It was a combination of wanting to support new local friends and growers, understanding the nutritional value and increased flavor of home grown vegetables, reading Barbara Kingsolver’s locavore book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and discovering that roses and chocolate were required to make strawberries taste good Valentine’s Day, that directed my interest to locally grown food. Of course, we need to allow exceptions to the rule. In our area, we are fortunate to have local coffee roasters and a local friend who imports his family’s olive oil from Tunisia so if the Jeanie grants me one more wish for an imported item, it will always be Seville Oranges!
My father and I were lucky to visit the Loire Valley last fall. I could not get enough of the delicious homemade marmalades served at the breakfast table. Our host, Joke shared her recipe and I anxiously awaited January to begin searching for the special bitter oranges. Unfortunately, the brief window of seasonal opportunity was a sliver in time at our grocery stores. I tried to enlist my friends from abroad to risk their visa status and smuggle some of the bitter delicacies across the pond but unfortunately, the threatening landing card brings out even pagan’s catholic guilt. Did they not think it was a good cause? In the absence of finding this orange, I began to practice “marmalade-ing” with grapefruit – another favorite not-so-sweet citrus. The typical Seville Orange Marmalade recipe is staged over 3 days 1) chopping and soaking 2) raising temp 3) adding sugar and canning. In addition to Joke’s recipe, I referenced the River Cottage Preserves Handbook which offered the 3 day sliced method or abbreviated whole fruit soak and heat method.
Making marmalade is a straightforward process that creates complications for me for two reasons: 1) I have difficulty following a recipe. I am not an expert chef in any sense of the term, but for some reason I always think I know “the perfect ingredient” that will transition a recipe and I cannot restrain myself from using it. 2) I always, without fail, underestimate the amount of time that I will need. Hence, the great marmalade experiment, required three tries:
1) Buy organic grapefruit at Kimbertown Whole Foods. Juice the fruit and slice into thin strips, including the white pithy part. Add juice, 10 cups of water. Put pithy bits and seeds into cheese cloth and soak for 24 hrs. This turned into 36, then 48 hrs. Mold had grown. Toss.
2) Buy organic grapefruit at Kimberton Whole Foods. Try the whole fruit method. Remove only the buttons. Soak in 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 2-2.5 hrs. Slice fruit in half, discard seeds, add juice to the water, slice the fruit and add back into the pan. Add lemon juice and 10 cups(!) (let’s use less) of sugar to the water and bring to a rolling boil for approximately 15 minutes until setting point. The (parentheses) is where I go wrong -assuming that I know a better way. By adding less sugar I threw off the ratio. I checked some sources and they suggested how to fix the ratio; add the pits for pectin, a little more sugar and a little lemon to activate the pectin. Finally! It set. Now that I made it work, I just had to improve it, Scotch Marmalade! I had tried a delicious version during a weekend away and now, I found the instructions to add it in at the end. I did. Interesting flavor, not as sweet as you anticipate, slightly bitter. Not for everyone – probably not the kids.
3) Now that I had figured out how to make the marmalade set, I was dangerously armed with the confidence to prepare the treasured Seville oranges that I found out of town. For traditions sake, I wanted to use the tried and truce recipe passed along by Joke. Juice oranges and slice into thin strips. Pithy parts in cheese cloth. Add water and soak for 24 hrs. Transfer to a pan and boil for 45 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and soak with sugar for 24 hrs. One reference mentioned that as soon as you add sugar, the skins will not soften. Boil for 15 minutes until setting point. Unfortunately, I could not get to the setting point. I had already poured some of the liquid into jars but they became cocktail syrup. I put some back in the pan, added a bit of pectin and boiled again. This time, I created a thick syrup to make a dentist cringe. It reminded me of my favorite childhood candied citrus slices.
Voila Marmalade Three Ways – 1) Scotch Grapefruit Marmalade 2) Seville Orange-tini Syrup 3) Sauce pour duck a l’orange! Who knows what next year’s citrus experiment will bring! Perhaps I will learn to follow a recipe…