Sunshine in January

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I write this as the crisp glittering frost on our tiny little garden subsides, and the brutal brand of sunshine, that only exists in January, beats it into submission and burns the side of my face.  It is far too cold to open a window, yet I swear the left side of my face is a very special shade of puce; achieved entirely by the blistering rays that drench me and my counter through our glass kitchen doors. I close my eyes and drown in it for a moment or two, allowing the heat to become almost deliciously unbearable, because I know that any moment it will be gone again.

With snow impending in London, and images on tv of a polar vortex attacking the midwest, I feel the need to ensure that warmth pervades every part of my home, one way or another. The fickle sunshine has already dipped beyond the house that shares a rear garden wall with mine (long before lunch time), and I am reminded again to rejoice in the little things, for they are so often short lived. With rare and sporadic rays to wallow in, I try to find other sources of warmth and colour to fill our home with. Sometimes you have to make your own light.

Marmalade is quite possibly the most rewarding dark day task I can think of. It can take the best part of a day, so set one aside. Turn on the radio and lose yourself. Wrap your home in the comforting aromas of bubbling sugar and oranges, and admire the glow of row of jars of golden goodness that is your reward for a day’s work. These days it is easy to buy a jar of lime, lemon, thick cut, golden shredded, dark, tawny or oxford. But nothing comes close to the smug joy of smearing a dollop of homemade marmalade on an unapologetically vertiginous slice of white toast.

Whilst also enjoyable to give it to others, the recipe below is enough for a couple of jars for friends, a few to see you through until next January, and a jar or two for emergency desserts, or use in a cake. Hold onto that last jar, because my next post will be a recipe for spiced orange cake.  In part, this is a selfish way to ensure that heady smells of orange and sugar creep comfortingly back into every corner of my home before the heavenly scent of today is too long forgotten.

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Big Marmalade Recipe

You will need:

1 very large pot or preserving pan

a candy thermometer

glass jars and corresponding lids

muslin and cotton cook’s string

3kg of Seville Oranges

8 litres of water

5.5kg granulated white or preserving sugar (but ideally organic unbleached)

Method

Place your whole oranges in a large pan and cover with water (place a heatproof plate or smaller pan lid on top of them to keep them submerged).  Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for up to two hours, until the orange skin can be pierced with a fork.

Carefully remove the whole oranges from the water (reserving the water) and allow to cool enough to handle. Halve your oranges at the waist and pull out the flesh, pips and membrane with a spoon, set aside for later use in a non reactive (ie plastic or glass) bowl, leaving behind the white pith coated peel.  If your peel has not reached the consistency you want to eat in your marmalade, return the hollow peel ‘cups’ to your cooking liquid and continue to simmer until desired ‘bite’. Once they have reached your required consistency, remove to cool, again leaving the cooking liquid in pot. Make sure that your cooked peel is the consistency you want it be in the finished marmalade.  Darina Allen reminded me that once you add the sugar there is no going back, and no amount of boiling at that stage will soften your peel pieces!

Once all peels have been removed from the liquid, you must now reintroduce your reserved orange “innards”. Place all the orange guts in a large muslin cloth (a cotton tea towel or babies’ muslin will also do, but a double layer of cooks muslin is best).  Gather up the corners and tie them well, making sure there are no gaps for the orange to escape through and place the bag in your cooking liquid.

Return the liquid to the heat, and allow to simmer until the liquid has reduced by about half.  During this time, cut your pith into slices.  Now is your chance to make thick cut, finely shredded or design your own chunk size! Just bear in mind that however you slice it, will be the way it appears on your toast!

Once the liquid has reduced, allow to cool enough to handle the bag, and squeeze the muslin bag to get as much juice and goo from it into the liquid, leaving behind the pips and pithy membrane in the bag. Massage the bag as much as you like, just make sure it doesn’t pop, and discard the muslin and gunk when you have had enough. It is sometimes necessary to strain the whole batch of liquid through clean muslin again at this stage if you feel that you have a liquid that is too gunky and cloudy.

If you are lucky enough to have a preserving pot (I lust after a mauviel copper version personally) then now is the time to dust it off!

Place 4 litres of your liquid and all your cut peel into your preserving pot (for a medium coloured marmalade add 3.5 litres, and for a light marmalade add 3 litres). If you do not have enough liquid for your chosen ratio, simply top it up with a little more water.  If you have a little too much, simply discard it.  If you have a lot too much you may want to continue simmering until it reduces more in a separate pan (without the peel) and then add the correct amount to your peel in order to ensure a good strength of flavour.

Place your sugar on a parchment paper lined tray in the oven to warm and carefully tip the lot into your peel and liquid mixture in one go.

As soon as the sugar is out, and your mixture is set to simmer, it is a good time to put all your jars in the oven.  Place them on a tray and heat them to about 180C to sterilize them.  Boil the lids if necessary. And dry on paper towels.  You will need to have your jars sterilized, hot and ready to receive the marmalade as soon as it reaches the right consistency.

Stir the mixture on a medium heat until the sugar is all melted and then turn up the heat until you get to rolling boil.  Using a candy thermometer and watching closely, stir occasionally to stop it from ‘catching’ on the bottom of the pan.  Your marmalade is ready to jar as soon as it hits 110C or 225F.  You can do it the old fashioned way too – drip a little spoonful onto a cold plate and watch to see if it sets.  Push it with your finger and if it wrinkles when cool, it is ready to put into the jars.

A darker style of marmalade is trickier to achieve than the lighter variety.  It takes much longer to reach gelling point and you must watch it closely as it quickly changes from almost dark and just setting, to caramel … or worse.  The colour is achieved by cooking the sugar for longer and allowing it to take longer to reach setting point.  The dark ratio I have outlined above is very dark, you can lessen the ratio of liquid to your own preference using the above ratios as a guide.

Pour the mixture into the hot jars and screw lids on tight immediately using a good oven glove to grip the jars as you do so.  The hot jar will help to create a good seal as it cools if tightened well.

Whilst a bit of a labour of love, marmalade is well worth the effort, as it’s uses are endless. Label and dish out to friends and neighbours, or hang onto it until Christmas and use in rich fruit cakes.  Drizzle it warm over meringues and greek yoghurt for an impromptu dessert, spoon into a glass of cava for an interesting aperitif or simply spread lashings of the stuff on hot buttered toast.  As you can tell; I could go on …

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Filed under Everything!, Sweet, Winter

Elderflowers & Bicycles

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

 

I think it is fair to say that I am not good at taking compliments.  I don’t think I am very different from most women, but I do seem to have a particular knack of brushing them off, belittling or ignoring them.  When your confidence has taken a bash or two, it is hard to remember that the things you are good at, never really leave you.  You are still the person that did the things that you used to, you just haven’t done them for a while.  But blogging is not a bicycle.  You can’t just jump on again. Can you?

Three years have gone by since I made my last confession. A lot has happened. To start with, we no longer live in Seattle, but in London. We have moved continents, countries, homes and schools at least once over the last several months and the toll of starting afresh has weighed us down.  We said goodbye to people and places we loved.  I kissed farewell to my teaching kitchen and business, and we moved back ‘home’ to a place that felt very different to the one we left almost a decade ago. Finding our feet in a furiously busy city made us realise how accustomed to sedate Seattle life we had become. Living on top of each other in a teensy rental with one bathroom for 18 months would be a test of the best of marriages. Ours only just scraped by, thanks to a husband with a sense of humour that is particularly tickled by all things toilet.

 

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

 

We built a house in Kensal Rise, that took two years to nearly complete (we still have a list of ‘to do’ items).  And I got sick. My family had to muddle through while I tried to get better, and then I got sick again.  It has been a long road, but I am finally able to say that I will be well again.  I know it in my bones, even though my head does not always feel it.  Meningitis is jealous guest, refusing to share its host with others, and never entirely leaving.  The ‘hangover’ as I have taken to refer to it, waxes and wanes to its own rythm.  An unrelenting fog that occasionally lifts enough to give me a glimpse of what is around the corner, but more often than not, it settles in for weeks at a time. The anxious vulnerability that comes with an illness that leaves you distrusting your fickle memory and vacillating strength can become crippling. It becomes impossible to make plans, when you don’t trust that the good days will stay. Anyone familiar with a migraine will wince at the memory of what I am hinting at.

I don’t like to talk about it though, because I feel that to do so, gives it oxygen.  It has taken up enough of my families’ time over the last year and a half, and any additional discussion simply gives it further attention, that is wholly undeserved. My undivided efforts are to be better. To stay better. And to finally get back to what I do best.  To what I love. To cook.

The journey has been a winding one, with much to learn along the way.  Foods that harm and foods that heal are a constant topic of thought and discussion.  Getting back to basics, to old ways, and simpler things has always been what Heirlooms & Wooden Spoons was about.  Sharing learning, skills and my kitchen have always brought me joy. I may be a little bruised, but I know more today than I ever did, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will teach me. With the unrelenting support of my husband and little family, I intend to gently build back up my fledgeling enterprise. Starting here.

The fragile and fleeting Elderflower seemed an appropriate topic for my first post in a while. In the most surprising corners of this throbbing city, tiny delicate white flowers can be found bursting into the sunshine.  Each head lasts little more than a day and must be picked and cooked when it has just flowered. The heady aroma as it steeps in syrup fills my kitchen with the scent of a promise of things to come.

Perhaps, one day, a Teaching Kitchen in London? Hmmm …  Cooking Classes in Kensal Rise anyone?

Elderflower Cordial

2 litres water

2.5 kg organic sugar

250g elderflowers; rinsed, shaken out, stalks removed (approx 25 heads)

3 lemons; remove zest with peeler in strips. Remove pith and use only flesh and zest

85g citric acid

 

Summer in a Bottle

Summer in a Bottle

 

Bring sugar and water to the boil, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. once boiling, turn it off and throw in elderflowers, lemon and acid. Cover and leave to cool for 48 hours, then bottle. Quintessential England, in a bottle.

It can be kept it in the fridge for about five weeks, you can freeze it or jar it and use a water bath ‘canning’ method to store it at ambient temperature for longer.

Use in cakes, over icecreams, in cocktails or simply serve with sparkling water on a hot day.

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Filed under Everything!, Spring Recipes, Summer, Sweet