I thought I’d missed the Seville orange season, which only lasts for a couple of weeks and starts around the end of January. I’d gone to the market in Cambridge last week, only to find they’d run out. Happily, another box turned up on Saturday, so I snapped up a couple of kilos.
Seville oranges are an unprepossessing fruit, knobbly and scarred-looking, and very puny when held beside the majestic, sterile, navel oranges in the next crate. But Sevilles sell out quickly for a reason. They don’t just make gloriously bitter, perfumed marmalade; they’re also a wonderful addition to recipes anywhere you might use a lemon, with their tart, fragrant juice.
Making your own marmalade is time-consuming; you’ll need to set the best part of a day aside for the project. It’s worth the effort, though – and my realisation that 14 jars of amber, jewelled preserves only cost me £7 (£3 for the oranges, £4 for the sugar) has left me full of self-righteousness. It’s also a great pleasure to be able to manage the recipe yourself so you can produce your preferred thickness of peel and syrupyness. I like a dense, thick-cut marmalade, of the sort that you just don’t seem to be able to buy these days. (So does my lovely Dad, whose name is on several of these jars.) A home-made marmalade, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had one, is much, much tastier than the shop-bought version. I am a purist when it comes to marmalade, and believe it tastes its best when it’s made with Seville oranges, sugar and nothing else. You’ll find no additions of grapefruit, whisky or ginger here – if you want whisky with your marmalade, pour yourself an accompanying glass.
Two kilos of fruit will produce about 14 jars of marmalade. Split the mixture between large pans if you don’t have a big jam pan (if you make a lot of preserves, a jam pan is a worthwhile investment). You’ll need:
2kg Seville oranges
3.5 litres water
Get out your jam pan, and simmer the oranges in the water for 2 hours with a lid on. Remove the fruit from the liquid and slice the oranges in half. Use a fork (and a friend with a fork if you want to get this done quickly, because this is a somewhat tiresome job) to remove the seeds from the centre and put them in a bowl. Put the now seedless pulp from the oranges in another bowl with any juice.
Put all the seeds in a small pan, cover with water and boil vigorously to release the pectin in them for ten minutes while you prepare the skin.
You’ll be left with a pile of orange-skin shells. Chop them by hand to your preferred width – some prefer a very finely shredded peel. I like whokking great chunks. Combine the chopped peel with the pulp and put it all back in the water you simmered the whole oranges in with the sugar. Strain the seeds out of the little pan and add the resulting liquid to the marmalade.
Bring the marmalade, stirring initially to dissolve the sugar, to a rolling boil, with the lid off. After 15 minutes, dollop a teaspoon onto a cold saucer. Blow on it until it is cool and give it a poke with a finger to test the set. It probably won’t be ready yet – you’re looking for a wrinkly surface skin and a lovely amber colour. Test every 15 minutes. When you judge the set to be right (50 minutes/1 hour usually seems to be about right for a thick cut; shredded skin will come ready earlier) remove the pan from the heat, skim any scum off with a slotted spoon to prevent cloudiness, and pour into sterilised jam jars.