Bitter with bits in: my ideal marmalade

IMG_2247When I was growing up marmalade meant one thing: a citrussy concoction with bits of peel in it, related to jam but somehow more complicated in flavour and less obviously sweet. It was also one of the only things my father ever cooked – it still is – and although he comes up with all sorts of variations on the theme, one or more members of the citrus family are always the star ingredients, and perfectly sliced peel an essential element. I think this is generally the case in the UK today, though the earliest origins of the name lie with a smooth Portuguese quince concoction and over centuries the word has applied itself to many different kinds of fruit jam in other European countries (for full marmalade history and lots of recipes see my friend Elizabeth Field’s wonderful work).

Of course I am so conditioned by citrus that oranges are always the first fruit that spring to mind when I read the word, and I’ve been reading it a lot recently as I continue my pursuit of Charles Fourier’s gastrosophic (or truly gastronomic) vision – and his sweet tooth. Fourier seems to love marmelades, and constantly suggests them as one of the ideal and economical foods of Harmony, especially for women and children. The Néo-Physiologie du Gout par Ordre Alphabétique (1839) confirms that in France in this period a marmelade was simply the type of jam that uses the whole of the fruit, as opposed to a jelly, made with only the juice. Its marmelade section discusses everything but citrus, and although there is a brief, all inclusive description of citrus marmelade under the citron entry, this requires passing the cooked peel through a sieve to produce a smooth preparation – sacrilege on my breakfast table!

Although I know some people chop their marmalade peel finely with a food processor, and Fourier himself was expecting an un-bitty preserve, I’m afraid I simply can’t bring myself to make you a puréed or strained marmalade, especially not while Seville oranges are in season. You can click here for a basic recipe for a very British orange marmalade, passing on as many tips from my father as I could glean. It might not be what Fourier had in mind for his Harmonians, but as far as I’m concerned it brings you as close as you can get to marmalade perfection.

Fresh jam – plum, peach, raspberry and rosemary

IMG_2634I don’t know why I never used to think of making jam in small quantities. It’s such obvious instant gratification! You can make something delicious and seasonal just a jar at a time, eat it up in a week or two, and then make some more. It’s faster and more efficient to cook, and since you’ll eat it quickly the recipe allows you to use less sugar.

Of course, stocking up the store cupboard with the bounty of summer and autumn to enjoy on a gloomy winter’s day does have its attractions, but sometimes a project that channels a little less of the inner squirrel is required. For me, that moment came at the end of the summer in Paris. Some Reine Claude plums were so perfectly ready to eat that they didn’t make it back from the market in very good shape. There were two abandoned apricots in the fridge. A rosemary bush waved from the window box. I craved jam. And that was it. Less than twenty minutes later there was a jar of golden sweetness ready for my breakfast; less than two weeks (and one visitor) later, it was all gone and the trick has just been repeated with some raspberries and a scarlet-fleshed peach.

This jam is not designed to keep for more than a week or two, is best made in a small quantity, and should be stored in the fridge, especially if you are in a warm place. This brings freedom for all of us – you can be approximate with quantities and speedy in your cooking, I can be very approximate with my instructions, and nobody has to clean out the store-cupboard to make room for yet another jar.

Recipe

I like my jam not too sweet, with a little sharpness added or the natural sharpness in the fruit enhanced. If you like it sweeter, reduce or eliminate the lemon juice. Note that this will reduce the amount of pectin and acid in the jam so it will be a bit runnier.

Adding herbs is a really lovely way of including a little hint of an extra mystery flavour – but leave it out if you think it’s a bit too weird! I particularly like rosemary with plum, and lavender with apricot. Let me know if you have any other favourite combinations!

Ingredients
1 cup roughly chopped plums
2 roughly chopped apricots
Juice of ½ a lemon
¾ cup sugar
1 sprig rosemary (optional)

OR

1½  cups raspberries
1 peeled and roughly chopped peach or nectarine
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 cup sugar
1 sprig rosemary (optional)

Method
IMG_2651Put everything in a small saucepan. If you have time, allow it to sit there for at least an hour so that the fruit starts to dissolve the sugar and flavours start to meld. If you don’t have time, it doesn’t matter, you’ll just have to heat the mixture up more slowly while stirring it to be sure that all the sugar dissolves.

IMG_2640When you are ready, bring the jam (slowly) to the boil, skim off any froth, and simmer for 5–7 minutes. When a small drip spooned on a cold plate isn’t too runny and is starting to set, pour into a cleaned and sterilised jar* and seal. Once cool, store in the fridge and eat within a few weeks.

* This can be done either by pouring boiling water into the jar, tipping out and allowing it to dry, or by heating in the oven.