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Blood orange marmalade

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade

Blood orange marmalade
When we were kids, we mainly took family holidays in Italy. In the sun and beautiful countryside of southern Tuscany, we ate wonderful food and relaxed away from day to day life. Our parents often combined the best of both worlds and relaxed as they cooked the evening meal with a long cool gin and tonic. Sometimes the gin was carried from home, but usually it was bought in the hypermarchés we stopped at across the Continent and were lesser known brands such as Bosford or Old Lady’s Gin. Even as a nipper, I was tickled by the name of the latter, especially one summer when the bottle bought came with a can of Orangina Rouge made with blood orange and the exortation that you mix the two to get the hilariously named Bloody Old Lady cocktail…

Despite only sampling the Orangina Rouge sans gin at the time, this drink further fuelled Miss Marple inspired dreams of being a wee old dear before my time. Pairs of slacks, snap clasped handbags and trips to the Post Office with my wheeled shopping trolley all help the illusion, but when I found myself in possession of a big bag of blood oranges and a bottle of Tanqueray Export a few weeks ago, I knew the time had come to be all Women’s Institute and make marmalade fit for a Bloody Old Lady.

Blood oranges, in the skin

Not being a big eater of marmalade, I obviously had very little idea of how to make the stuff. I was adamant that if I was to sample my own wares, it would need to be a thick cut marmalade as I like a bit texture in my preserves. Having made one decision, I failed to do anything else like decide on a recipe or a method of marmalade making and pretty much made it all up from there on in.

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade:

• 6 blood oranges
• 1 large pink grapefruit
• 2 kilos of sugar (I used half regular sugar and jam sugar)
• 2-4 tablespoons good quality gin

I used six blood oranges and one pink grapefruit, stripping the peel off the fruit with a knife. Being a lazy sort, I did not start removing all the pith from the peel and putting it in a muslin bag to go alongside the peel, but left it on the peel. I then juiced the fruit and squashed up the remaining segments to maximise the citrus hit. I had no pips, but if I’d had them I’d have kept them to put inside a muslin bag to help set the marmalade.

I then boiled the be-pithed peel in about 3 pints of water until the peel had started to soften and the water had started to turn the same colour. I then took the peel off the heat and keeping the citrussy water, divided it into two pans as I don’t have one big enough for both. Half the water went in both, along with juiced up fruit and a kilo of sugar in each. I mixed half a bag of each regular and jam sugar with extra pectin and bunged that in. I then boiled the mixture until it reached the magic alchemy point of 220℉ or 104℃ that turns a load of citrussy gloop into marmalade. This is easiest with a thermometer but having smashed mine to ribbons, I used the simple trick of finding the ‘wrinkle point’ on a cold saucer. Once a drop of the hot liquid sets and creases up when you run a finger over it, you have your set point and the marmalade needs to come off the heat immediately.

Allow the pan to sit for about five minutes, easing down from a scary pan of spitting sugar and potential burns, to a gentle pop and sigh of citrus deliciousness (do not forget yourself and put your finger in there). This gives you time to get your jars out of the oven where they have been sterilising, clear space for filling the jars and more importantly for the peel to settle so you don’t end up with it floating on top of your jars once they are filled. Once the marmalade is calm again, add 2 tablespoons of gin (I used Tanqueray Export. It needs to be robust for this) to each pan and stir through before filling the jars. If you add the gin too early, you’ll burn it off and lose the flavour, but don’t be tempted to pour lots in as the alcohol loosens the set of the marmalade and you’ll end up with something more like a lumpy cocktail. Seal the jars with wax circles and cellophane lids and leave to cool completely.

Sliced blood oranges, ready for marmalade

I recommend making a large loaf of bread while this is happening because the instant this marmalade is set and cooled, you are going to want to slather it generously on hot buttered toast with a good strong tea on the side. The blood oranges have a more rounded flavour than their non-red cousins and that slightly soft fruit taste comes through, given a tasty kick with the gin. The first jar I opened was all gone within 24 hours. The second didn’t last much longer. I ate marmalade for breakfast, lunch and dinner, only giving jars to those I love dearly. Giddy with my own preserve superpowers, I entered a jar in the novice category of the Marmalade Awards at Dalemain Mansion, hoping to get further tips on my scorecard. The good folk of Cumbria must have heard my shriek of ecstatic glee when a certificate arrived awarding me bronze! I celebrated by dispensing with the bread and eating more marmalade off the spoon while counting down the days til further blood orange crops. I’ll just make twice as many jars next year!

2012 Marmalade Awards, Fortnum and Mason, London

 

 

Easy Peasy Lemon Curd

An impromptu breakfast at Wild Caper in Brixton has led me to a new summer obsession. Nestled in between the toasted sourdough, homemade jams and ricotta was a small dish of mellow yellow in the shape of proper lemon curd. Creamy as custard and bursting with the invigorating tang of sunshine soaked lemons, I fell in love with it. And went back the next week for more of the same. (Wild Caper doesn’t even advertise it does breakfast, but it’s the best in Brixton… you need to go there!)

I was tempted to buy a jar of it the third time I went in (this time for one of their sourdough doughnuts) but having found some proper unwaxed Italian lemons in The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill the day before, I postponed my original plans for limoncello and decided to make a vat of lemon curd instead.

I expected it would be delicious. I did not expect it would be easier than falling off a log to make it. The only remotely fancy thing you need is a bowl over a pan of water and a lemon zester or grater. I followed this recipe from the lovely Rachel Eats as it seemed the most straightforward I could find. I halved the amount of sugar as I loathe sickly sweet citrus things and wanted some sharpness to it. It made about a pint of curd and filled a small Kilner jar.

Start by sterilising your jars in the oven. This is very important. Then get down to zesting and juicing your lemons as your (unsalted) butter melts above the water. Revel in the citrussy spell of summer now infusing your kitchen as you go. Add the lemon to the butter and put in as much sugar as you choose and make sure it is all melted. Double check the water isn’t boiling under the bowl and things aren’t too hot and then add in your eggs, whisking firmly and making sure nothing scrambles and then cook it out until it looks thick and opaque. Resist the temptation to stick your finger in there. It’s hot and you need to be fussy about good preserve hygiene.

Pour into your sterilised jar promptly, close the Kilner jar or cover with a lid and leave to cool. Scrape the bowl out and lick the spatula with unreserved glee. This stuff is amazing. Light, yet buttery with an utterly moreish tingle of lemon. You’ll be hard pushed to walk past the jar without dipping into it.

Dollop it on bread or Ryvita with a base of cream or curd cheese. Perk up your porridge with it. Stir it into yoghurt for a luxury dessert. Ripple it through ice cream. Give crepes a new lease of life. Take your lemon drizzle cake up a notch. Fill lemon poppyseed muffins with it. Eat it off the spoon out of the jar. Try to resist the urge to turn everything you come across into curd, even though you imagine grapefruit and passion fruit would both be sensational with the sharpness and sweetness that a good curd has. Make friends and influence people with jars of this when they invite you for instead of a mediocre bottle of wine from the corner shop. The possibilities are endless. But just make sure you make it immediately…

Marmalade Ice Cream

One of the best things about having an ice cream maker is that you can indulge in your own choice of flavours and make ice cream a more grown up treat than the usual selection of tubs in the supermarket offer you. Having enjoyed the salted caramel butter creation of the week before, I was keen to try something else, but not too sweet and a bit different, so when I espied the half finished jar of marmalade in the fridge, I knew exactly what to do with it…

I’m actually not a huge fan of marmalade (or jam) but I’ve never met an ice cream I didn’t like, so I thought this would be the perfect way to convert myself to this most traditional of preserves. And if I still couldn’t summon my inner Paddington, I’d simply feed it to friends and make myself very popular.

I adapted the basic recipe that pretty much every ice cream recipe uses, heating a carton of double cream and the same amount of milk in a pan with the zest of an orange until about to bubble while whisking 5 egg yolks with about a quarter of a cup of sugar until they were light and fluffy. I then used the same quarter cup to pour some of the heated milk into the egg mixture to combine it, warm it up and prevent it scrambling when added to the rest of the milk as you make the custard. I then heated the whole thing a bit more, until the custard thickened slightly (don’t expect it to go the consistency of Bird’s) before taking it off the heat sharpish. Don’t linger or you’ll have an unholy mess on your hands.

Pour the custard mix into a metal bowl you have already placed inside a larger bowl full of iced water and chill the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours or overnight if you have time. Then pour into your ice cream maker and churn to make a super easy ice cream with a minimum of fuss. Or do what I did and have a moment of sheer lunacy and forget to put the arm into the machine, leaving the frozen bowl to spin as aimlessly as a 1970s drummer at his kit awaiting his solo, and creating a bizarre semi frozen mess that clings to the edges of the bowl without resembling actual ice cream. You can then defrost the entire thing in a bowl of hot water and have to rechill it all overnight before trying again.

Next morning, I gave everything another 25 minutes churn with all parts of the machine in place and was rewarded with a creamy masterpiece. I then gently heated the roughly half jar of marmalade til it went all sticky and jammy and soft, added a tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice and poured it all into the ice cream, whipping for another five or so minutes until well combined. You could also do this as a marmalade ripple if you preferred and I think I’d add a splash of rum if I was doing this. Pop the whole thing in the freezer for a couple of hours or until needed. Then prepare to taste the best ice cream in the world…

Rich and creamy beyond belief, it is spiked with tiny chewy shreds of peel just bursting with refreshingly tangy bitter citrus gorgeousness and the sunshine sweetness of fresh orange. Stunning on its own or with some dark chocolate ( I used Maya Gold in the pic), it is a very grown up and utterly sensational ice cream that has converted me so wholeheartedly to marmalade that I’m booking a ticket to Darkest Peru tomorrow…

Do-Re-Mi-So-Fa-ttoush!

After the hale and hearty (but somewhat heavy) dishes of central Europe it’s been good to eat lighter and ostensibly more healthy food back home. Good weather, joint birthdays and football fever (sigh) all created the excuse for a barbecue this weekend. There are certain dishes I tend to fall back on for barbecue fare: for me East Mediterranean / Middle Eastern flavours are so redolent of summer, with their cooling, fresh flavours. In the last year I’ve raided the Leon cookbook for inspiration (their sweet potato falafels and sesame chicken wings have become firm favourites) but deeper in the pantry of culinary influences is another inspirational character, Claudia Roden.

There was always something very exotic and other-worldly about her recipes in the cookbook on our parent’s kitchen shelf: unfamiliar ingredients sat cheek by jowl against old favourites. Later I learned about more about her extensive writings around the Med, but it was the Middle Eastern recipes which captured my imagination the most. Her recipe for fattoush, from her book ‘Tamarind and Saffron‘, can be found on the Waitrose website, and is the template I tend to use when making this stunning salad.

The first time I had fattoush was revelatory: clean, sharp, distinct and delicious flavours jostling for attention. I think it was probably in the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and I was intrigued by the banality of the description as a ‘bread salad’. Sounds rather dull, I thought, but my assumption was duly blown out of the water on the first mouthful. The citrus-y notes of the lemon and sumac dressing enhance the cooling qualities of the leaves, cucumber and mint, and the toasted bread provides texture and crispness. Can you tell I like this dish 🙂 ?

Making fattoush isn’t challenging, but it is reasonably time-consuming. I tend to associate it with standing in a sun-drenched kitchen, radio on in the background as I get engrossed in comforting routine of washing, slicing and dicing the ingredients. Wonderfully relaxing. A note though, it really is worth tracking down some real sumac, to give this salad the necessary ‘zing’. You should be able to get it in most shops in cities which cater for Middle Eastern/Persian/Arabic customers, or buy online. I’m lucky enough to be able to buy from the inimitable Alex Med in Todmorden Market, whose imported and home-prepared mixes are quite wonderful. His sumac is Syrian, and perfectly piquant.

Stir it up…

Tangerine Dream

I’ve been disappointed by the flavour of small oranges over the last few years. As a kid I used to love the exhilarating combination of sweet and tart juice, an exploding refreshment in every segment. So why oh why is it so hard to find a decent dinky citrus fruit? The market’s overwhelmed by the bland sweetness of satsumas, mandarins and un-named ‘small oranges’ in the supermarkets. But for me the king of the bunch has to be the tangerine.

Small oranges were so much more fun than ‘proper’ oranges: you could peel then more easily, didn’t have to spend ages trying to remove the acrid pith, the segments were much more suited to snaffling in a single mouthful, and you were more likely to dodge a pip in the seed version of Russian Roulette. They were also lunchbox-friendly, tended to end up in the toe of your Christmas stocking as a token healthy concession on a day of chocolate-fuelled gluttony, and came in great string bags.

I think Radio 4’s ‘The Food Programme’ covered the changing trends in orange consumption a few years ago, demonstrating how the public’s taste had grown for sweeter varieties to the detriment of tangy-ier citrus fruit. I was chuffed to find tangerines in Sainsbury’s over Christmas and into the new year as I’d not seen them in shops for years. My stash for this year has now been depleted, with even the slighlty wrinkley and aged ones used for cooking juice, but at least I know I can still get my favourite fun-sized fruit. The future’s bright… the future’s orange!