Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Seville Orange Marmalade {and Irish Soda Bread}

 
Canning is a skill that seems to belong to another generation. My mother doesn’t can, although she used to make delicious strawberry freezer jam that had a freshness and lightness that the deep-toned thickness of cooked jam can never match. But I have vivid memories of my Nanny—my father’s mother, still alive and amazing at 92—preserving jars and jars of fruit she grew herself in her little bungalow’s backyard. There were grapes that hung heavy from the fence at the side of the yard, a tall blackcurrant bush that grew against the shed where the pool noodles and lawn chairs were kept, prickly raspberries in the far corner under the deep shade of the catalpa tree, and a gooseberry bush almost in picking-reach of the shallow end of the pool. My cousins and I--six of us in all--would swim for hours, then crouch on the concrete pool deck hunting through the bush for gooseberries that had turned from tart green to sweet purple; they exploded in your mouth in a rush of sweetness and tiny seeds.

I can taste Nanny’s preserves now: grape jelly, translucent and dark all at once, and tasting of the purest Concord grape. Blackcurrant jam, nubbly with fruit and exploding with deep, rich flavour. And gooseberry jam, all the more special for being something you couldn’t buy at the supermarket. Her kitchen is tiny—just one row of cupboards, flanked by the fridge at one end and the stove at the other, sink in the middle—and yet she churned out jars and jars. Some she kept, but most got given away to her four sons and their families, or to one of her seemingly-infinite numbers of friends.

It must also be from Nanny that I get my love of marmalade. She grew up in London, born right at the beginning of the Depression, and moved to Canada after World War II as a war bride. And marmalade is, after all, the most British of spreads after Marmite. No one in my immediate family is a big marmalade fan, except perhaps my dad, and I don’t remember it being around much as a kid. But I guarantee that Nanny always had a jar in her fridge, and as I grew up and my tastebuds learned to love bitter as well as sweet, I started reaching for it to spread on my toast. For as much as I love jam, there’s a complexity to the almost-tannic bitterness of orange peel, suspended in glistening amber jelly that tastes of sweet oranges and caramel, which is so compelling. Marmalade is grown up in a way that jam can never be, and I love it the way I love Campari sodas, or deeply dark chocolate rich in cocoa, or tiny cups of thick espresso.


I adore marmalade for its flavour, for its golden beauty, and for its ability to preserve, for months and years, the fleeting season of Seville oranges. But I also love it for its ease. Newcomers to canning, rejoice! Marmalade requires no pectin, no complicated and messy sieving and straining, and no equipment that you won’t already have. It doesn’t even require boiling of jars, or special tongs and racks, or a thermometer. Not to say that it isn’t work—it takes time to slice the peels from more than a kilo of oranges, to finagle all of the seeds out of the sticky flesh. But here’s what I did: I set up my pot and chopping board on my kitchen island, put on the audiobook I’m currently listening to, poured myself a glass of wine, and spent a really lovely, peaceful late Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. My marmalade is a bit moodier than many—I use a good proportion of brown sugar along with the white, and a  slug of amber maple syrup, so that the end product is less sunshine and more fall leaves—and there was something so right about quietly putting it together as the sun sank down. It’s those moments that I try to collect as I spend time in the kitchen—quiet joy, peaceful labour, proud accomplishment.

If you want your marmalade more sunshiny than tawny, feel free to make up the entire quantity of sweetener with white sugar. It’s what I had intended to do, but not realizing that I had less sugar in the house than I thought, I had to get creative. I’m very happy indeed with how it turned out, and I doubt I’ll ever make an all-white version. The marmalade is softly set, unlike the gluey jar of store-bought whiskey marmalade currently being sadly neglected in my fridge, and oozes lusciously into the crumb of a slice of bread. The peel is translucent like stained glass, and its tangles of half-moons just resist the teeth with every bite, a bite that is mirrored by the pleasant bitterness that only Seville oranges can bring. I made a loaf of Irish soda bread just so that I’d have something to spread this on.* Toast it lightly, spread it with salted butter (because sweet + bitter can only be bettered by sweet + bitter + salty + rich), and then slather on some golden goodness. Be generous. The recipe makes lots for you, and lots to gift the ones you love. Nanny doesn't can anymore; at 92, she doesn't really cook at all. She still loves to eat, though--I get that from her too--and I'll be bringing her a jar the next time I see her.

* You’d do well to do the same, and not only because marmalade and Irish soda bread go perfectly together. Soda bread is a miracle of baking--a loaf of bread that takes all of three minutes to put together and get in the oven? I call that miraculous. It's a great recipe to have in your back pocket for days when you run out of bread, or when you want a little something to go along with a pot of soup--healthy, super quick, and delicious. I've included the recipe at the bottom as a little bonus. 


SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Makes about 3 litres (or 12 small jars)

1.5 kilograms Seville oranges
1 kilogram granulated sugar
1.1 kilograms brown sugar
¼ cup maple syrup

Scrub the oranges. Set a colander over a large pot. Using sharp knife, score the orange peels from top to bottom into four equal sections, not going through to the flesh below. Over the colander, so that any juices that escape end up in the pot, peel the oranges. Leave the flesh in the colander. Thinly slice the peel width-wise—I find it easiest to press the section of peel flat against the chopping board, peel side up--and add to the pot. You can slice the peel as thickly or as thinly as you like, but I aimed to slice it as thinly as I possibly could with my I'm-not-a-professional-chef knife skills.

Back over the colander, use your fingers to winkle the seeds out of the orange flesh and squeeze the juice through the colander into the pot; I found the best way to keep juice from squirting everywhere was to puncture each segment with my finger and then work on getting the seeds out, rather than just squeezing away. As you squeeze and deseed, place the remaining flesh on the chopping board. When all of the seeds have been removed and are sitting in the bottom of the colander, collect them in a separate bowl; remove the colander. Finely chop the remaining orange flesh; your knife will hit any seeds you’ve missed, and add them to the bowl. Add the orange flesh to the peels in the pot.

Cover the flesh and peels with 3 litres of water. Place the seeds in a muslin bag, nut-milk bag, large tea ball, or clean knee-high stocking that you then knot at the top (yes, really). Add to the pot. Cover and let sit overnight (I just left mine on the stove).

The next day, bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the orange peels are soft and translucent, about 45 minutes. Remove the seed bag, pressing, squeezing, and scraping to get all of their pectin into the pot.

Add the sugars and maple syrup, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the pot back to the boil and cook, stirring occasionally (and more frequently toward the end), until the marmalade reaches setting temperature—this can take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, depending on the heat of your stove and the size of your pot. The marmalade will get thicker and deeper- toned as it cooks; be careful when stirring toward the end, as the mixture can begin splattering and you might want to wear an oven mitt. You can test the set two ways: using a candy thermometer, or using a cold saucer you’ve placed in the freezer. The mixture is ready when it reaches 222F/105C on the thermometer, or when a small amount placed in the saucer and left until cold (a minute or two) wrinkles when you push it with your finger. As this was my first jam-making experience, I was a bit nervous about knowing when things were done. I found the saucer test strangely satisfying, and very accurate—if you test at intervals, you’ll see the marmalade run freely, then hold a clear space when you run your finger through it, then begin to ruck-up like the edge of a rug when you push it with your toe. You’re looking for the last one. The temperature of the marmalade rises fairly slowly, so you don’t need to worry about the sugar overcooking while you test.

While the marmalade is boiling, get your jars ready: run them through the dishwasher on a high-heat cycle (yours might have a steam-sterilize cycle like mine), or wash them in very hot and soapy water and dry them in the oven at 250F. If the jars are cold by the time you’re ready to fill them, heat them again with hot tap water or water from a freshly-boiled kettle—it mitigates the risk of them cracking from hot marmalade hitting cold glass.

When the marmalade has reached setting temperature, turn off the heat and let it sit for a couple of minutes; this lets the peel more evenly distribute itself, as it tends to float to the top. Ladle the marmalade through a canning funnel into the jars; you can fill them quite full. Seal them tightly, turn them upside down (you might want to wear oven mitts for this step, as they’ll be quite hot), and let them cool for at least 12 hours. The marmalade will keep, sealed, for at least a year—until Seville oranges are back in season and it’s time to make another batch.

IRISH SODA BREAD

Technically, because of the inclusion of molasses, this would be known in Ireland as Treacle Bread. Whatever you choose to call it, it's delicious. It's also quite flexible--feel free to substitute oat or wheat bran for the ground flax, other liquid sweeteners for the molasses, and plain milk or all buttermilk for the yogurt-milk combination. Just keep in mind that the key to soda bread is the same as the key to biscuits: the less you work them, the better. Keep the kneading and shaping to a minimum, and if you're okay with handling a sticky dough, avoid adding extra flour--it'll make the bread even better. 

Adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flaxseeds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon flaky salt
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup kefir or other thin yogurt (or buttermilk)
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons molasses (or honey, agave, or maple syrup)

Preheat the oven to 350F; if you have a baking stone, heat the oven for at least 25 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Rub the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is fine and crumbly.

Add the wet ingredients; stir just until combined. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead briefly just to ensure that everything is combined and the dough is smooth--just a minute or so. If you find that the dough is really sticky in the bowl, use the quick knead to add a bit more flour.

Shape the dough into a 7-8 inch disk, and score the top with a fairly deep X that extends down the sides of the disk. If you're baking on a stone, place the bread directly on it; otherwise, transfer the dough to a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the bread is deeply golden on top and sounds hollow when you thump the bottom. It will be gummy if you cut into it before letting it cool, so sadly you've got to wait at least 30 minutes before you dig in. 

2 comments:

  1. Oh wow, that Irish Soda Bread looks perfect! Or Treacle bread. Whatever you want to call it - it looks amazing!

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  2. Thanks a lot for the entry, we're in front of a new harvest and this year is wonderful! http://www.huertaavemaria.com/ingles/inicio.html

    ReplyDelete