Marmalade is admittedly not to everyone’s taste. Too bitter, too lumpy, too chewy, too astringent. Paddington arguably has quite a bit to answer for.
He (and his creator Michael Bond) – like Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne and honey before him made the stuff seem magical, essential, delicious. He pulled sandwich after sandwich out from beneath his red hat, making us hanker for a bite. But many a child has bitten into one such sandwich and felt betrayed by the bear from Peru.
It is often only later as it was for me that the bitter appeal begins to make sense, and even then, it’s quite the hurdle at first to switch from peanut butter and jam, or (shock horror) Nutella, to the amber sludge of marmalade (a thick slice of real butter between bread and preserve definitely helps the habit stick).
So this January, smack bang in the middle of Seville orange season (December to February), I decided it was time to scrabble together a batch myself.
You’d think it would be relatively straightforward: pick a recipe, boil some oranges, whack it in jars. But once you start reading up on marmalade and comparing recipes, and then comparing those to your own (very specific) idea of what marmalade ought to be, the whole process becomes soupy with nostalgia, research and hope.
The gist is always roughly the same though: 1.5kg of seville oranges, two lemons, 2kg granulated sugar, a huge slosh of water and much patience, should see you end up with six to eight jars of liquid gold.
Some people use the whole fruit method (the oranges are cooked whole before being chopped), while others shred peel and pith painstakingly by hand (this turns out to be very mindful). Some leave the oranges to sit overnight, others have no patience (among them, me) and so forge onwards in a single day.
Once you’ve wrangled with a massive pan of molten orange and decanted it into those jars though, the pride and sense of achievement is something else. The alchemy of preserving and jamming has this strange ability to charge your memory.
Eating marmalade is a small thing, having the time, energy and ingredients to make your own, a privilege, but if you can, do. Paddington had the right idea all along.
Marmalade recipe from Home Cookery Year by Claire Thomson
900g Seville oranges
2kg granulated sugar
1. Put the oranges and lemons in a large saucepan and pour over two litres (70fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. Remove from the heat and leave the fruit to sit in the liquid in the pan for at least six hours, or overnight.
3. Remove the fruits, leaving the liquid in the pan, and split them in half, scooping out the flesh and pips and reserving these in a bowl. Chop the orange and lemon skins however you like – into fat or thin strips.
4. Tie the fruit flesh and pips tightly in cheese cloth or muslin (or use any clean cloth). Add the sugar and the chopped skins to the pan with the liquid, along with the cloth tied with the flesh and pips. Bring the pan to a rapid boil over a high heat – be careful it will boil volcanically, so keep a watchful eye – then boil steadily until the marmalade reaches the magic setting point of 105°C/221°F. When you get to this temperature, boil the marmalade for a further one minute.
5. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the marmalade to stand and settle for at least 30 minutes before spooning into clean, sterilized jars and sealing tight. The marmalade can last for anything up to a year or more.
Bread and butter pudding recipe with marmalade
6 slices of white bread, cut from a large loaf
75g butter, soft enough to spread
3tbsp (heaped) orange marmalade
3 large eggs
50g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2tbsp demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas mark 4
2. Spread three slices of the bread with butter, then marmalade, and top with the other three slices. Spread some butter on top of each sandwich and cut each one into four.
3. Lay the squares, buttered side up, slightly overlapping, in a buttered, ovenproof dish.
4. Whisk the eggs, milk, caster sugar and vanilla extract together and pour over the dish. Let it stand for about half an hour, to allow the mixture to soak in.
5. Sprinkle the demerara sugar over the surface.
6. Bake for about 45 minutes, until it is puffed up and the top is golden.
7. Serve with cream or ice cream.
Rum and marmalade loaf cake from Citrus by Catherine Phipps
175g plus 1tsp butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
175g wholemeal (wholewheat) spelt flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground mixed spice
175g plus 2tbsp dark muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
50g finely chopped stem ginger
1tbsp rum (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4. Butter and line a 1kg loaf tin.
2. Put the raisins in a small saucepan and add the rum. Bring to the boil, then immediately remove from the heat and leave to stand while you make the rest of the cake.
3. Put the flour in a bowl with the baking powder and spices. Whisk together to combine and remove any lumps. Beat the butter and sugar together in another bowl with the lime zest until very soft, and lightened to the colour of butterscotch. Beat in the marmalade and ginger, then add the eggs one at a time, adding a couple of tablespoons of the flour mixture with each addition. Stir through the rum-infused raisins along with any liquid that hasn’t been absorbed. Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for around one hour, until well risen and a rich brown.
4. For the glaze, melt the marmalade and rum, if using, together in a small saucepan and brush over the cake while it is still warm. Leave to cool in the tin. If you can bear to wrap this up and leave it for a couple of days, it will be all the better for it.