Between strawberry fields and marmalade skies
There is no kitchen activity more pleasing than making jam or marmalade, capturing the smells and tastes of one season’s plenty for another
Last week, a Delhi friend posted on Instagram a beautiful shot of perfectly ripe, glistening strawberries, a bright red, peak season abundance bursting out of the screen (definitely #nofilter required). It looked like the picture had been taken in a local market when the fruit perhaps didn’t have many hours on the clock before turning to mush and I imagined lucky local cooks returning home with shopping bags heavy with berries and minds working overtime on ways to quickly make use of their bounty.
After letting the family gorge until sick on the juicy fruits, possibly with thick fresh cream, many cooks will then start thinking of preserving as a way to use up large quantities of fruit quickly. There is no kitchen activity more pleasing than making jam or marmalade, capturing the smells and tastes of one season’s plenty for another, perhaps less bountiful, one. In these days of global food travel, preserving connects us to a different time when everything had
its season and was honoured and respected, never wasted, never left to rot at the bottom of the fridge before being chucked in the bin.
We’re a long way from our berry season here in Edinburgh; we won’t be enjoying gluts of local raspberries and strawberries until the summer months. The fruits that are in season here at the moment are the oranges and clementines from southern Europe. One particular highlight is the arrival, for a brief few weeks, of the bitter oranges from Seville in southern Spain. These are the oranges of choice for making marmalade but you have to act quickly or you’ll miss your chance for another year.
Don’t rush jam making—set aside enough time to relish the wonderful aromas and congratulate yourself on the shelf groaning with orange and red preserves you will create.
I spent a lovely afternoon using the last of the Seville oranges for marmalade but I also bought some imported strawberries to make a couple of jars of jam, imagining I was in my Delhi kitchen after a particularly fruitful trip to the market.
Makes 5-6 jars
Whenever I’m preserving I use this, my mother’s tried and tested recipe.
1kg strawberries, stalks removed
Juice of 1 lemon
1kg granulated sugar
A large, heavy-based pan and six sterilized glass jars with lids. To sterilize the jars, rinse them in boiling water and turn upside down to drain, then put in the oven at 160 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes.
Put a couple of saucers in the freezer. Put the fruit in a large pan with the lemon juice and simmer gently until the strawberry juices start to run—about 10 minutes. Mash the strawberries down with a potato masher and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes until the fruit is completely soft and you have a thick purée. Slowly add the sugar and stir over low heat until it is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil for about 5 minutes before testing to see if the jam has reached setting point. Take one of the saucers out of the freezer and drop a teaspoon of jam on to it. Leave to cool, then push the jam with your finger—if it wrinkles, it has set. If not, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. When the jam is ready, remove any scum from the surface, then pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Makes 7-8 jars
For marmalade, which we didn’t make in our family, I always turn to the Women’s Institute, an organization formed in 1915 to revitalize rural communities in Britain and encourage women to become more involved in producing food during World War I. Still going strong, its members are mostly known for their skills in baking and preserving, their recipes passed down over generations of families. This recipe comes from Jams, Pickles And Chutneys: Best Kept Secrets Of The Women’s Institute on preserving. I don’t think the Seville oranges would make it as far as India but a good alternative might be the gondhoraj lime.
Note: It is very important to cook the peel long enough so it is soft, otherwise your marmalade will be a bit chewy.
1kg Seville oranges (or other bitter oranges, or gondhoraj limes)
2 litres water
2kg granulated sugar
Put two saucers in the freezer. Wash and scrub the oranges and lemons. Cut the fruit in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the pips and all the white membrane (if you leave any of the membrane, it will make the marmalade cloudy) and tie them in a muslin bag. Cut the peel into thin shreds, then place in a large pan with the juice, bag of pips and pulp, and the water. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently, uncovered, for about 2 hours, until the contents of the pan are reduced by half and the peel is really soft and tender. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze it hard to remove all the gooey liquid; this contains the pectin which makes the marmalade set. Add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 10 minutes, then check to see if the setting point has been reached (with the saucer test). Remove any scum from the surface, cool for 5-10 minutes. Stir well to distribute the peel, then pour into sterilized jars and seal.
The Way We Eat Now is a column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.
The writer tweets at @eatanddust