One of the few things I look forward to in January (other than flying south and fleeing the cold weather) is the arrival of Seville oranges and the annual ritual of making bitter orange marmalade.
There seem to be two camps of marmalade lovers: those who favour the peel thinly cut and those who prefer it cut thick. I strongly favour the second. I also like my marmalade to be aged, as it slowly turns darker with time and develops a deeper flavour (any time after six months is good, up to about four years if stored in a dark, cool spot).
I have my wife Belinda's family to blame for my fixation with good marmalade. Her sister Caroline will have only homemade or one of two commercial brands - Cooper's Oxford Marmalade or the Tawny Orange marmalade by Wilkin & Sons - on her breakfast table. They can take a bit of getting used to, but once you've acquired a taste for them there is no going back to the wimpy stuff that lines most supermarket shelves. Best to go without if you can't get the real deal.
The next thing required is the correct vehicle on which to serve and consume the marmalade. In our house it is toasted homemade bread.
The recipe we use most often was given to me by my late brother-in-law, the humorist Miles Kington (who never saw the funny side of a poor breakfast). He claimed the recipe came from Mrs. Grant (of Grant's whisky fame). The story goes that during the Second World War, she became cross at how long it took to make bread and developed "the Grant method" to speed things up.
It is ridiculously easy to make and pretty much foolproof. The result is a somewhat cakey crumbed loaf that lends itself to being toasted beautifully. Spread on a liberal amount of butter, cover thickly with marmalade, sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and it's "Good morning, taste buds!"
In addition to toast at breakfast, bitter marmalades are also very good with cheeses, particularly aged Cheddars.
Grant method bread
2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 cups warm water
5 cups hard flour
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat the over to 400F.
Mix yeast with sugar, add water and stir to dissolve. Let stand until frothy, about 15 minutes.
Mix flour and salt together in a large bowl. Slowly stir yeast mixture into the flour. Knead in the bowl until all the flour is incorporated.
Continue kneading until you have a smooth ball. Add more flour if dough is too sticky - however, the dough should be soft. It is not necessary to knead for too long.
Push into a buttered 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf tin and leave to rise to double in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.
Makes 1 loaf.
Bitter orange marmalade
5 pounds Seville oranges
10 cups water
7 pounds sugar
Cut the peel from the oranges and set to one side.
Slice the peeled oranges into rounds and place in a large, non-reactive pot. Using your hands, crush and squeeze the fruit to release as much juice as possible.
Pour in the water, set over heat and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and leave to stand for about 20 minutes.
Cut the peel into strips, thick or thin as you prefer. Place into a preserving pan. Using a medium-meshed strainer, drain the liquid from the fruit through it, onto the peel. Press on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible without pushing the fruit through. Discard the solids.
Place the pan of peel and orange water over heat and bring to a boil, cooking the peel until just tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for an hour or so.
Pour in the sugar and stir to dissolve. Cover and leave in a cool spot overnight.
Place the pan over heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to maintain a steady simmer, skimming foam as necessary. Cook until a spoonful of the syrup jells firmly on a cool plate, about an hour.
Pour into clean glass jars and seal.
Makes about seven 500-millilitre Mason jars.