15 February 2009

Seville oranges and cedar planks

After making marmalade for the first time last year, I was looking forward to doing so again. I keep seeing other bloggers mention theirs and have been looking out for Seville oranges every time I go shopping. Until this weekend: nothing. I was beginning to get twitchy and irritable about the lack of marmalade-fodder. We shopped at the A&P in Belleville yesterday and they had about 12 very sad Seville oranges. I asked if they had any more and was informed that "That's all we've got and there won't be any more". I finished my shop (a very minimal one because by now I was feeling super-grumpy) and we trekked down to the Dewe's store and, joy of joys, they had a large display of lovely-looking Seville oranges. I bought a couple of kilos and left, very happy.

Last year I used a Delia Smith recipe, which made great marmalade but which took a looooong time. I liked the method, which involved pre-cooking the fruit, so looked around for another similar recipe. I found one which had been put online by chef Anna Colquoun. I hadn't heard of her before, but love this quotation from an interview with her on the eat the right stuff blog (which doesn't seem to like CAPITAL LETTERS much):
americans eat one meal out of five in a car. the western industrialised food system is fast ruining our planet, our social and economic relations, our bodies, our understanding and appreciation of these things, and ultimately our happiness. there are plenty of things wrong with the world, and cooking lovely food isn’t going to lead to world peace, but life for many could be a bit better if more people cared where their food came from and how it was made, had some basic cooking skills so they needn’t rely on processed food, and took time to eat together. plus, cooking is a creative outlet and a hopefully healthy addiction. food can be so delicious and also so bad. it’s more fun to eat the delicious stuff.
This is someone I feel I can trust! The marmalade recipe is the one her mother uses, based on one by Katie Stewart in The Times Cookery Book. Phew, that feels like a long and convoluted provenance (here's the recipe: it's a PDF file).

I had about 4½ pounds of fruit, so had to multiply everything in the recipe by 1½. The simmering-the-fruit phase takes an hour, then the oranges are cut open and the pulp and pips put into one bowl and the peel into another. Here is my first attempt at a video cookery demo (so be gentle in your criticisms please - I know it isn't very enthralling - and I think I sound horribly like Delia Smith!). This is to demonstrate step three in the recipe above - the way that the oranges look after they've been simmered for an hour.

While it's boiling the marmalade fills the house with a wonderful syrupy citrus smell.

The final boiling phase took about an hour, but might have been quicker if I'd let the marmalade boil faster (I'm a bit timid about leaving pans of boiling syrup unattended). The next video clip shows how it looks at the end of the boiling phase (and how to see whether it's reached setting point):

If you've ever wondered what the recipe books mean by the marmalade wrinkling on a saucer, here's a demonstration:

The finished product looks fine - just as dark and chunky as last year's, but with a shorter cooking time, which is what I wanted. It made eight one-pound jars, which is about four fewer than the recipe suggests I should have got.

I have since been wondering whether it is all worth it, given the food miles involved in shipping the oranges from Spain to Canada (and being aware that several jars will be travelling back to England with my mother-in-law after her next visit!). But I love making (and eating) marmalade so much that I would be sorry not to, even if it is a thoroughly environmentally-unsound rigmarole. [POSTSCRIPT: It turns out that our Seville oranges are actually from the USA, so I'm less worried about this now.]

My other Valentine's Day present was a fine trailer-load of cedar planks and posts, which were destined to become the raised beds in the greenhouse. We had thought we'd be able to use pressure-treated timber, but I remembered some question about arsenic being used in that process (rendering it not safe for use around food crops) and Mike looked it up to check. Well, the good news was that arsenic hasn't been used in the pressure-treating process since 2003, but the bad news was that if you want to grow food that will be certified organic, it might not be acceptable. Using cedar planks was the other option. The wood should last for 20 years - but was twice the cost of the pressure-treated alternative. So I really do need to sell some of the food we'll be growing in these beds in order to justify the expenditure. Which means jumping through the organically-certified hoops at some point. Oh joy.

Building them was fun though. It was still below freezing outside, but in the greenhouse it was pleasantly warm. We constructed three beds in a couple of hours and they look fantastic. Now we've just got to work out how to fill them with a suitably organic growing medium. I had been thinking of getting some spent mushroom compost from the local mushroom farm, but a bit of reading around the topic suggests that it will be full of chemicals, so not a good plan. Looks like we'll be digging soil from other parts of the farm and combining it with home-made compost to start with. But 270 cubic feet of material is quite a lot to find...


Anonymous said...

Your marmalade looks wonderful -- such a great colour! I've made other jams/jellies, but never marmalade. I love it, and so does my FIL, so I may attempt this recipe. :) And I can smell the heavenly scent from those cedar planks! How lucky you are to have such a lovely greenhouse!

Linda said...

I used to make marmalade when we lived in England, but cheated and used the kit (can't remember the actual name for it).
Your raised boxes are fantastic. If I'm down your way I'll buy some produce from you. Nothing beats home grown veggies. Lat week I used up the last of the home grown tomatoes from the freezer and had to buy a can of tomatoes this week .. it won't be the same.

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

You are a serious gardener if you have such a greenhouse and raised beds! They are great! And your marmelade.... I can almost smell it... Ah-h-h!

Esther Montgomery said...

This is such fun - the first blogger's voice I have heard. (Apart from Stuart talking about picks on his tutorial!) I was sitting here very attentively!

I've not made maramalade this year but I like a dark marmalade with thick chunks - and that's easier to make than to find and buy.

Your method looks good . . . with the cutting after the fruit is already cooked.

You don't have to make it with seville oranges though . . . grapefruit and lemons . . .


And I know the beds are functional - but don't they look beautiful too!


Daphne Gould said...

I love your beds, though I'm sure they will look even better with there are plants growing in them.

Linda said...

I still have to make mine this year. You've reminded me that I'd better hurry. I'm not a Delia fan - but I do have an original Katie Stewart.

How luxurious - cedar planks!

Anna said...

I fancied having a go at making marmalade this year but could not track down any Seville oranges. I suppose that I will have to wait another year now :)
I imagine that you can't wait to plant up those new raised beds. They look most sturdy. What do you plan to grow in them ?

Amanda said...

Thanks everyone. I can report that the marmalade tastes grand. One jar out of the eight has already been consumed, so it isn't going to last very long!

Once they're full of soil, the raised beds will be used for salad greens in the winter, eggplants/aubergines and peppers in the summer and maybe some early peas, carrots and lettuces in the spring. Haven't really finally decided yet, but am looking forward to experimenting to see what works the best!