Saturday, 24 January 2009
I am the marma-lady
TA DA! Yes, that is what it looks like, it's a litre of marmalade!
I've been a little maramalade-herical here the last few days. In fact I've been like that for most of the week. I learnt about how to make it on Monday, spent the whole day thinking about ideas for recipes on Tuesday, then my oranges arrived on Wednesday. I couldn't wait to start trying to make my very own marmalade, and I'm impressed that I got any work done at all on Wednesday. But I'm trying to get my will-power and acceptance of deferred gratification back, so work I did. All the while of course I had oranges boiling away in the background, filling the flat with the slightly bitter and heady smell of Sevilles.
I adore Seville orange marmalade. It is something that reminds me of my childhood and the way I used to have it on bread with peanut butter. Trust me, it's the most perfect combination; the slightly salty yet creamy peanut butter with the sweet and yet bitter marmalade. Gets me every time, and the first thing I did when we got back from River Cottage was whack on a slice of toast, and crack open my jar of River Cottage marmalade to try with peanut butter. It was delicious, very like the Duerrs marmalade my father always buys.
So that became my goal, to produce a marmalade that was not entirely quite unlike Duerrs or River Cottage. I wanted a really chunky, bitter yet sweet marmalade, with, of course, a nice hint of whiskey!
I decided to use the whole fruit method as this is supposed to produce a very traditional dark bitter marmalade. I boiled the fruit whole, kept and measured the cooking water, chopped the now soft oranges, weighed sugar, juiced lemons and it all went in the pan.
As usual everything was going perfectly to plan until it came to the setting point. I don't know why, but this has come to instill fear in my heart. I think because I over-set my first jam to such an extent that it became like cheese - "cham" - and then failed to get the following jelly experiment to set, I have grown to dread the time when it comes to test for set.
I tried using a thermometer, because I'm told and I read that this is a sure-fire way. The boiling mixture should hit the right temperature and Voila! it should set. Nope. Not in this flat. I tried the saucer test, and have had real problems there too. I drip some on a cold saucer and put it back in the fridge, test a few minutes later, no set. I pour the mix into jars anyway because it had hit temperature a while ago, cham.
You can see my issues. But I was determined this time that I was going to be fine. No more fear, no more nervousness. I'd seen it done, I'd heard it from the experts, and I love marmalade. Success for destined and sure-fire.
Hahahahaha! No it wasn't! I boil, I get it up to temperature, and test on a saucer. No set. I re-boil to temperature, place on a saucer. No set. I re-boiled to temperature, test on a saucer. Set! Hurrah for the wrinkle. I take it off the heat, stir slightly and leave for 15 minutes to cool slightly so I get an even distribution of peel in the jars. I stir in the whiskey, then I pot it.No set. I kid you not. Hours later, still like syrup. Disaster.
My response? A while ago I might have burst into tears, and I still very nearly did. I felt so bad that N had bought me the wonderful preserving course for my birthday and I still couldn't do it. Fortunately he was very supportive and pointed out that he chose the present because of the enjoyment I would get from it, not necessarily because he expected me to churn out preserves. Plus, he thought it looked fine. Now I just felt bad generally because I hadn't managed to succeed at something I really, really, really want to get right.
What did I do? I sent emails and I waited. Then on Thursday I had a wonderful phone call from a jam expert, a very reassuring, helpful, full of rescue tips, phone call. I was dually reassured, and back on the wagon!
Apparently really chunky marmalade can take days to properly set and I shouldn't despair. Also, I could re-boil, there's no harm in doing it again. Stirring in the whiskey adds liquid and so affects set, if I want a heavy set then leave boiling for even longer so it will have a stronger set before the alcohol loosens it up. Add more lemon juice to chunky just to be sure. Don't worry it makes a lovely sponge pudding and you can always try again.
Armed with this new wisdom I decided to leave my batch well alone. I should be patient and trust it to do the right thing. Two days later, it did! It is a hard-ish set in the fridge, and softer set out of it, with a lovely bitter bite and hint of peat-y whiskey.
Whoo! I can do it. I can make marmalade. Good marmalade too.
I was so pleased that I immediately started plotting the next batch. Today's was a slightly different ratio of sugars (I upped the brown to make it darker) and I let it boil for a lot longer. It still took an age to get to the setting point, but I feel loads more confident about it. We have a small sample in the fridge for toast tomorrow, and more oranges arriving next week! Eek, I'd better order some more jars...