Bitterness is viewed harshly in this overly sweet world. To be bitter is to be consumed with an intense animosity, lashed by the rawness of winter winds, suffering the distress of a galling shame. Yet bitter enemies, bitter rancor, bitter hatred create all the finest elements of great art, surely?
The man chooses bitter in winter, the bitter that is an English dark brown beer. Served at room temperature, which is a surprise to some like the young Spanish woman I saw at an airport bar who wanted to return the pint she’d just bought because it was warm and flat. The barman’s refusal made her bitter (his explanation that is the way it is meant to be drunk left her confused).
In Brindisa the other day I asked whether their oranges were waxed or not, Spanish citrus being a particular highlight late into winter. Not these ones, the guy said, try this as he handed me a chunk of fresh bread with a generous dollop of marmalade. Amazing – bitter fruit, proper thick shreds of peel, intense jam – quite a mouthful. Being so good on bread not toast was such a surprise I told the man about it that night. He makes weekend breakfast that is always toast - marmalade for him and vegemite for me and coffee for us both. I went back to Brindisa and asked to buy a jar of their very fine marmalade. Ah no madam the nice man said, we sell the oranges and give you this and handed me a small slip of paper, which is how this week I came to make something I’d never done before.
Here is the recipe.
Seville Orange Marmalade
Marmalade can be made with all kinds of citrus and was, indeed, initially made in Portugal using quince but Seville oranges are particularly suited because of the high pectin levels in the pith and pips and, of course, their wonderful bitterness
Makes about 5 kgs - you need a lot of jars
1.5kg Seville oranges - buy big ones, as it will cut the work down a bit
3 litres water
Juice of 2 lemons
3kg granulated sugar - the weight of sugar is always double that of the fruit
I found it easiest to set up a kind of work station before I started to reduce the amount of sticky mess I was guaranteed to make. You need a BIG preserving pan, mine is 25cm deep with a diameter of 30cm which holds vast amounts. Put the pan on the bench to your left. Next to it put your chopping board, knife and citrus juicer. On the right hand side put a large piece of muslim - at least 30 cm square - on top of a large flat plate. You put all the pips - and there's a LOT of them in Seville oranges - as well as the membrane from the juiced oranges into the muslin, then bring the corners together and tie up the bundle with string before you add it to the jam pan. It is the magic bag that means the marmalade will set when it's done.
Scrub all the fruit with warm water and a clean scourer, then cut each orange in half and squeeze out the juice, piling up the juiced orange halves as you go. Juice the two lemons and discard the shells - use them to soften your elbows first!
Tip all the juice into the pan. Pull any remaining membrane out of the oranges and add it to the muslin, along with all the pips. Bring the edges of the muslin together and tie it tightly with kitchen string so nothing can escape into the pot.
Slice the orange peel thinly to the size you like, making sure it's fairly consistent. Don't be tempted to remove the pith, it contains a lot of pectin to help the marmalade set.
Add the orange slices to the pan with the juice, the muslin bag containing all the pips and membrane, and the 3 litres of water. Put the pan onto a medium heat and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers gently. Let it bubble away for a couple of hours until the peel is soft and the liquid has reduced by about a third.
Take the pan off the heat and use some tongs to take the muslin bag out. Put it on a plate to cool a bit, then squeeze the bag back over the pan of liquid, catching all the surprisingly thick juice. Discard the sad sack.
Add the sugar to the pan and, still off the heat, stir it until it is all dissolved.
Return the pan to the heat and bring it back to the boil over a fairly high heat. Boil the jam rapidly for about 15-20 minutes, until the setting point is reached.
Setting point is what it sounds like, and the best way to test is with a sugar thermometer - when the temperature reaches 105C/220F you're good to go. You can also put a plate into the fridge and, when the mixture has boiled for 15 minutes, spoon a little onto the cold plate and put it back into the fridge for a minute or two. If the jam then sets enough to wrinkle when you push it with your finger, you're good to go.
Take the pan off the heat, skim off any scum, and then all the marmalade to cool for about 15 minutes so that the peel floats rather than sinks.
Whilst it's cooling wash your jars and lids in warm soapy water then dry them on a tray in the oven at about 160C for five minutes. Leave them on the tray to fill them, you'll have way less mess!
Fill the still warm jars with hot marmalade and put the lids on tightly immediately. Allow to cool before you label them. Eat with pleasure.
Lots of lovely advice here about how to enjoy the whole marmalade making process.