I used to hate marmalade with the same fervour generally reserved for microwaved meats and fruit in muesli that was not sultanas.
Orange juice made me sick in the mornings, but I was always prone to colds, to coughs. Mum made me drink it, no doubt thinking that the vitamin C was all that was keeping me from dying.
Grapefruits were disgusting. Lemon looked so inviting, left over in a nest of ice after a pub dinner, but really it just made my mouth fill with saliva and pucker.
Cumquats were the only edible thing that grew in the garden where I grew up, so I’d eat them. Even though, in my very humble opinion, they taste like death.
I made jam a few times with the cumquats that grew at home. And by jam, I mean a vaguely sour sugary syrup that wasn’t thick enough to even stay on a spoon. I gave it away to relatives, who always said thank you (bless them). As time went on, I tried again and again – the Lisbon lemons from my aunty’s little garden; the limes our next door neighbour brought us after we moved to the hills. I went for recipes that were quick; I was too impatient to read up on what I was doing and accepted the cloudy, watery jams and marmalades as just one of those things.
I only started to enjoy eating marmalade after I met my husband, Ben. At that time in my life, my breakfast consisted of a banana eaten while driving to uni or work or the farm where I kept my horses. Ben liked a leisurely breakfast. He ground coffee and sat in the chair at his mother’s table, reading the newspaper with the morning sun on his back. He had unsliced loaves of bread and marmalade that was made by his grandfather. Marmalade that was crystal clear and well set. It was seeing the marmalade on the table most mornings that convinced me that maybe I did like it. So I joined Ben. We ate marmalade together, flipping through the newspapers. It meant getting up earlier, but it was worth it. It was nice not to start the day in a rush.
Two years ago we moved to a farm with an established citrus orchard and over those two years, I’ve been overwhelmed by the quantity of citrus that’s grown on the trees. Out came my super-quick-super-shit jam and marmalade recipes, which I used to make marmalade in my food processor. Cloudy and watery, but at least preserved. At least they weren’t going to waste.
My friend, Sharon, who is a kitchen goddess, took a few boxes of cumquats from our orchard this year and gave us some cumquat marmalade. It was beautifully set, crystal clear and delicious. It threw my cloudy, watery marmalade into a particularly unflattering light. I wanted to do better.
This season, I collected my oranges and lemons with a steely resolve. This year would be different. I would branch out from the quickest-easiest-recipe-I-can-find in a brave and radical attempt to make marmalade as magical as Sharon’s.
I trawled the internet. Sharon is a big Sally Wise fan, but the one Sally Wise book I have has been eaten by the giant piles of books that are in desperate need of sorting and shelving and I couldn’t find it. In the end, I dug out the ever-wonderful copy we have of Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion. I found the recipe for marmalade and blinked at it. Surely not. Surely I did not have to cook this marmalade over two friggen days. And where was I supposed to find a muslin bag? I looked at my food processor. My quick, easy food processor. I gritted my teeth. Two days.
We have lisbon lemons from my mother-in-law’s place and meyer lemons, cumquats, grapefruits, oranges, blood oranges and mandarins from our own orchard. While I was making a giant mess in the kitchen, I figured I may as well have a crack at preserving lemons (also from Stephanie Alexander’s book) as well as trying out candied lemons (great way to use up excess skins and added bonus of leaving a sweet, sugary syrup behind – voila, cordial!). The next morning, I did as I was told. I baked my sugar and squeezed my muslin bag and reheated my water/fruit juice/fruit peel mix. It turned out beautifully. Like liquid jewels in a cup. I’ve learnt a few things about marmalade over the last few weeks. That you can get your pectin from the pips and pith rather than adding it in powder form. That different fruits have different levels of pectin. That grapefruit and Seville oranges have pith that ends up clear. That if you boil your marmalade for too long in the final stage, you can turn it into sugary syrup.
As much as I once hated marmalade, I now adore it. There’s something very grounding about taking such a long time to cook, to preserve. It’s precious and luxurious and the perfect accompaniment to a piece of homemade sourdough and a cup of tea.