Ask the Expert: Preserving Skills

Across the land, kitchens are filling with citrus scents, as marmalade-making season reaches its peak. We ask preserving expert Vivien Lloyd for her tips on creating this tangy treat.

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The bright-orange colour of marmalade brings a much-needed shaft of warm sunshine to the breakfast table in the midst of winter. This is the season for Seville oranges, and that’s all the excuse we need to visit award-winning marmalade maker Vivien Lloyd. She has been making marmalade, jams and chutneys the traditional way for 25 years, and judging competitions for around 18 years, making her one of the foremost authorities on making preserves in the UK. She explains what makes marmalade more than just orange jam, and how making it is all about the appliance of science.

How did you start making preserves?
It was largely unintentional. About 25 years ago I was newly married, with young children and an abundant garden. I had vast quantities of fruit, so I had to do something with it – so I started to make jam. One year I entered a local show, and the judge encouraged me to train properly with the Women’s Institute. It became part of what I do.

What makes a good marmalade?
Lots of people are very particular about their marmalade. For example, some like their peel thick-cut, and some like it thin. The discussion about what makes a good marmalade can get quite heated! The best oranges for marmalade are Seville oranges, which are known as marmalade oranges because of their bitter, raw taste, which is perfect for the tang of marmalade. I find that organic oranges have a better flavour, so they’re worth tracking down. Then I’d say it’s science, rather than cookery. The recipe I use was designed by scientists working at Long Ashton Agricultural Research Station near Bristol in the 1920s. They calculated the proportions of pectin, fruit and acid that you need to get a good marmalade. The peel should be tender so that it disintegrates in your fingers when you’re making it, and the balance between the ingredients should be just right, so that it sets quickly, to keep a light colour.

Why was marmalade the subject of scientific research?
The lab began as a research centre to study and improve West Country cider, and then expanded to include other fruits. During the first part of the 20th century there weren’t many recipe books explaining how to get a good preserve, or detailing how much jam or chutney a recipe would produce, and how many jars you’d need. In an age without freezers, finding definitive methods of preserving fruit and vegetables was a matter of public importance. Now, it’s easy to find recipes, but I still think the Long Ashton booklets are the best. Chefs and bloggers are under pressure to come up with new variations, and I test a lot of recipes. Often I know before I start a recipe whether it will work or not, based on whether the ingredients follow the scientific balance of proportions you need.

What do you think about Defra proposals to reduce the prescribed minimum amount of sugar in preserves?
Well, I’m on the traditionalist side of that argument. I understand that the price of sugar has gone up and that reducing the sugar content is a good idea for producers wanting to make a profit. But it changes the characteristics of the product, so I believe it should be labelled for consumers to reflect that fact. At the moment the preserve has to contain at least 60 per cent sugar to be sold as a jam or marmalade. This was the amount the Long Ashton researchers landed on as giving a good set and producing a preserve that wouldn’t need additional additives to make it last. If you can make a jam with just fruit and sugar why put anything else into it? I’d rather eat that than something with chemical additives.

How is marmalade different to jam?
Jam is a fairly straightforward two-stage process: you cook the fruit in its own juice, then add sugar and boil it to a set. But marmalade is best made over two days. There’s a lot of preparation to be done and it takes a bit of skill. The oranges need to be juiced, the peel needs to be shredded, and you need the pips and the membrane separated out for the pectin. You have to make sure the peel is cooked soft enough, that the marmalade has a gel consistency, isn’t too dark and doesn’t get overcooked and lose its brightness. It’s complicated! The other thing that’s special about marmalade is its short season. You can make lots of fruit preserves throughout the year, but there’s only a small window when the fruit is available to make marmalade.

Not for a novice to have a go at then?
Yes! Even a beginner can have a go, but you need to make sure you follow the stages carefully and that you have the right kit. You need a big stainless-steel pan with a lid, scales, jam jars and a muslin bag. You don’t need a thermometer because you work out whether the marmalade is ready based on weight. It’s not too difficult, it just takes time. I make half the standard recipe so it sets faster and is more likely to turn out well.

What’s the best way to eat marmalade?
I like it spread on brioche, which is really good with marmalade. And if it’s brioche with chocolate in it, even better.

SEVILLE ORANGE MARMALADE

Makes around 2.25kg

    • 675g Seville oranges
    • 1.75 litres water
    • 1 lemon
    • 1.4kg granulated cane sugar
      1. Weigh a large, lidded pan with a capacity of 6–8 litres, with the lid off, and note the reading. Juice the oranges and pour the juice with the water into the pan. Remove the inner membranes and pips from the oranges. Do not remove the pith from the oranges.
      2. Juice the lemon and add the juice to the pan. Put the orange membranes and the remains of the lemon into a food processor or mini-chopper and chop finely. Put the chopped membranes and any pips into a 35cm by 35cm piece of thin cotton muslin. Tie this up with string and add to the pan. Shred the oranges and add the peel to the pan. If possible, leave the pan overnight to allow the fruit to soak.
      3. Next day, bring the lidded pan to the boil, turn down the heat, and simmer very gently for two hours. Remove the lid from the pan. The peel should be very tender, and the contents of the pan reduced by a third – the contents should weigh around 1.4kg. Warm the sugar in a low oven at 140°C.
      4. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze the liquid from the bag back into the pan through a sieve, using a large spoon. Add the sugar to the pan and stir until dissolved.
      5. Gradually bring the pan to a rolling boil and test for a set after 7 minutes, using the “flake test”. Dip a large spoon into the pan and scoop out a spoonful. Lift the spoon above the pan and turn it horizontally. If the marmalade has reached setting point of 104.5°C it will drip, then hang on the side of the spoon.
      6. Leave the marmalade to cool for 5–10 minutes. A skin should form on the surface. Remove any scum from the surface with a large metal spoon. Gently stir the marmalade to distribute the peel.
      7. Pour the marmalade into clean, warm sterilised jars and cover with new twist-top lids. Alternatively, seal the jars with waxed discs and, when cold, apply cellophane covers secured with elastic bands. Leave the jars upright and undisturbed to set.

Read this article as it originally appeared on Flavour

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This entry was published on February 19, 2014 at 10:56 am. It’s filed under Food, Interviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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