• In season now: May

    New this month: Asparagus! The food of gods... and carrots are back.

    Still in season from last month: cauliflower, chard, green cabbage, salad leaves, main-crop potatoes (from store), salad leaves, sea kale, spring greens, rhubarb

    Goodbye till next year to: Purple sprouting broccoli (sniff, sniff), leeks, stored parsnips, forced rhubarb

  • What I’m doing here

    This all started when I picked the first strawberries from my new allotment.

    I'd never been so enraptured or so excited by food. It was a shock to find that anything could taste so good.

    So what - I'd never had strawberries before?

    No - all the strawberries I'd had were shop-bought, like as not flown in from intensive growers in Spain or Chile, and eaten in winter when strawberries should be a distant summer memory.

    It revolutionised my thinking about the fresh food we eat every day. I started to wonder if you got the same amazing taste from all types of food grown and eaten in season. And then I decided to do something about it.

    The Year of Eating Seasonally is my little experiment to find out what it's really like not to have it all. The only fruit and veg I and my family are going to eat in 2008 will be what's growing in the ground at the time (or, in winter, what I can get out of store).

    I want to find out if the hungry gap is really as hungry as everyone says it is: whether you're really eating nothing but cabbage all winter; and whether you miss strawberries in December.

    Along the way I hope I'll save a few tons of carbon being released into the atmosphere on my behalf, as I won't be requiring those French beans flown from Chile, thanks very much. And I hope I'll be rediscovering what food can really taste like.

    If you have any comments, please feel free to post them anywhere you like - or you can email me at sallywhite@hotmail.com.

Marmalade

This makes about 6 jars of marmalade. It takes a bit of experimenting to get this right, so if you find your first batch isn’t exactly perfect, adjust quantities a bit and try again. I find, though, that even if you don’t have an absolute set – i.e. if it’s still a bit runny – it’s still OK to use.

2lbs (900g) Seville oranges

4pts (2.25 litres) water

4lbs (1.8kg) granulated sugar (you can use the stuff with added pectin if you like – it’s usually called jam sugar – but it’s not necessary).

You’ll also need 6 clean jam jars, big enough to hold 1lb (450g) marmalade, three or four small saucers, some muslin or gauze – I got mine from the local chemist – and some string.

Start by cutting a good-sized square of gauze – about 10″ (25cm) square is fine. You may need to double the thickness if it’s chemists’ gauze. Lay it over a shallow bowl. 

Measure the water into a large casserole, saucepan or preserving pan if you have one. Cut the oranges in half, and squeeze the juice from each one. Add the juice to the water, and place any pith and pips on the gauze.

Cut the orange halves into quarters, and remove the remains of the pith from the skins – you can do this by lifting a corner with a knife and then peeling away with your fingers. Add to the pile on the gauze square. This pith and pip mess contains the pectin, which is essential for a good set.

Now chop the skins into shreds. The thickness depends on how thick-cut you like your marmalade – but be careful not to make them too thick or they won’t cook properly.

Add the shreds to the water, and then tie the pith and pips up in the gauze so that it forms a bag. Secure tightly with a knot at the neck, then tie to the handle of the pan so that the bag sits in the water-and-juice mixture.

Bring the liquid to simmering point, and then simmer uncovered for 2 hours, until the peel is soft. Toward the end of this time, put the sugar into a bowl and put it in a warm oven to heat through for 15 minutes or so. Don’t overdo it though or you’ll scorch the sugar.

Now put your saucers into the freezer (bear with me here, you’ll see why later). Remove the bag of pips and pith, and leave it to cool on a plate. 

Pour the warmed sugar into the marmalade and stir thoroughly until it’s completely dissolved. This is really important as if there’s any undissolved sugar left it’ll prevent the marmalade setting. You can tell it’s dissolved when you stop feeling it gritty on the base of the pan as you’re stirring, and when you lift out the spoon and look at the back, there’s no sign of any crystals.

Now whack up the heat to full, and start squeezing the bag of pips & pith over the pan. You’ll find lots of gunk starts oozing out – this is pectin-rich and you should scrape it off the surface of the gauze into the marmalade. When no more comes out, give the marmalade a quick stir and wait till it comes to the boil.

You need to hit a really fast boil and then start timing (watch it carefully to make sure it doesn’t boil over – it sets like concrete on cooker hobs). After 15 minutes, get one of your saucers out of the freezer, take a little marmalade out with a spoon and drop it onto the saucer. Put it in the fridge to cool (you can take the marmalade off the heat while this is going on.

After a few minutes the marmalade will have cooled sufficiently, so take it out of the fridge and push it with your little finger. If it forms a heavily-crinkled skin on top, it’s set. It has to be crinkling really well – a little crinkle means you’ve got a way to go yet.

If there’s no set yet, return the marmalade to the heat and boil fast for another 10 minutes. Repeat the test, then re-boil if necessary, until you do get a set. Then turn off the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Scum quite often forms on the surface at this stage, so let it rise and then stir in half a teaspoon full of butter, which should disperse it. Any that’s left, you can pick out gently with a spoon.

While the marmalade is resting, wash and dry your jars thoroughly and pop them in a medium oven for 5 minutes to sterilise them. Use a ladle or funnel to fill with marmalade while it’s still hot, and then immediately seal the tops with waxed paper – you can buy special jam pot tops, or make your own by cutting out circles from those plastic-like bags in cereal packets. Label the jars when they’re cold.

This keeps for a year or more quite happily, so if you make enough to last that long you need only do this once a year – so it’s easy to keep it in season!

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