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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

 

 

Candied Peel

I love love love candied peel. I used to run to the baking cupboard and cram spoonfuls of it in my mouth when my mum wasn’t looking. It was my favourite bit of any fruitcake or barmbrack. This is especially odd since I don’t like oranges as a fruit, juice or flavouring, and generally eschew citrus fruits of all kinds. But mellow those citrus rinds in vats of sugar and it’s hypnotic to me.

An inability to read recipes a few weeks ago meant I ended up with an overabundance of grapefruits when making marmalade for cake and found myself wondering what to do with them all. A casual Twitter conversation about Christmas preparations brought about a massive lightbulb moment. I would make my own candied peel. Never mind if it was incredibly faffy and complicated: I could rise to the challenge!

Imagine my glee when this Waitrose recipe popped up and I realised candying my own peel was actually easier than pie. Radio on, sleeves rolled up, I set about peeling and de-pithing my citrus fruit. I had a mix of pomelo, ruby grapefruit, lemons and orange, but avoided limes as I thought it might be too overwhelming, like cordial.

Get four pans going on your hob and simmer the peels separately in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften them up. Then split the peels into two pots to simmer in the syrup. I actually made two batches of candied peel and found it easier to keep the peels bigger and cram less peel into the pans as they bubble and soak up the sugar. I just did two batches of the syrup to be sure nothing caught or burned. Keep the heat down low as you can, you only want the merest blip in the syrup to stop it getting bitter or caramelising. Then go off and do stuff while your house smells truly amazing…

I came back to my peel when there was still a tiny bit of syrup left, and lifted the biggest pieces out with tongs, laying them on baking trays. The smaller bits went into a sieve to drip any excess syrup off, as you don’t want so much syrup on the pieces: they dry crunchy and I didn’t fancy trying to boil my pan dry and win the challenge. I then left the trayfuls of peel in the living room to dry as it was the only place I had room, but the airing cupboard or anywhere the cat can’t walk on them will do.

About three days later, I turned the peel with tongs and left for another two or three days or until I remembered about it. I popped it in a ziplock bag, with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar, and shook it up to coat it and stop it sticking together. Some went into the Christmas mincemeat. Some went into cellophane bags to give as gifts. The rest was stored in a jar to be used for various festive recipes closer to the time and the leftover syrup stored for a drizzle cake or put on porridge or ice cream.

So if you didn’t do a cake on Stir-Up Sunday, impress people with homemade candied peel instead. You will never buy one of those tiny tubs again after you’ve tasted the citrus sensation of making your own. It tastes as good as it looks!

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…