Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I was pleased to discover last week that I'm not the only one who loves marmalade. A few readers of this blog share my taste for jam with a bitter edge, famously beloved of Paddington bear until he sold out to Marmite in an advertising campaign last year.
Two marmalade recipes in as many weeks might seem to be overdoing it, but I did have to deal with those Seville oranges that Philippe had squirreled away in the attic for me. A few of them went into a surprisingly sweet-tasting Moroccan salad of bitter oranges, red onion, black olives and flat-leaf parsley from my latest cookbook acquisition, Arabesque by Claudia Roden, but that still left me with several kilos begging to be preserved.
There are some good marmalade recipes to be found on blogs, including one by the incomparable David Lebovitz and a rather intricate variation on Simply Recipes, but nothing would make me trade in the recipe I've been using since I first came to Nice. It comes from the cookbook Cuisine traditionnelle du pays niçois, which is my bible of Niçois cooking. Written by Bernard Duplessy, it's a tribute to the now-deceased Mamé Clairette, who once ran an auberge in the hills behind Nice.
Her bossy yet endearing way of recounting recipes reminds me of my across-the-street neighbor Marie, who at 78 years old knows just about everything there is to know about Niçois cooking. When she stews tripes à la niçoise for 12 hours, stuffs sardines with Swiss chard and onions or bakes tian de courges, she often makes enough to feed us and several other lucky neighbors. When I once commented on the deliciousness of her tomato sauce, she retorted "It's normal! What would you know about buying tomatoes?"
Marie and I always make our confiture d'oranges amères around the same time - she too snubs my oranges, as she has her own sources - and compare the results. Imagine my shock and pride when, having declared with typical cockiness that my jam didn't stand a chance against hers, she admitted defeat and asked me for the recipe!
The secret to my marmalade is one I mentioned before: soaking the pips in water for a couple of days extracts their pectin and creates the wobbly orange jelly so coveted by marmalade lovers. I prefer this method to that of enclosing the pips in cheesecloth and adding them to the pot, if only because cheesecloth is something that always eludes me. Where do people buy it?
If Paddington could taste this marmalade, I'm sure he would instantly forget about his little fling with Marmite (of all things!).
Confiture d'oranges amères (The marmalade that won back Paddington)
Makes about 12 jars
Warning: This recipe takes three days, with the time-consuming parts taking place on the first and third days. It's not difficult, but you do need to plan ahead. The only change I've made to the original recipe is to cut the oranges in half before slicing them, which makes them easier to pip and creates more manageable pieces in the finished marmalade.
12 to 13 Seville oranges (bitter oranges)
1 sweet orange
Enough water to cover the fruit, about 2.5 to 3 litres
2 1/2 to 4 kg of sugar, depending on the size of your oranges
Slice the oranges and lemons in half lengthwise, then into thin horizontal slices, removing the pips as you slice and placing them in a bowl.
Place the orange and lemon slices in the biggest bowl you can find (or two bowls) and cover them with water (I use filtered water). Cover with a plate and set aside in a cool place overnight. Cover the pips with water and set aside, covered, in the refrigerator.
The next day, pour the fruit and its water (but not the pip water) into a large saucepan or copper jam basin. Bring to a boil and let the mixture bubble at a steady boil for 40 mins, stirring occasionally. Let this mixture cool, then weigh it and return it to a cool place to rest overnight. You will need the same weight in sugar, so now is the time to buy it!
The next day, place the fruit with its water, the strained pip water and an equal weight of sugar in a large saucepan or jam basin. Bring to a boil, then let it boil steadily for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the syrup thickens slightly. To test the marmalade, pour a little onto a small plate that you have chilled in the freezer, then wait a minute. Tilt the plate and if the syrup wrinkles, it's time to transfer the marmalade to jars.
Meanwhile, you will have sterilized your jars. I wash mine well in soapy water, rinse them and place in an 180 C oven to dry for at least 20 mins. It's not the most orthodox method, but it's easy and has never failed me yet.
Fill the jars nearly to the top and close the lids as soon as you can. The marmalade could keep for years or perhaps days, depending on how many marmalade-lovers you know.