Monday, January 21, 2008

Marmal Aid

I attempted my very first batch of marmalade yesterday. Something I've been promising I'd do from years on end. I vaguely remember doing it with my mum as a boy, but we only did it once, most other years we did strawberry jam (we lived in an area that grew fantastic strawberries (I can still taste them just thinking about it)). Memory not being sufficient, and my mum being unreachable at the moment, it meant returning to a recipe.

Mostly it turned out all right. I've got a got soft set of the jelly and nice soft rind. The taste is a small shade too bitter, but I was told while buying the Seville oranges that it had been a bad growing year and that might be the outcome. However, being the experimental cook I am, I want to get the base recipe perfected, then experiment. So, a few questions to the expert marmalade artists I know read me out there.

For those unfamiliar with the ancient making or marmalade, a brief description. The whole point of marmalade is the mix of bitter and sweet. Not all oranges are suitable. The orange judged best is the Seville orange, which is, frankly, not far off a lemon in terms of tartness. Legend has it Marmalade was discovered when a cask of Seville oranges fermented on the journey, and the resulting gloop was decided to be edible and delicious.

To make it, you need to extract the juices and pips from the orange, then slice up the rind. Oddly enough, the pips contain natural pectin, the chemical which makes the juice turn into a jelly. So, you put all the pips and membranes into a muslin sack, then boil it along with the sliced rinds and a lot of water for a couple hours. Intent is to reduce the water in the pan by quite a bit. You take out your muslin bag, add a whole lot of sugar, and boil the bejesus out of it. Pot the resulting glutenous loveliness and you have your Marmalade. I did all this, and like I said, it mostly worked, but I am left with quite a few questions.
  1. Preparing the oranges. I tried a few methods, but which do you prefer, or do you have another way? I tried halving the oranges, juicing them, then cutting out the remaining pips and membranes. This seemed overly fussy, sooo... I tried quartering the oranges then cutting out the centre unjuiced. I then smashed the juices out of them and cut up the rind. Later, on talking to the Mother in Law, a long time marmalader, she cut the rind off a whole orange first, thus minimising the white pulp, then juiced the remainder.
  2. Muslin seems very hard to get your hands on these days, so I used a brand new washing rag, which worked very well. Do you have proper muslin or use something else?
  3. Do you boil the mixture after adding the sugar or not? If so, for how long. My recipe book said to boil for 15 minutes, the MiL said to not boil at all. I boiled just over 10 as the mix was pretty gelatinous. It seems to have set, but only just.
  4. As mentioned, mine turned out perhaps a shade too bitter. Perfectly edible, but perhaps a shade too far. Do you have any methods for cutting the bitterness?
Many thanks in advance for any helpful comments!


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