For nearly four years, I have been working for an organisation commonly associated with the making of jam. You'd think that after such a long time, with two jam festivals and a jam course (as a student) under my belt, the WI's collective love of preserving might have rubbed off on me. I can't say it really has though, just as I'm still a bit non-plussed by the whole baking thing, despite the universe's apparent obsession with The Great British Bake Off and the fact I am surrounded by cake all day.
I tend to limit my jam consumption to a thin smear on a scone which is then topped with a generous dollop of clotted cream, the Cornish way. In winter, I prefer my jam squished into the buttery holes of a warm, dripping pikelet (that's a crumpet to anyone from outside the West Midlands). Either way, i'm fairly frugal with the jam which i find can make a scone or pikelet overly sweet.
When it comes to marmalade, well that's something else. I prefer the sweet/sour balance of a citrus marmalade to the pure sweetness of a berry jam. For me, marmalade for breakfast brings back memories of staying in hotels in places like Torquay when I was a kid. Amazingly, those little jars of hotel marmalade seemed so exotic, when for a few days we could eat something other than our usual term time diet of Rice Krispies or Weetabix. Waiters would place toast racks of brown and white toast on the table, perfectly triangular and evenly browned. They would go cold while we ate other things from the breakfast buffet (God, I love a breakfast buffet!), and then we would remember them, open up a rectangle of butter and spread the marmalade over the cold toast. To this day I only eat marmalade on cold toast. When my two pieces of toast pop out of the toaster, I take them out and rest them standing up against each other on a plate like a tent, so air can circulate between them, cooling them down without making them soggy. Only when they are cold enough to keep the butter from melting do I proceed with the marmalade. Years later I came across this article scientifically proving marmalade tastes better on cold toast, which I guess says something about my palette while growing up.
I've spent nearly 35 years of my life eating Robertson's Golden Shred marmalade and never really questioned it. That is until a couple of months ago when a student of mine, Vivien Lloyd, presented me with a jar of her Autumn Armagnac Marmalade. From the moment I took the lid off I knew it was going to be special. Firstly, there was a faint aroma of booze, which at 7.30am was a nice surprise. The marmalade itself was softly set and gave way easily to my curious spoon. When I lifted a spoonful from the jar, the marmalade held itself with a deliciously teasing wobble, unlike the firmer set Robertsons that I am used to, and boy was it tasty too.
Unfortunately it didn't take me long to get through that first jar so I asked Vivien for her recipe and set about making my first ever batch of marmalade. Although we are in prime marmalade making season now Seville oranges are in town, this particular marmalade uses lemons and grapefruit so can be made at any time of the year.
The process is fairly simple but requires a fair amount of preparation, particularly if you hand cut your peel.
Lemons and grapefruit are first juiced. The membranes are then removed from the insides of the fruit leaving just the peel and pith. I found the easiest way to do this was to halve the lemons for juicing then cut each half into 4 petals which means they can be pressed flat on a board. I then used a flexible fish knife to remove all the membrane while leaving the pith in tact, rather like skinning a fish. The membranes are chopped in a mini blender along with the peel, cores, and pips of some cooking apples then wrapped in a muslin square. I julienned the peel, added it to the citrus juice, sliced apples and water and dropped in the muslin bag to simmer for a couple of hours to draw out the pectin.
After 2 hours the liquid had reduced by a third. At this point, sugar that had been warmed in the oven was added and once dissolved the liquid was boiled until setting point was reached. This took about 10 minutes and was confirmed by the flake test. This is where you roll your wooden spoon around in the air and watch for a droplet that will cling to the spoon.
Once setting point is reached you add some Armagnac and the marmalade is ready to pot.
I'm so happy with the marmalade. I was worried it hadn't quite reached setting point as it seemed quite runny as it cooled down in the jars. Once cool though, it has the same delicious wobble that Vivien's jar had. I will never go back to Golden Shred again!
For tips on marmalade visit Vivien's website at www.vivienlloyd.com.