I got me some OJ mOJo

Last week was a BaD wEeK. Several months of sleep deprivation caught up with me, as did various female hormones. Enough said, I think.

But this week I am BACK in the land of making. Oh yes, I have got my mojo back, just in time for making marmalade. You can’t really put marmalade making off because Seville oranges don’t have long season.

This time last year, Babykins was less than a month old and chickenpox was sweeping through the household. Not really a good time to faff about for hours on end with all the washing, chopping, sterilising and boiling that marmalade requires.

There’s no denying that marmalade is not the quickest or easiest of preserves. Truthfully, there is no real, logical reason to make it. It probably doesn’t work out much cheaper than buying it and it’s not as if you’re going to be dealing with your own, home grown glut of oranges here in the UK.

So why go to all the bother when I could nip down to the supermarket and buy a ready made jar of marmalade? I find making preserves strangely addictive. Often it’s the satisfaction of using up excess home grown produce. Sometimes it’s because I prefer the taste of my own efforts, for example pickled onions.

I think the main reason I like making preserves is because it gives me a feeling of being in touch with a world that existed in my grandparent’s childhood. A time when fridges and freezers didn’t exist. I’m not exactly sure why I’d like to be ‘in touch’ with that world, it wasn’t exactly luxurious.

Maybe it’s just the comfort of routine and familiarity? Knowing that nothing has radically changed each year as I make the same things at the same time.

The Husband reminded me that it was about time we re-stocked our marmalade supplies, having given away the last jars at Christmas. Marmalade is probably his favourite thing to have on toast. He used to make it for our breakfast in bed many years ago BC (Before Children). So last week I dutifully trotted off to our local market garden (fab place to shop) to acquire the necessary oranges.

Now, like I said, marmalade making is a time consuming process. The book I use gives two methods and I chose to use the ‘sliced fruit’ method rather than the quicker ‘whole fruit’ method. The former tends to give a “lighter, more delicate colour”, which was what I fancied. You can find the recipe here

First, you scrub and cut up your oranges.

Then you squeeze out all the juice.

If, like me you have awkward, small cuts on your hands and fingers, you might want to try applying some of this first.

I had so much juice that I ended up using a sieve and measuring jug too.

The juice positively glowed as the sun shone through it. I struggled to get a picture to do it justice though.

Next, comes the t-e-d-i-o-u-s slicing stage. I managed to do it with the Husband’s lovely sharp knives but my word, it took a L-O-N-G time. My friend Sue, who makes preserves for a living recommended a mandolin or scissors for this job. You can take a look at her wares here.

This is the best slicing I’ve ever done. I was very pleased with the fineness (is that a word?) of my shred. It took the best part of two hours to do two kilos worth (Babykins slept, Middle Miss went to dancing class, Son Number One trashed his bedroom with his best pal).

Doesn’t it look lovely though. I feel another photo coming on….

The juice and shred gets added to a large quantity of water and left overnight. This was actually a Godsend for me as I didn’t have any more time.

The next day, the whole lot gets boiled for a couple of hours to soften it up. This is the point when the house starts to smell deeee-lish-us. It’s also a good time to start rounding up your jars ready for sterilising. I have a ridiculous number of jars stashed away in my garage. Look, some of them were originally marmalade jars and have a lovely orangey lid.

I know that sterilising the jars often puts people off preserve making but really, there’s nothing to it. The whole point is to make sure there are no nasty germs lingering in the jar that could spoil the preserve. In my student days I used to study microbiology so sterilising jars always takes me back. In the lab we would use powerful sterilising techniques involving high pressure and high temperatures. In the kitchen, all you need to do is give your jars a thorough wash in the hottest soapy water you can stand. Or just run them through the dishwasher at 60 degrees or more. Stack them upside down until you are ready to warm them, just before the marmalade is ready.

When the shred is soft and the liquid has reduced by about a third, it’s time to add the sugar and lemon juice. I actually took a break from marmalading at this stage and spent some quality weekend time with my family.

I am always astounded at the quantity of sugar required. Twice the weight of the fruit, so FOUR kg in this case!!! I had to do the boiling up stage in two batches because I couldn’t fit it all safely in my preserving pan in one go. 

I learned the hard way that it is important to warm the mixture gently and keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved. If you don’t, you will have one seriously burned pan and a rather ‘smoky’ flavoured preserve.

Now comes the fun part, the ‘Rolling Boil’. This is the part when the magic happens and the preserve starts to ‘set’. Just before I turn up the heat I put a small plate in the fridge and put my jars in the oven to warm up, usually at about 100 degrees Celcius. They need to be warm so that they don’t shatter when you add boiling marmalade into them. It is also another way of ensuring they are sterile. A top tip from my Mum: put them on a baking tray and then you can lift them all out together and when you pour the marmalade in, it will catch any big spills. Obvious really, but I never thought of it.

Please don’t look at the (un)cleanliness of my oven

When I get a nice rolling boil of fruit and juice and sugar, I almost feel that I have slipped into a fairytale. There’s something reminiscent of a witches cauldron about the way it bubbles and froths and steams. I could stir it, sniff it and just plain old watch it for ages. It’s quite mesmerising. Or maybe it’s usually very late at night when I get to this stage and I’m falling asleep?

It took about 20 to 25 minutes for the setting point to be reached. I test this by putting a few drops of the liquid onto my cold plate and leaving it for a minute. If it forms a skin and ‘crinkles’ when you push your finger through it, setting point has been reached. Now you can bottle up.

So, did my marmalade turn out well? Pop back tomorrow for another instalment to find out. Night, night. I need to get to bed. No more sleep deprivation for me.