This is a preview from my forthcoming book about cooking in a Paris studio. The title has yet to be decided. You can view the accompanying video on Video link
I learned how to make traditional bitter English marmalade from my grandmother, who liked it so much when she first tasted it in England that she learned to make it herself. Home-made marmalade, like home-made mayonnaise, tastes infinitely better than the shop-bought varieties, which usually contain additives and are too sweet. I had been making it for myself since my student days, but in Paris I just learned to live without it, until one February I noticed the familiar Seville oranges on sale in my local greengrocer, labelled ‘oranges amères’ (bitter oranges). I bought some and made a few jars as an experiment. From that year onwards, my fate was sealed. I now make marmalade in my Paris studio every year, in two batches so that I will have a year’s supply for myself and a few jars to give to deserving friends in Paris and London who clamour for it. But when, one year, I offered to give one of them the recipe instead of the marmalade, he recoiled in horror.
It is in fact not difficult to make, even in a studio, but the process is time-consuming – and extremely rewarding, as you will get a result that cannot be bought. Seville oranges are only on sale for about three weeks from mid January to early February, in a few Paris greengrocers, so that making marmalade is a very seasonal ritual. Over time, in response to people’s requests, I have modified my grandmother’s version, which was a classic tawny orange containing chunky peel, to produce a more translucent golden jelly with thinner strips of peel suspended in it, but with the characteristically sharp fruity tang that comes from using the minimum quantities of sugar I can get away with. I have found that if I use less sugar than the quantities given here, the marmalade will not set. I have also experimented with quicker methods but have reluctantly concluded that there are no short cuts to getting the results I want.
Seville orange marmalade
Makes about ten 1lb/250g jars
The only essential equipment, apart from Seville oranges, lemons and sugar, is a very sharp knife, 2 pieces of cheesecloth or muslin and 2 large saucepans or casseroles with lids. I use the only deep casserole I possess, one medium sized saucepan and an old tea towel cut in half to improvise two bags for the pips. You will also need about 10 empty jam jars with lids. I usually end up with an assortment of sizes, hoarded or begged from friends in advance.
1 kilo/2 lb Seville oranges
2 kilos/4 lb granulated sugar
Scrub the fruit in cold water, removing the little stem button at the base of each orange. Cut the oranges up as finely as you can on a chopping board, reserving the pips. This is the most time-consuming part of the whole process, taking about an hour unless you have help, but essential if you want a beautiful translucent result. Put the shredded peel into two saucepans, along with the juice that will keep running out onto the board as you throw the pips into a bowl. Cut up the lemons last, distributing the peel between the two pans. Now divide the pips, tying them up into two pieces of material so that they can’t leak out. Bury one in the centre of each pan and fill to the top with cold water. Leave them to soak overnight.
The next day, bring the contents of each pan gently to the boil and then cover and simmer slowly until the peel is quite soft – about 1½ hours. The scent of simmering oranges permeating my studio is one of the reasons I make marmalade every year.
Lift out the bags of pips, squeezing their jelly-like pectin-rich liquid into the pans before discarding them, and turn up the heat until the marmalade is quietly bubbling. Cautiously pour in the sugar in a steady trickle. It should be evenly distributed between the two pans, with more in the bigger one if they are not the same size. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent the sugar from catching and burning while you bring the pans to a fast boil. This is the trickiest part, as the weight of the sugar will bring the water perilously close to the top of the pans and as they get hotter the contents will start to splutter. Maintain a fast boil just below maximum heat, stirring fairly constantly until ‘setting point is reached’ as they say in recipe books. This is supposed to take about 20 minutes but I have found that it can take longer, up to 40 minutes, and occasionally an hour. If it is taking longer than 30 minutes, add the juice of half a lemon to each pan.
Keep testing by putting a teaspoonful on a saucer to cool. I put mine outside on the window sill. If it wrinkles when you blow on it, it is ready and you must switch off the heat immediately. These saucer-blowing moments are the most nerve-wracking but magical part of the whole process, as if you continue cooking after setting point the marmalade will burn and instantly turn brown, although it will still taste much better than any shop-bought marmalade. If you lose patience and decant it into jars before setting point is reached, you will find that it never sets at all. If this happens, you can rescue it by pouring it all back into the pans the next day, adding the juice of 2 lemons and boiling it for a little longer.
Once setting point is reached and you have switched off the heat, you can relax and enjoy the alchemist’s pleasure of ladling the marmalade into jars. Put a metal spoon or knife into each jar first, to prevent the glass from cracking. I use a mug to pour in the marmalade as I don’t have a ladle. Stir the jars once and leave them to cool for several hours, preferably overnight. I don’t find waxed circles or frilly paper covers necessary and just use the original lids. The marmalade will keep in the fridge for a year, although you are unlikely to find that it lasts that long.