Saturday, 22 January 2011

You can't hurry marmalade...

You can't hurry marmalade... like love, mama said, you just have to wait... (it don't come easy, it's a game of give and take) and like the song says, you have to trust the process. The same goes for marmalade...

First, you have to wait for the briefest of seasons - from mid to late January - when the Seville oranges are available, and if you miss it you have to wait another year... it's about the only fruit that can't be found all year round.

I particularly like the ritual of making marmalade when the days are bleak and spring still feels unlikely, a gap between Christmas excess and January abstemiousness, filling my home with the scent of warm citrus and evoking summer when outside the skies are the colour of old saucepans.

I make my marmalade by boiling the oranges whole for a couple of hours. Then when they're cool they are much easier to handle - scooping out the flesh and pips, finely cutting the softened peel, reserving the original water in which to add all the ingredients and bring it to the boil.

It takes time, methodical time, and it's a process that can't be hurried. From sourcing the seasonal oranges, to checking the recipe, bringing out my preserving pan, boiling the fruit, sharpening my knife, working my way through each of the oranges... Then bringing it all gently to its boiling point - 220 degrees F, 105 degrees C - and maintaining that fast, rolling boil until it works its alchemy and reaches the point at which it sets.

I only make marmalade once a year, so the process hasn't become routine and I have to remind myself of each step, especially what it looks like when it reaches that setting point. I like the way I have to concentrate, watching as the syrup in which the now translucent slices of rind are bubbling, until it changes colour and tempo and shows me it's done.

You can't hurry it, that moment of magic when the combination of oranges, water and sugar becomes marmalade. Just give it time, no matter how long it takes...

Just like love.

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