When I was ten, my mum’s best friend Sally told me that if I threw an egg onto the roof of our house and it landed perfectly, it would never break. I loved that story. It’s true that some eggs soared right over the top and landed in a mangled mess in the grass on the other side. But countless more vanished into the wedge-shaped crevice between the two gables. I’m sure they never broke.
Sally taught me that the only way to be sure that spaghetti is perfectly cooked is to throw a strand against the wall. When it sticks to the plaster, it’s ready to eat. Eggs on the roof, spaghetti on the walls, picnics in the rain, hot sausages in the snow, plum and chilli jelly made with fruit left in a carrier bag on the front step by a friend. This is the food that always makes me happy and sometimes makes me laugh…
Preserves aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I have a cupboard full of brown, sludgy tomato chutney, which looks so repulsive I can’t even face tipping it into the bin. I knew it was a disaster from the beginning. The kitchen was thick with the astringent stench of vinegar, a smell that clears a blocked nose quicker than a nasal inhaler. As I stirred the seething beige brew, even my dog sat disapprovingly outside the door. But Seville orange marmalade. Now that’s a whole new story.
Seville oranges aren’t around for long. At a pinch, you can freeze them whole until the marmalade-making urge strikes. The main thing is to get your hands on some while you can. This recipe makes four half litre jars. I always make double, but it’s never enough.
- 1.5 kg Seville oranges
- 2 unwaxed lemons
- 2.25 kg granulated sugar
- sterilised jars
Cut the oranges in half. Save the pips and squeeze out the juice. Remove the pith and flesh and put both in a large square of muslin along with the pips. Tie a large knot in the muslin and plonk the bundle into the preserving pan. Cut the skin into the strips the size you like to eat. I think scissors are the easiest way to do it. Tip the orange and lemon peel into the pan with 4 pints of cold water, the juice and the muslin bag. Boil and then simmer without a lid for 2 hours.
Take out the muslin bundle and squeeze the juice from it into the pan. Put the bag back in. Add 1lb of sugar for every pint of liquid you have left (you should have around 3 pints) and then stir for fifteen minutes on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Boil the mixture rapidly for about 45 minutes. After 20 minutes, start testing the mixture by placing a teaspoon on a cold saucer and pushing at it with your finger. When it wrinkles, take it off the heat and leave it to stand for 10 minutes.
Tip the marmalade into warm, sterilised jars and cover the tops with waxed discs. Close the lids when the marmalade is cool. Then wrestle with your conscience and see if you can bear to give any away. I rarely do.
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