that time of the year when I slip into marmalade mode. Normally I would have already
made umpteen batches by now, but this year I’m running late. Over the past
month, the Seville orange tree at the back of my garden has been steadily
offloading its crop onto the lawn in an attempt to shame me into honouring my
part of the bargain. Meanwhile the fruit-flies have been have been having a
field-day. Finally, last Saturday, election day, of all days, I got to it. Perhaps
it was those slogan words, “conserve” and “preserve”, prompting me into action.
Seville oranges, as some of you would know, are bitter, and so only good for cooking. But it is their tartness that balances the sugar and adds to the richness of their full-fruit flavour when the oranges are made into jam. Seville oranges, in my opinion, make the best marmalade of all. Their peel is thick and dimpled and with the pips and fluffy pith and pulp provides an abundance of pectin, that essential carbohydrate ingredient that causes a jam to gel.
So, with my favourite cerated knife in hand, and six clean oranges on the chopping board, I began to cut, cut, cut! It wasn’t until the following day that the rewards were to be enjoyed, the slow cooking process bringing forth the most wonderful aroma. Having added the necessary sugar to the bubbling pot, I continued to hover over it, occasionally testing the consistency and flavour of my beautiful bittersweet brew. O for an Orange! I cried, waving my wooden spoon before giving it another lick. The zest of human life!
Oranges are the real fruit of Paradise, I always think, piped up a voice from nowhere. Matisse was the first to understand orange, don’t you agree? Orange in light, orange in shade, orange on blue, orange on green, orange in black – *
What about orange in jars? I replied, standing back admiring the translucence of my handiwork. Look, my marmalade’s captured the shades of topaz and old stained glass?
Not only is marmalade-making an immensely satisfying activity, it conjures up memories of home. In my child’s eye, I see a grove of citrus trees lining a gravel driveway, foliage that is constant and shiny, and the vibrancy of winter fruit offsetting the rest of the orchard in its long annual sleep. Not surprising then that I normally start the day with an orange (a Naval or a Valencia, whichever’s in season), even before I so much as look at a cup of tea or piece of toast. It immediately raises the blood-sugar level, cleanses the system, and its upbeat color awakens the soul.
Looking around, I'm reminded how much I have unconsciously invested in that colour over the years. All those cliveas and nasturtians coming into the fold. Nearby, clusters of orange blossom are already opening their buds against the green leaves, snow white and waxen, and dusted in pollen. As for the fragrance, it is simply divine. Orange blossom has long been an emblem of happiness and good fortune, of romance and fecundity. Its essence is prized and is still, in some parts of the world, reputed to be an aphrodisiac.
An orange will gratify (almost) all of the senses. Remember, a little bit of orange goes a long way.
To add extra vim to fresh strawberries, try tossing them liberally in Seville orange marmalade, chill for a couple of hours before serving with cream or vanilla ice-cream or simply enjoy them on their own. Yum!
Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe
- you will need 1 kilo Seville oranges (approx. 6)
- 2 kilos sugar
- cut the oranges finely, cover with water and allow to soak overnight. Reserve the pips for the pectin. These can be soaked separately or tied in muslin/ handkerchief and added to the soaking oranges.
- simmer the fruit and added pip water until the rinds are tender (approx. 1 hour)
- add the sugar slowly maintaining the boil, stirring until dissolved.
- boil until the mixture reaches gel point, stirring occasional as you test. The easiest way is to place a teaspoonful on a cold plate. Wait a minute and then run the tip of the spoon through the mixture. If it starts to crinkle it is ready.
- pour into hot sterile jars, sealing while hot.