'Mrs Henderson told me to work with Iris in the still room, making marmalade. The gardeners had brought in baskets full of plump, sour oranges from the hothouse: they had to be boiled for a good two hours and then cut into tiny chips before being boiled up again with sugar. A tall white sugar cone sat on the table, hard as marble, which we would have to break into chunks.'
From Polly's Story
Bitter Seville oranges are in the shops here (for a few weeks only), so it's time to make enough marmalade to see us through till next year. In fact, I slice up the orange peel before boiling it, unlike Polly and Iris in the still room. And now of course, sugar comes already ground in a bag rather than in the solid cone of Victorian times, which makes life easier. This recipe originally came from the River Cottage Preserves recipe book, and their website is a mine of information.
You will need:
1 kg/ 2 lb Seville oranges (or you can use a mixture of oranges, grapefruit, lemons etc)
The juice of 2 - 3 lemons (about 75 ml/1/3 cup)
2 kg/4 lb brown demerara sugar
About 7 - 9 clean jam jars with lids
Scrub the oranges and remove the stalk 'buttons'; cut them in half and squeeze the juice and pips into a jug. You then need to slice the peel thinly. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut the orange halves into quarters, turn them over so the white pith is uppermost, peel away and discard the skin, then slice the peel as finely as possible with a serrated knife. It's quite a boring job, but listening to the radio makes the time pass!
Tip the peel into a large bowl and sieve in the juice - but don't discard the pips, which are a good source of pectin. Tie them up in a square of muslin and add to the bowl. Cover with 2 1/2 litres (10 cups) of water and leave overnight to steep.
In the morning, tip the peel, juice and water into a preserving pan or large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer gently, partially covered, for about 2 hours, or until the peel is soft. Take out and discard the bag of pips. Now put a saucer in the freezer to get cold so that later you can test for the setting point.
Add the sugar and lemon juice to the pan and heat gently, stirring from time to time, until the sugar has dissolved. Then turn up the heat and boil briskly (I think the professionals call this a 'rolling boil') for about 20 - 25 minutes. Drop a teaspoonful of the hot mixture on to the cold saucer and push it with your finger - if a crinkle forms and the liquid seems to be holding its shape, the marmalade is ready. Take off the heat, leave for about 10 minutes to cool a little, then stir to disperse any scum. Pour into warm, sterilised jam jars and seal with the lids immediately.
Voila! Delicious marmalade. Try not to eat it all by February.... (It makes a great present, too.)