It’s a January and February ritual in the Kent household. As a child I knew that my father, being in possession of a Y chromasome, could not cook. It didn’t help that my mother couldn’t really cook either, save for a fairly mediaeval repertoire involving roasting large chunks of meat.
However my father could make two things; toffee and marmalade. Actually he may have experimented with peppermint creams too. However Bocuse he was not.
His marmalade though has always been a thing of wonder. The recipe he’s always turned to has been from a 1950s edition of Mrs Beeton. It uses a pressure cooker; not something the 1860s Mrs B would have been familiar with but, back in post war Britain, a modern wonder for which we had Dan Dare and possibly Dick Barton to thank.
Mrs B, or her 1950s successor, calls for 2lbs of Seville oranges (for anyone under 30 that means pounds, it’s an imperial measurement. Since we agreed to embrace our Norman French roots some of us use kilos and grammes instead. If possible I don’t), 2 pints of water and 4lbs of sugar. It also suggests the juice of two lemons.
The variation I used reduced the sugar by about a 80z and omitted the lemons. Of course the more sugar the better, in theory it will set. However I didn’t encounter any problems. I squeezed the oranges (2lbs translates to 4 large or 5 medium Seville oranges), reserved all the pips and put the juice and the flesh into a bowl with the water. I cut the rind and pith fairly fine and add that to the liquid and left it to soak overnight. Actually I think I left it two nights.
Then the whole lot goes into the pressure cooker together with the pips which have been gathered up in a piece of muslin and tied firmly. Having brought the pressure cooker up to 10lbs pressure the rind and the joice is cooked for 10 minutes while the theme from Dick Barton plays in the background.
The music is useful because this is a time of tension. You have to watch like a veritable gannet to make sure that it’s up to pressure and that the valve doesn’t stick or become gunked up. I was raised on tales of a friend of my mother’s who managed to knock the pressure cooker weight off while something was cooking and sprayed dinner all over the ceiling.
While the pressure cooker is cooling until the pressure is low enough for it to be safe to remove the lid I put the sugar in bags in the oven and warm it to around 75 degrees Centigrade along with the jars. Having taken out the bag of pips, I add the sugar to the fruit and bring it to a rolling boil for upwards of 10 minutes. I normally put a couple of small plates in the freezer. Then once the marmalade has been boiling away for 10 minutes or so I start to periodically drop a little on a cold plate to check whether the surface wrinkles as I push the blob with my finger. That wrinkle indicates that it’s reached the setting point.
Then it’s just a case of putting the marmalade in jars, popping on a Duffel coat and slipping a jar under my hat. I have no advice on what to do if you have sticky paws other than to lick them. “And do try not to get into any more trouble,” said Mr Brown…