The appeal of peel
Marmalade should always have a special place in our hearts–and stomachs–says Emma Hughes, who extols the virtues of making your own at this time of year
For breakfast, this is both the best of times and the worst of times. on the one hand, the first meal of the day has never been so photographed, so elevated, so celebrated in newspapers and colour supplements. on the other, the dishes we’ve loved for decades could soon be wiped out entirely by chia-seed porridge and kale smoothies.
of all the potential casualties in the war against stodge—sausage sarnies, porridge made with cream, fried bread—the saddest loss would surely be marmalade. Just think of the history: it was James Bond’s toast topping of choice (he always went for Cooper’s Vintage oxford) and Sir Edmund Hillary took a jar up Everest. Not even Marmite can compete with that.
Made well, it’s also a thing of extraordinary complexity and beauty. A jar of really excellent marmalade looks like something precious that Indiana Jones would have held twinklingly up to the light.
However, we shouldn’t despair—not yet. For starters, marmalade’s patron saint, Paddington Bear, isn’t going down without a fight. ‘I’m not sure I like the sound of green juice very much,’ he told me over email, via his agent (always a dedicated letter-writer to his Aunt Lucy in Peru, he’s had to become au fait with electronic correspondence since the Paddington film came out in 2014). ‘I expect it would make my toast go soggy. Mr Gruber once told me that a famous person said a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine and I feel much the same way about marmalade. I can’t imagine what life would be like without it.’
If, like him, you’re keen to champion its cause, why not start by whipping up a batch of your own marmalade? Now’s the time. With the chaos of Christmas behind us and joyless January stretching ahead, dedicating a day to peeling and slicing things quietly in the kitchen is surely just what the doctor ordered.
‘orange If it goes well with juice in a cocktail, it’ll work in marmalade’
Of course, you can make perfectly good marmalade from any citrus fruit, but, really, if you’re a first-timer, you want oranges. If you can source Sevilles, which are naturally high in pectin, so much the better (watch Waitrose like a hawk during their short season), but blood oranges are just as good. Look for firm fruits of a uniform size and make sure you freeze any you have left over.
Next, you need the right kit. A big, wide-bottomed pan is essential, but don’t fill it too enthusiastically—if it boils over, you’ll spend the rest of the month chipping sugar off your cooker. Try not to let the sugar catch, unless you’re aiming for a finished product that tastes of bonfires. (Speaking of taste, a good slug of booze never goes amiss. Whisky, Campari, even gin—if it goes well with orange juice in a cocktail, it’ll work in marmalade.)
For perfect results every time, there are a few simple rules you can follow. Make sure it’s set (once it’s been at a rolling boil for a quarter of an hour or so, use the ‘wrinkle test’, in which you spoon a little onto a cold saucer, leave it for a minute to cool, then prod it; if it’s ready to pot, it will wrinkle), but don’t be tempted to go past the setting point, unless you like tarmac on your toast.
Give it 15 minutes to stand once it’s ready—if you pour it out while it’s hot, all the peel will rise to the top of the jar. For a gorgeously clear amber result, skim any scum off the top of the marmalade before you pour it into jars.
So what are you waiting for? Dust off your jam pan, put the radio on and get preserving. It’s not merely a pleasure, but your duty. Just ask Paddington.