Enough of all this deep stuff. Time to make marmalade. I had a cold after Christmas which could only be helped by copious amounts of whisky and hot lemon, which Ian duly supplied. You can always tell I have a bad cold if I take to whisky, lemon and honey. In normal times I don't even like whisky. Ian bought lots of lemons (there must have a been a special offer on!) and when the cold had receded there were the lemons, about a kilo of them, still sitting in the fruit bowl looking as if they would like to be made into something.
Marmalade is a great thing to make if you are new to preserving because it sets easily. I don't have much patience with the traditional chopping of oranges or lemons. This way produces a very similar marmalade with a lot less work.
As ingredients: 1 kilo lemons, 2kg (or slightly more) granulated sugar, water.
As equipment: very large pan or preserving pan, sharp knife, food processor, twelve clean jam jars with lids, measuring jug, jam funnel.
Time: three to four hours.
Take a kilo of lemons and cut off the hard, dark "buttons" where they were attached to the tree. Put the lemons in a large pan, a preserving pan is best because it is bound to be big enough and also heavy enough for the marmalade not to burn. Add 2.5 litres of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about two hours until the lemons are soft.
After a couple of hours turn the heat off, take the lemons out of the water with a slotted spoon, leaving the water in the pan. Let the lemons cool so you can handle them which should take about twenty minutes. Then cut them in half and remove the pips. It will be very easy to do this because the flesh is so soft. It is best to do checking for pips by hand so you don't miss any. I usually cut the lemons on a board but take out the pips over a bowl so that you don't lose any juice.
Throw away the pips. People used to advise you to tie them up in a muslin bag and add to the marmalade but in my experience it makes not the slightest difference. Put the lemons, about a third at a time, into a food processor and whizz them until the peel is finely chopped. The resulting slush will be thick and opaque and looks as if it couldn't possibly make a clear marmalade but don't worry, it will.
Pour the water in which the lemons cooked into a measuring jug. You need 1.7 litres. How much you will have depends on how quickly your water boiled when you were softening the lemons. If you have too much, pour a bit off. If you don't have enough, make it up to 1.7 litres with more water.
Put the water back into the pan with 2kg of granulated sugar and the lemon pulp. Put the pan over a medium heat, stirring until the sugar has completerly dissolved Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil.
At this stage it still looks too pale, too cloudy and not at all marmalade like and makes you wonder if you are doing it right. You are.
When it starts to boil you need to get your jars ready. They should be clean. Recycled jam jars are ideal and make you feel virtuous. They should have screw on lids which will seal tightly. Put the oven on its lowest setting and put a newspaper on one of the shelves to distribute the oven heat evenly. Put twelve jars in the oven for about ten minutes to sterilise them, just the jars, not the lids. You can also sterilise jars by putting them through a dishwasher cycle but it takes longer. At the same time as the jars go into the oven, put a small plate into the fridge on the top shelf, usually the coldest part of the fridge if you have a freezer compartment.
While the jars are in the oven keep an eye on the marmalade. You don't want to stir it as this slows down the speed at which it reaches setting point but you do need to use a slotted spoon to gently take any scum from the top. I find that there is often a surprising amount of this. It doesn't matter if you leave a little in the marmalade but the more you take out the clearer the final result will be. It is also a good idea to taste the marmalade. If it is very tart you might need to add some more sugar until it tastes as you like it. This recipe produces a tart marmalade so it is unlikely to be too sweet.
After fifteen minutes or so of boiling you are ready to start testing the marmalade to see if it has reached setting point. Take your plate out of the fridge and use a teaspoon to gently drop a little of the liquid onto the side of the plate. Put the plate back in the fridge and set a timer for one minute. I normally leave the mixture cooking while the minute elapses although I know some recipes tell you not to. When your minute is over take the plate out of the fridge and push the mixture gently with your finger tip. If it is not ready to set it will simply run away from your finger like any other liquid. If it is ready, the surface of the mixture will wrinkle slightly, not great big wrinkles, more like the kind you get under your eyes when you first start to notice them! If it wrinkles you are ready to pot the marmalade. If it doesn't, keep the mixture boiling for another two or three minutes and then try the wrinkle test again. Don't forget to put the plate back into the fridge to cool down again. I find it often needs three or four tests until it is ready. As soon as it is ready, turn the heat off.
You can pot the mixture into the jars without the use of a jam funnel by pouring it very carefully from a jug but it is so much easier with a jam funnel that I always use one. I fill a measuring jug from the pan and, holding it over a plastic bowl so it doesn't drip all over the place, slowly fill the jars. Tighten the lids. Wipe the jars quickly while they are hot because any stickiness is easy to get rid off at this stage.
It keeps for months if you can stop people eating it.
You will have a lot of sticky equipment. Put everything in the preserving pan with lots of hot water and detergent and wash it all while it is hot. The difference between doing this and coming back to it later when it has gone cold is the difference between a glow of achievement and a cross, hot, swearing sweat. Here speaks the voice of experience.
It takes a couple of hours before you can see that it has set as it should. If you have been over optimistic in your wrinkle test and potted it too early you can put all the mixture back in the pan and boil it up again so all is not lost but it does take the shine off the day so it is best to be pretty sure you have wrinkles.
I know it has sugar in and sugar is public enemy number one right now but there are no preservatives, no chemicals, no strange enzymes, just lemons, sugar and water and, if you love marmalade, it is delicious.