Spring is on its way. The garden is beginning to change, colours are beginning to appear under the clear blue skies. Sunday morning is the time to stand watching out of the window admiring the delicate, dancing snowdrops and the stargazing aconites. While absorbing the energy from this sudden life-filled garden of flowers ensure that in one hand you have a slice of crusty bread topped with butter and marmalade. Preferably homemade. For it is also the time for Seville oranges. So get up to the market and invest in some of these bitter fruits to make the sweetest, crystal looking marmalade. Ready for smothering over your Hot Cross Buns. Marmalade is similar to jam but uses citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, grapefruit and, in previous times, the citron. The citron is a species similar to the lemon but with a much thicker, coruscated skin, grown in the mediterranean. It is bitter and was originally used for its peel and for its juice, but it is rarely seen today. Oranges are the most common ingredient of our marmalade but mixtures of fruit can be used. Oranges were first brought to England in Medieval times. These would have been of the Seville variety and, being bitter, were used for peel in savoury pottages, tarts and fruit breads. It was the Italians who led the way in cooking with fruits and sugars, but it is recorded that a Frenchman, chef to a number of French noblemen, was making marmalade in the 1600’s. He penned a cookery book in 1692 in which he included a recipe for marmalade. At the same time, the Portuguese were making sweetmeats and cheeses from quinces. The Portuguese for quince is marmalo, which is probably where our word for this fruit and sugar jelly comes, which is known today as marmalade. Marmalade is extremely easy to make and very satisfying. Being able to admire the jars of sparkling fruits is nearly as rewarding as spreading your homemade preserve on your toast in the morning. As long as you follow the following points you cannot go wrong. The fruit must be soaked overnight to extract the pectin which ensures setting. The pips are high in pectin, so it is important to boil them for the setting agent. Preserving or granulated sugar should be used and warmed before adding to help it to dissolve quicker. Once the sugar has been added, stir well to avoid crystallisation. To test for setting, put a little marmalade on a saucer, allow to cool then pish with the end of a spoon. If it forms a skin and wrinkles it is ready to jar. Be careful not to overcook or the fruit will not set and the colour will not be as clear or bright. Although marmalade making takes time, do not be put off. Nowadays you can buy commercial pectin in the supermarkets which means you can have marmalade in a couple of hours. To increase the speed of softening the peel add a little bicarbonate of soda in the soaking stage. Or you could make it in the pressure cooker. So quickly! No excuses! Wash out those old jam jars and get making!
RECIPES TO TRY
Citron Marmalade (A recipe by Alexandrina Peckover featured in an old Wisbech cookery book. You could use lemons or a mix of lemons and oranges).Method:Take on green citron, cut it up in the same way that oranges are for marmalade. All the peel and pith to be put in, but any small membranous pieces should be omitted. It is to be soaked for 24 hours before cooking in 1 ½ pints of water. Then boil for two hours, then add 1 ½ lb of sugar, and boil for one hour. Put in the juice of 1 ½ lemons just before taking off. If the citron is a large one, a little more water is needed.
Seville Orange MarmaladeIngredients:1lb Seville oranges2lb sugar2 lemons2 pints of waterMethod:Put the whole oranges in a pan with the water. Simmer slowly for 1 ½ hours. Remove from the liquid and allow to cool. Cut up the oranges. Put the pips into a muslin bag and boil for 10 minutes to extract the pectin. Remove the pips. Add the orange pulp to the liquid and bring to the boil. Stir in the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly without stirring until setting point is reached. Start testing after 15 minutes.
Snacking on Fourses and Docky
Forget crisps, chocolate biscuits or bananas. Snacks for the hardworking Fenland people of centuries ago would not have come so easily, says Alison Sloan former restaurant manager at Oxburgh Hall.• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • The fields of the Fens spread outwards on to the horizon in all directions, the flatness broken only by the occasional wind-battered tree and criss-crossed by drainage dykes. Soil is dark and rich and is some of the best farmland in the country. Summer crops include soft, ripe fruit including strawberries, gooseberries, apples and pears; vegetables and cereals including rye and oats. Living in such an isolated area, Fenland people, from the poorest farmers to the wealthiest landowners, had to be versatile and self-sufficient in order to eat. Most families would produce their own “bread” from rye and barley grown locally. Usually, Friday would be bread-making day. They also made their own milk and cheese with their meat coming from pigs or abundant wild rabbit, pigeon and pheasant. Lunch for the farm workers would have been a large thick slice of home-made bread with a scraping of butter and some cheese. This was known as “docky” as the time taken to eat it would be docked from the farmworkers wages.Every worker had a docky knife to cut his snack. During harvest time when work was even more back-breaking, this bread and cheese snack was added to with an afternoon break for cake and ale. The ale would probably have been made locally, even at home, with the abundant barley crops. This afternoon snack became known as “fourses”.Even wealthier families produced much of their own food including bread, milk, cream and cheese. The Peckover family, who lived at Peckover House in Wisbech (National Trust) kept a cow in the paddock and had a dairy in the basement. The Peckovers also enjoyed their snacks which would probably have been called “nunchin” and might have comprised a glass of buttermilk, or sweetened whey from the dairy, with cake. The family was fond of apples and apricots which they grew.The inventory of 1834 lists 24 earthen pots of preserves, some of which were apricot. Being wealthier than the docky eaters the Peckovers had more choice - as well as making their own cheeses the Peckovers were also partial to Stilton and often sent relatives whole cheeses including this local blue.You may not have to work on the land, but you can still enjoy a snack of some traditional Fenland recipes.Fenland Apple CakesThis recipe goes back 200 years and was given to me by my grandmother.Pastry: 8oz (225g) plain flour4oz (100g) butter1oz (25g) caster sugarA large pinch of ground mixed spiceFilling:1 ½ lb cooking applesJuice of half a lemon1oz (25g) butter2oz (50g) caster sugar20z (50g) cake crumbs1oz (25g) currantsMake the pastry. Rub butter into flour. Add the sugar and spices. Bind with a little water to make a dough and divide into two. Roll out one piece and line an 8” (20cm) pie dish. Peel and core the apples. Slice into a pan. Add the lemon juice, butter, sugar and a tiny amount of water. Stew until apples form a puree. Sprinkle half the cake crumbs and currants. Roll out the remaining pastry and cover. Seal the edges, slit the top and bake at 220C/435F/Gas Mark 7 for 25 minutes or until golden. Traditionally served cold but is also good hot with cream or custard.Georgian Potted CheeseServes 4This would have been popular with the Peckovers and was a good way of preserving cheese in the early 1800s. It makes a lovely “nunchin” snack with crusty bread. Try making it with cheddar if you prefer or any mixture of cheeses.8oz (225g) stilton cheese3oz (75g) butter2 Tbsp (30ml) wine1 tsp ground mixed spiceClarified butter to coverCrumble the stilton and pound into the butter. Add the wine and spice. Mix well. Press down into a pot and top with clarified butter. If you want to make a large quantity you could put it into a loaf tin or use individual ramekins. To make clarified butter: melt 1lb salted butter. When foaming put to one side. Pour off the clear liquid and store in a container or pour straight on to the potted cheese.Vinegar CakeDon’t be put off by the use of vinegar, it is a deliciously moist cake. Other recipes exist which use eggs to make it richer, but, if the hens weren’t laying…8oz (335g) butter1lb (450g) plain flour1lb (450g) mixed dried fruit8oz (225g) soft brown sugar1 tsp (5ml) bicarbonate of soda½ pint (300ml) mile3 tbsp (45ml) malt vinegarGrease a 9” (25cm) cake tin. Rub the butter into the flour then add the fruit and sugar. Sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda into the milk then add the vinegar. While it is foaming add the flour mixture, stir well. Turn into the tin. Bake at 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for 30 minutes, then at 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for 1 ½ hours or until firm to touch. Cover with paper if necessary to prevent the top browning too quickly. Leave to cook for half an hour then remove from the tin. •Published in the Eastern Daily Press, 1998