I read a nice card on Facebook this morning. It said simply, “Dear God, if we are very good and give you Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, can we have George Jones and Johnny Cash back?” My friend Tommy once sat the 18 year old me down in a transport café on Fitzwilliam Street in Huddersfield, and convinced me that I should’t be listening to The Eagles and Poco but to George Jones and Merle Haggard. It was an hour of my life that did me more good than most of the hours I had spent in school rooms. I hope Tommy is ok. I’ll try and track him down when the weather makes a change for the better.
The big event of the week, food wise, was T coming back from the greengrocers in Bolsover with bags of Seville Oranges. For the last four years I have made marmalade and for the last four years it has been the best thing that I have made all year. I’ve always made a great deal of it and have always run out. This year I have planned for this. I’m going to make more and give less of it away.
I use the Good Housekeeping book recipe. It is simple, gimmick free and has worked too well to interfere with. The end result is like you remember Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade to be like in the sixties and ten times better than that brand is today.
It’s a laborious task but this is part of the charm. To wash, halve, juice and slice 4 pounds of oranges and two lemons could either be seen as a long drawn out drag, or the perfect excuse to breathe in ambrosial scents and sing along to the greatest hits of George Jones and Merle Haggard (with an occasional Eagles and Poco song thrown in…Tommy never said they were rubbish, just that time would be better spent with adult company and adult music!)
By the time George has stopped loving her and Merle has made it through December, my kitchen, and indeed whole house, is rich in the smell of oranges. You cut each orange in half and squeeze it through a sieve. Once all the oranges are squeezed, cut the halves in half and thinly (but not too thinly) slice the peel and add this to the juice in a jam pan.
I try Wilkos, Aldi and Lloyds for muslin. Lloyds have a bandage and making a cross of this allows me to wrap the pips and pith in muslin and add to the pan. For every pound of oranges you add 2 pints of water and put the pan on the heat. Once it is boiling keep it at a good rolling simmer and allow it to reduce by about half.
You can’t go too far away but you can take the dog for a walk, read the paper, have a bath and complete the Frost novel you have been enjoying. What you can’t do when making marmalade is anything modern. You have to root yourself somewhere between 1932 and 1968, so if you don’t fancy George or Merle you can opt for Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, George Formby or Gracie Fields. It excludes Miley Cyrus.
Once it has reduced you add a bag of sugar (2lbs) for every pound of oranges. For the last four years I’ve added this to hot oranges. This year I am busy and allow it to cool and add the sugar the next day. This has resulted in a very different but equally lovely (but not quite so adult) marmalade.
Once the sugar has dissolved the whole pan becomes much clearer and once it has been brought to the boil you keep it at a good roll. After about ten minutes you can start to look for the setting point.
I put four saucers into the freezer for this.
Once the saucers are cold dribble a little jam onto it and once it has cooled test it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is getting near. If it feels like it isn’t quite ready, then it is ready. If it feels ready, it may well have gone too far. (Don’t worry, you can bring it back with a cup or so of water). A sugar thermometer will have a mark on it for jam. This works equally well for marmalade.
Skim anything off the top that doesn’t look like it ought to be there and use a measuring jug to pour the (slightly cooled) marmalade into perfectly washed (in very hot water) jars. I use kilner jars. It looks well in them and has a 1930s feel. They don’t cost much and have replaceable lids. Re-cycling jam jars makes more sense, but I make most of the jam, pickles and marmalade eaten in this house and the £2.50 or £1 spent on good new jars gets re-cycled again and again. Use the ones with the screw lids. They look nicer and are much less fuss than the ones with the fancy sprung tops.
There will be another food blog tomorrow and the cycling story will start again on Monday. So many thanks for reading these posts. We’ve just gone past 3000 views and have been read in 46 countries. Thank you to you all but especially to all those who have offered encouragement. Today I got told I’d caught the essence of a border town “to a t”. I felt very proud.