Seville orange marmalade

Marmalade

I know this post comes a bit late for the Seville orange season but I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with house hunting recently, hence the delay in writing this. Still, you can make marmalade at any time of year using normal oranges or other citrus fruit, so there’s no reason to wait if you fancy a spot of marmaladary.

This was my first attempt at making marmalade, and from what I can tell, it didn’t turn out too badly. I’ve given some away to family members so I’ll be asking for their honest verdict.

I amalgamated several different recipes – as I often do – after initially being inspired by Nigel Slater’s recipe in The Kitchen Diaries II. The recipe given here is what I did this time round, but I’ll probably make some adjustments next time (which I’ve mentioned within the recipe).

Ingredients

(As usual, please excuse the mishmash of metric and imperial quantities)

  • A lemon
  • 1.3kg of Seville oranges
  • 1lb of sugar for every pint of resulting liquid (I used preserving sugar which has larger flakes, but granulated is cheaper and would be just as effective. Just make sure you don’t use jam sugar with the added pectin.)
  • Grated fresh ginger (optional)

Gently zest the lemon and juice it. Put the zest and juice in a bowl and put any pips onto a clean square of muslin. Chop what’s left of the lemon and add it to the muslin.  Cut the oranges in half and squeeze out the juice into the bowl, again adding any pips to the muslin. I can recommend using one of those little wooden pointy things to do your squeezing.

I juiced the oranges one by one into a smaller bowl before de-seeding and adding to the larger bowl, as this made the seeds easier to pick out. However, there were still a few seedy bits left in the finished product, so in future I would consider just juicing all the oranges into a big bowl and sieving the juice for a clearer result. The contents of the sieve could then be added to the muslin.

Scoop the rest of the flesh from each orange (I used a metal ice cream scoop to do this) and add to the square of muslin, leaving half shells of skin and pith. Trim off any dodgy bits from the oranges and add these to the muslin as well. The reason for doing this with the flesh and pips is to add additional pectin to the marmalade to help it set.

This is what you should end up with:

Marmalade

Tie up the muslin securely into a bag, and put it in the larger bowl of juice, along with the half orange ‘shells’. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, add the juice, muslin bag and orange peel shells into a preserving pan or other large receptacle. Add 2.5 litres of water. This seemed like a lot of water to me, but it boils down and concentrates the flavour, so don’t panic.

Bring all this to the boil and allow it to simmer on a low heat for one and a half to two hours, or until the orange skins are nicely tender. Turn off the heat and allow to cool a bit. Once the orange skins are cool enough to handle, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon. Scrape out any excess pith (again, I used an ice cream scoop) into another clean square of muslin. Tie up the muslin and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible into the pan. This liquid is rich in pectin and will help further with the set.

Marmalade

Remove the muslin bag of flesh and pips and again, squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible. I untied the muslins and scraped out the pulp before washing them ready for re-use, but you can always just throw them away if you can’t be bothered with all that.

Slice your orange peel into your choice of strips or chunks. Obviously, if you prefer shredless marmalade, you can just bin them. I sliced mine into very fine strips, but only used a few of the orange shells as while I like shredded marmalade, I don’t want too much of it in there.

Add the strips back to the pan and measure the amount of liquid you have. I had three pints. I was a bit confused about how much sugar to use as the recipes I’d read varied widely. Some calculated the amount of sugar to the original weight of the oranges, some just gave a specific amount and so on. I decided to stick with what I know and used the ratios I use for jelly – i.e. 1lb of sugar for every pint of liquid.

I divided my mixture into two batches of one and a half pints each, making one into normal marmalade (normalade) and adding a couple of heaped tablespoons of fresh peeled and grated ginger to the other. I did consider adding whisky and other spices, but thought this might be better suited to a regular orange marmalade (which I will probably try at some point).

So, once you’ve added your sugar to your juice/ peel mixture, bring it to the boil and basically boil the shit out of it until it reaches the setting point. I’ve always used a jam thermometer for this bit, but now find that my preserve-making instincts have developed sufficiently to allow me to judge fairly accurately when the setting point has been reached. As a result, I went ‘freestyle’ for my second batch (much like Luke Skywalker in the attack on the Death Star where he switches off his targeting computer). I still use the method of putting a plate in the freezer before I start and spooning some of the marmalade onto the cold plate to check for a set (easier said than done when you’re standing over a pot of what is essentially boiling syrup with a teaspoon, tentatively trying to spoon it out). If it wrinkles when you push your finger through it, it’s ready. I also find that another indicator of the setting point is when the mixture settles to a slower, bubbling boil rather than a frothing, rolling boil.

Marmalade

Once it’s ready, turn off the heat and leave it to sit for a bit to allow it to set slightly. This will prevent the strips of peel from sinking to the bottom of the jars. Decant into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 6 jars of marmalade.

Marmalade

Marmalade

Chilli jam

Chilli Jam

This goes with loads of things – cheese, curry, smeared on a bit of fish before grilling – whatever you fancy. I have a tendency to add more chilli to this each time I make it, and obviously you could adjust the amount and variety of chilli and whether you leave the seeds in depending on personal preference or who you’re giving it away to.

You can double the ingredients for this if you like, but I don’t recommend it as it’s much more manageable with these quantities – even if it does only make two and a bit jars.

I have plans to develop a less faffy, more ‘everyday’ recipe for this, perhaps using whole roasted tomatoes in order to reduce waste and save time. If and when I do, I’ll post it here for comparison and bump the recipe given here up to ‘deluxe’ status…

Ingredients

  • 6 Average sized tomatoes, as red as you can get them
  • 1 normal red pepper and 1 red Romero pepper (or 2 normal red peppers)
  • 3 fresh red chillies, halved and de-seeded
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • A piece of fresh ginger, about a large ‘thumb’s worth, peeled and finely grated
  • 50g balsamic vinegar
  • 100g white granulated or caster sugar
  • 100g jam sugar (the one with added pectin)

Halve and de-seed/ de-stalk the red peppers. Place in a roasting tray as they are, with no oil, and roast at about gas mark 6 for 30-45 minutes, or until they look nicely roasted. Don’t worry if the edges become slightly charred- this adds to the flavour.

While the peppers are roasting, you can peel your tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to cut a small cross in the skin of each tomato, and place them in a large bowl of boiling water. After a few minutes, you should find the skin peels away easily from them (if doubling the ingredients, it’s best to do this in two batches and replenish the water in between). This is also easier if you start with the tomatoes at room temperature, rather than straight from the fridge.

Once you’ve peeled your tomatoes, cut them in half and scoop out and discard the seeds and pulp, leaving the firm tomato flesh. A metal ice cream scoop is ideal for doing this.

Once your peppers are roasted, add the peppers, tomatoes, chillies, garlic, ginger and balsamic vinegar to a food processor and whizz everything until it’s a consistent texture, with no large chunks.

Add the mixture to a large pan and add the sugar. Bring to the boil and then simmer, stirring regularly until the overall texture becomes nice and syrupy. If you scrape the spoon over the bottom of the pan and can see a clear line in the mixture, it’s pretty much done.

Chilli jam

Decant into hot, sterilised jars and seal.

Makes about 2 jars of jam.

Rose hip syrup (and jelly)

I’ve occasionally wondered what rose hip syrup would taste like, but had never got round to foraging any rose hips to make it. While visiting my dad this week, I realised that one of the bushes in his front garden was laden with rose hips, so thought now was as good a time as any to give it a go. My dad’s garden has proved useful to me in the past when it comes to making preserves, which helps make up for the fact that I don’t have a proper garden of my own.

Rose hips are rich in vitamin C, and people were apparently encouraged to make rose hip syrup during the war when citrus fruit wasn’t readily available. This was confirmed to me by an elderly gentleman who happened to walk past my Dad’s garden when I was collecting the rose hips for this recipe – he asked me if I was going to make syrup and said he used to collect them when he was a child.

I don’t want to get all ‘Nigella’ about this, but aren’t these the most beautiful Christmassy crimson colour?

After having a look at various different recipes online, I decided to follow roughly the following ratios of ingredients:

  • Rose hips (I had about 450g of them)
  • Water (about 1.5 litres per 500g of rose hips- I used 1.25 litres)
  • The same weight of sugar as rose hips (I used 300g of caster sugar because I only made two thirds of the liquid into syrup and the rest into jelly-see below)

The rose hips I picked were ripe, but not too squishy. I didn’t bother topping and tailing them or anything like that- I just gave them a good rinse and drained them. This is the method I used for the syrup:

Put your water in a pan and heat it up. Put your rose hips into a food processor and whizz thoroughly. (If you haven’t got a food processor, you could chop them up but this could take a while.) Scrape the rose hip mush out of the food processor into the pan as quickly as possible. I say as quickly as possible because apparently the vitamin C begins to oxidise as soon as the rose hips are damaged. I’m basing this on advice from the internet, which also suggests that despite the boiling process, much of the vitamin C will be retained. If anyone out there is scientifically minded, please feel free to confirm or refute this information…

Allow the water and rose hip mixture to come to the boil, stirring often. Once boiling, allow the mixture to simmer for about five to ten minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the mixture to steep while it cools.

Once cooled, put the mixture in a jelly bag or muslin and allow it to strain through into a bowl. Normally, I’d say don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag or you’ll end up with cloudy syrup, but this came out quite cloudy anyway. Incidentally, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce the set up I use for straining things through muslin- it’s a wooden stand I persuaded my dad to make to my own specifications and it’s brilliant. He’s very good at this sort of thing, as well as having a garden which provides inspiration and ingredients for cooking projects:

Once the mixture had strained through, I had about a pint and a half of liquid. I decided to make some into syrup and some into jelly.

For the syrup, I added a pint of the strained liquid and 300g caster sugar to a pan and heated it gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar was dissolved, I decanted the hot syrup into sterilized bottles.

For the jelly, I added half a pint of the strained liquid and half a pound of jam sugar (with added pectin) to a pan and boiled until it reached the setting point (about 104⁰C). This filled about one and a half sterilized jars.

Apologies for the hotchpotch of metric and imperial measurements by the way, but maths isn’t my strong point and this just made it easier for me to work out.

The verdict

It’s always a worry when making jams, jellies and syrups that the flavour of the fruit will be lost in among all the sugar. I could still taste the rose hips in this syrup though- they have an unusual taste which to me had a hint of tomato or perhaps physalis about it (I could well have imagined the bit about the tomato flavour…)

As for how to use it, I’d suggest drizzling it on ice cream, pancakes or porridge, using it in cocktails or topped up with champagne, or just taken by the spoonful when you’re feeling under the weather or a bit hungover.

Preserved lemons

I’ve never actually bought ready-preserved lemons, as I decided to try making them myself once and realised how easy it was. Whenever I’m running low, I just do another jar of them so that they’re ready by the time I get round to needing them.

I usually either use these in tagines or chopped up into ‘grainy’ salads (for example those involving bulgar wheat, cous cous or pearl barley). They have a lovely salty, tangy taste.

To prepare them once they’re preserved, scrape the flesh from the peel with a teaspoon and discard. Rinse the peel thoroughly before chopping and adding to your chosen dish.

Ingredients

  • Unwaxed lemons
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Mixed peppercorns

Start by choosing your jars. It’s best to use jars with no metal in the lids or attachments as the salt water will corrode them. Kilner-type jars are therefore not a good idea (trust me on this one- I preserved lemons in a Kilner jar once and the salt water residue corroded the metal lever closure until it just pinged off in the fridge one day). You want the jars to be large-ish, but also small enough to comfortably fit in your fridge as you’ll need to keep the lemons in there once you open them. I usually use 100g size coffee jars with plastic lids.

Sterilize one or two of your chosen jars, using your preferred method. (This article gives more details on sterilizing stuff.) Meanwhile, fill a large jug with boiling water and leave to cool. Tip a reasonable amount of sea salt into a bowl.

Once you’ve got your nice, hot, sterilized jar(s) and your boiled and cooled water, it’s basically just an assembly job:

Cut your lemons in half lengthways, then almost quarter them lengthways but leave them attached at the bottom. Open the cut in the halved lemon and generously pack it with sea salt. Sprinkle some sea salt in the bottom of the jar, then add your halved lemon, squishing it down into the jar. Repeat this process, packing the halved lemons tightly down into the jar and adding bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns and more sea salt in among the lemons. If your jar’s a bit bigger, you can leave the lemons whole and cut a cross lengthways almost to the base, packing the lemons with salt as before. Try to squeeze as many lemons into your jar as you can.

Once your jar is full to the top, sprinkle on some more sea salt and pour the boiled and cooled water into the jar right to the top. Cover with cellophane and a rubber band and then screw the lid on tightly. Invert the jar a few times to distribute the salt and leave in a cool, dry cupboard for at least a few weeks before eating. Invert the jar every now and again to re-distribute the salt. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

Generic apple and sultana chutney

It feels a bit early to be making chutney- it’s usually more of an autumnal activity. However, I was visiting my dad recently and couldn’t resist scrumping a basket of apples from the two trees in his garden, which are already laden with fruit. The apples aren’t sweet enough to eat as they are, so I thought I’d make a batch of chutney.

If you’re just beginning to dabble in the world of preserving, chutney is a good place to start as there’s not much exact science involved- you just chuck everything in a pan and cook it until it looks ready. You don’t need to worry about jam thermometers and checking for setting points or straining jellies through bags for days on end. It has what an ex-colleague of mine would call “A very low fuck up potential”. The most faff that’s involved is preparing the jars- scrubbing labels off and sterilizing them (more on which later). The preparation of the apples admittedly did also take a bit of time, as I had to peel, core and chop lots of very small apples. However, you could always rope in an extra person to help out with this or get one of those gadgets that peels and cores apples (which, as I was preparing these apples, I did consider scurrying off to Amazon to purchase). Having your headphones in also helps- incidentally it turns out that ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order is an excellent accompaniment to chutney making.

This recipe was mostly made up as I went along- I had a basic idea of what I was going for and just sort of added ingredients and spices as I went, tasting it and adjusting accordingly. As I was adding the spices, I realised the chutney had taken a slightly festive direction, which inspired me to add a dash of rum in a moment of Christmassy cheer. It probably wasn’t necessary though. In my enthusiasm, I also forgot to weigh the apples before I prepared them, so the weight is an approximation. To give you an idea, I used all the apples in the basket pictured above. I guess all this further illustrates my point that chutney isn’t an exact science and is very difficult to balls up.

Ingredients

(This made five and a half jars)

  • About 2kg apples- peeled, cored and chopped into 1cm ish cubes
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 or 4 handfuls of sultanas
  • 120g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 400g sugar (I used caster sugar but you could substitute some of the sugar with dark muscovado for an extra hint of Christmas)
  • 400ml cider vinegar
  • A tablespoon of ground ginger
  • A tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • A tablespoon  of mixed spice
  • A teaspoon of grated nutmeg
  • A dash of dark rum (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a large pan. Bring to the boil and then simmer (stirring regularly) for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chutney is thick and syrupy. Turn off the heat and ladle into hot, sterilized jars using a jam funnel* and seal (I use cellophane held in place with an elastic band and then put the lid of the jar on over the top).

Leave to mature for a few weeks before using/ palming off on friends, relatives and colleagues.

*Which in this case I had to wrestle off my boyfriend, who was wearing it on his head in an attempt to impersonate the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. Very helpful.

A note about preparing jars and sterilizing equipment

Preparing jars is my least favourite part of making preserves, especially getting the old labels off. Sometimes, soaking the jars in hot soapy water is enough and the labels easily slide off. Failing this, a good scrub with a nail brush used specifically for this job often works. However, you inevitably end up with a few jars still covered in infuriating sticky label residue. I’ve used both Goo Gone and Sticky Stuff Remover, and I have to say that Goo Gone is the most effective of the two in getting rid of even the most stubborn residues. It’s a good idea to have a stash of jars which have already been de-labelled to save messing about when you’ve got a cauldron of jam/ chutney/ jelly on the go.

Once you’ve got your labels off, you need to give the jars a good thorough scrub in hot, soapy water. To sterilize them, I immerse them in Milton for 20 minutes, then put them in the oven on the lowest possible setting for at least 30 minutes. Don’t forget to sterilize the lids as well.

Most decent books about preserving will give a variety of methods for sterilizing jars, so it’s just a case of finding out what is easiest for you. Apparently you can use a microwave to sterilize jars as well, but I don’t have one so this isn’t an option for me. It’s also important to sterilize your ladles and jam funnel, which I do using boiling water.

When life gives you mangoes, make mango chutney

When Owen worked in a smoothie bar, he used to bring home all the old mangoes when they’d outlived their time on the fruit display at the front of the bar. I always thought it was a bit odd that they didn’t actually use these mangoes in the drinks and bought in boxes of mango purée instead, but I guess it would be a bit of a hassle peeling and chopping loads of fresh mangoes. Anyhow, the free mangoes were all very good, but there’s only so much fresh mango two people can eat without getting fed up with it. So, I looked for alternative uses for all these slightly wrinkly looking mangoes which were cluttering up my kitchen. I’ve tried all sorts of things, including mango jelly (which was my first attempt at making proper jelly and didn’t turn out very well) and mango cake (which was a disaster- just an absolute mess). The only mango-based cooking venture that’s really been a success for me is mango chutney, of which I’ve made countless batches since finding out how to make it. The recipe below is my version of one I found on the BBC Food website (read it here, if you like). I’ve cut out the bit at the beginning about salting the sliced mangoes, as while I’m generally fairly patient with cooking, I didn’t really see the point in doing this. If you’ve only got two or three mangoes, just adjust the amounts of ingredients accordingly.

Ingredients

  • 4 large mangoes (peeled, stoned and chopped into small chunks)
  • 2 cooking apples (peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks)
  • 450g (1lb) caster sugar
  • 600ml (1 pint) white wine vinegar
  • A chunk of root ginger- about the size of two thumbs (peeled and grated)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed or finely chopped)
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard powder

Put all the ingredients into a big pan or pot and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for while (at least 30 minutes) until the chutney is thick and syrupy. Put into hot, sterilised jars and seal (I use cellophane over the top secured with an elastic band, then put the screw top lid on).

A note about blue garlic

I’ve noticed that when I make this chutney, the garlic tends to go a kind of bluish-green colour. I assumed that this was due to some sort of chemical reaction between the sulphur in the garlic and the acidic vinegar, and a quick bit of Googling confirmed my theory. I’m not sure of the exact scientific logistics of it, but apparently it’s not harmful in any way, even though it does look a little unsightly. If you have any tips on how to avoid this, please do share.

Growing a mango plant

I never seem to have grown out of my childlike fascination with germinating and growing seeds and stones from fruit and other random plants. As an aside from the above recipe, this is how to sprout a mango stone and (hopefully) grow your own mango plant if you’re that way inclined…

Now, before you get excited about having your own mango tree and picking fresh mangoes, warm from the sun- these plants are unlikely to survive indefinitely in our unpredictable UK climate, and even if they did grow big enough to fruit, the mangoes would apparently be horrible and fibrous (I’m basing that last bit on what I’ve read online- I obviously don’t know from experience). So yeah, I don’t want to be a party pooper, but this is still a fun project, especially for children, should you have/ know any.

Start with a stone from a mango that’s had all the flesh stripped away from it. This should be a long, oval type thing with fibres and things all stuck to it. This is actually more of a ‘pod’, and the seed you want is inside. Use a paring knife to slide gently into the ‘seam’ around the edge, being careful not to damage the seed. Carefully use your fingers to prise open the pod, to reveal what looks like a big bean. Plant this in a pot with the end poking out of the soil, then put a clear plastic bag over the pot and tie at the top to make a kind of mini greenhouse. Leave this somewhere warm and sunny until the seed sprouts, then take the bag off and leave in a warm, sunny place to grow.