For those who happen to live on northern latitudes, January can be seen as a bleak month, when after all the jolly of Christmas, we are left over with extra pounds of belly fat, with short days that seem to take an eternity to become longer and with a desire for something exciting and new to happen.
The appearance of Seville or bitter oranges (citrus auriantium) at fruit stalls and markets certainly is no cure for winter nostalgia, but it can be seen as some kind of first aid: their bits of green/yellow and orange colour, provided by these fruits can be added to our seasonal cooking palette. These fruits become like the first rays of sunshine, coming to our rescue from those winter blues.
And rescue they do. Seville oranges are only available for roughly a period of six weeks from early to mid January and they are used mainly for making marmalade because they have a high pectin content and also because they are very sour and bitter as a fruit.
Gorgeous it is to see these oranges at the shops and glorious is the smell they produce when they are turned into conserve. To make a large batch of marmalade every January not only gives you enough stock to spread on your toast for the rest of the year, it also gives you a sense of seasonality.
It is fun to turn the kitchen into a production line, invite friends and family and make large batches of marmalade, you can achieve a lot by sharing jobs and have a great time during the process.
So when you see Seville oranges at the shops buy loads, don’t eat them as a fruit, instead turn them into marmalade. This in time will become something that will make you appreciate January.
Recipe for Seville Orange Marmalade
This recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s cooking bible: The cook’s companion
Makes 1.5 – 1.8 litres
1 kg Seville oranges
3 large lemons
2 litres water
2 kg sugar
old jam jars and lids
Begin by peeling the rind of the oranges and lemons using a potato peeler, then cut into long strips or julienne. Juice the fruits and reserve the pith and seeds –this is important, the seeds are full of pectin that you will need later on. Place these inside a muslin bag or cloth and tie well. Put the juice, muslin bag, water and zest into a non-reactive saucepan [stainless steel] and bring to the boil; as soon as this happens, reduce to a very gentle simmer, partially cover the pan with a lid and cook for one hour, stirring from time to time. You want to reduce the liquid to about half of its original volume. Take off the heat and leave covered overnight.
The day after, begin by squeezing the muslin bag very well of any liquid/pectin, remember any pectin is valuable, so you want to really squeeze as much liquid as possible from the bag.
Add the sugar to the citrus mix and stir well, heat up gently, stirring all the time, up to boiling point. Once it begins to boil, stop stirring and leave to bubble for about 7 minutes or until it comes to setting point. Test for setting using a thermometer, it should reach 104 C, if you don’t have a thermometer, just place a blob of marmalade on a cold plate and leave for a couple of minutes, push your finger into the marmalade, it should separate in two halves; this is setting point. If this does not happen, continue boiling for a bit longer and test until you are able to do so.
Sterilise your glass jars: Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water and rinse well in hot water. Submerge into a large pan full of boiling water for 10 minutes, carefully take out of the bath and place upside-down over a clean tea-towel to drain. Dry well by putting them inside an oven at 150 C. Take out of the oven and avoid touching the insides of the jars and lids. While these are still hot, fill them with hot marmalade and then screw on the lids. Do this with care.
Leave them to cool down, a vacuum should be created, you can tell this by feeling the concave shape of the lids when they are cold. Label and date the jars… when you open a jar in July and see the date, you will remember the day you made this!