the marmalade immediately, but don't cover with cellophane or lids until absolutely cold, as condensation can cause mould during storage. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE is made by the traditional method, where the orange peel is shredded before cooking, so it looks prettier than my usual short-cut version with minced peel.

1.4 Kg/3 lb Seville oranges (or any 'bitters')
Juice of 2 large lemons
3 litres /5 pints water
2.7 Kg/ 6 lb granulated sugar.

Scrub the oranges well and remove the small disc at the stalk end. Halve the fruit and squeeze the juice; put the pips into a large square of muslin. Quarter the peel and cut away any thick white pith; add it to the pips in the muslin and tie loosely so that it can hang in the pan with the water circulating through it to extract the pectin. Shred the peel finely. Place the peel, orange and lemon juice, the muslin bag of pith and pips and the water in a preserving pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1½-2 hours or until the peel is quite tender, then remove the bag of pith and pips and squeeze it well over the pan (eg by pressing between two dinner plates) to extract as much pectin as possible. Add the sugar and stir over low heat until it has completely dissolved.

Bring to the boil and boil fast for a set - about 15-20 minutes. When setting point (105ºC / 222ºF) is reached, a small sample spooned onto a cold plate and left a few minutes to cool will crinkle when pushed with a teaspoon.

Allow the marmalade to cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then stir so that the peel will be evenly distributed. Pour into warm, dry jars and cover with wax discs immediately but leave until absolutely cold before sealing, otherwise condensation might form and cause mould in storage. Store in a cool, dark place. Makes about 10 lb.

Variation: To make a darker ‘Vintage’ Marmalade replace a quarter of the white sugar with brown. Alternatively, 1 or 2 tablespoons black treacle could be added to the mixture above during the final boiling.

The trick to fluffy muffins is to fold the wet and dry ingredients together as briefly as possible until just combined; don’t worry if the mixture still looks a little lumpy. These muffins are best served on the day they are made, although they can be frozen. You could also try making them with lemon curd.

Makes 12

75g/ 3oz butter
225g/8 oz plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp bread soda
Pinch of salt
100g / 4oz stone-ground wholemeal flour
120ml/ 4½ fl oz milk
5 tbsp natural yoghurt
2 eggs, beaten
Finely grated rind of 1 orange
100g/ 4oz marmalade

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, 180ºC (350ºF).

Line a muffin tin with deep paper cases.

Melt the butter in a small pan or in the microwave. Remove from the heat.

Sift the plain flour, baking powder, bread soda and salt into a bowl, and then stir in the wholemeal flour.

Beat together the milk, yoghurt, eggs, warm melted butter and orange rind.

Make a well in the dried ingredients and stir in this mixture along with the marmalade.

Spoon the mixture out, dividing equally between the paper cases, and bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and golden brown.

Leave to cool for five minutes, then serve warm with tea or coffee.


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