One of my best college memories is the summer I spent canning with my co-op housemate Rich. The house had a CSA subscription, our own small backyard garden plus a plot in a community garden, so there was a lot of fresh produce around, even more than the 30 to 40 people who ate at the house every night could use up in a week. So on Sunday nights throughout that summer, armed with a battered copy of Stocking Up and Nina Simone playing on the radio, Rich and I would meet in the kitchen around 8 or 9 at night, when the heat of the day had eased a bit, and get to work, usually not finishing up till around midnight, when we would stand back and admire the finished row of jars cooling on the windowsill. To this day I’m convinced that there’s no more satisfying sound in the kitchen than the metallic ping mason jar lids make when the vacuum seal is created. I still remember how Rich described the act of preserving: “It’s just so wholesome,” he said.
But then I left the Midwest and moved to Ireland, leaving the co-op’s stash of mason jars and copy of Stocking Up behind. When I went back to Wisconsin to visit my friend Kelly two summers ago, one of the best parts of my trip was the night before I flew back to Dublin, when we made pickles from the cucumbers we’d bought that morning at the farmers’ market, listened to NPR on the radio and drank my favourite New Glarus beer. I came home determined to get back into preserving, but despite my best intentions, I watched Seville oranges come and then quickly go, then the rhubarb, gooseberries, strawberries, blueberries and apples, all the while thinking of all the jam and chutney I wanted to be making. When Seville oranges came back into their short season this year, I didn’t want to miss my chance yet again. And now that I finally took the plunge back into preserving, I’m already planning my next batch.
Seville Orange Marmalade with Whiskey and Ginger
Makes 3.5 litres of marmalade
A few tips before you begin: You’ll be working with a big pot of boiling sugar, which can burn badly. Keep kids out of the kitchen (or make your marmalade after they’ve gone to bed) and be mindful of your own safety too. Don’t be tempted to lick the spoon for a little taste!
Make sure you have a good, sharp knife before you begin – otherwise you might regret your decision to make a thin cut marmalade!
When making preserves, you need to use spotlessly clean, sterile jars, lids and rings (if using a Kilner/Le Parfait type of jar). If you have a dishwasher, you can simply run everything through a hot cycle. Otherwise, wash everything in hot, soapy water, rinse well, then place the jars and lids on a baking tray in an oven heated to 140°C (285°F) and keep them there until you’re ready to use them.
1 kg (2 1/4 lb) Seville oranges
2.5 litres (10 cups) water
1.8 kg (4 lb) granulated sugar
200 g (1 1/2 cups) crystallised ginger, finely chopped
75 ml (1/3 cup) lemon juice
75 ml (1/3 cup) whiskey
Scrub the oranges well and cut each orange in half. Squeeze the juice from the oranges and set aside. Slice the peel, including the pith, into whatever thickness you like, i.e. thin or thick cut. Put the orange peel slices into a large bowl along with the orange juice, then pour over the water. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the oranges to soak overnight or for as long as 24 hours.
Transfer the mixture to a large preserving pan or nonreactive pan (such as an enamelled cast iron Dutch oven). Make sure the pot is big enough to accommodate all the mixture so that none splashes out, as all that boiling sugar can burn badly. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours, until the peel is tender. It’s important that the peel is soft before you add the sugar, because once you do, it won’t ever get any softer.
Add in the sugar, ginger and lemon juice, stirring until the sugar has dissolved (if the sugar hasn’t dissolved before it comes to the boil, it will crystallise once it cools). Raise the heat to a rolling boil and keep boiling, without stirring, until the setting point is reached (either when a sugar/preserving thermometer reads 105°C (220°F) or when a teaspoonful of the marmalade wrinkles up when placed onto a fridge-cold plate and you push it with your finger), which should take 20 to 30 minutes but could take longer. Once it’s done, take it off the heat and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Skim off any scum that has risen to the top with a slotted spoon or just stir it to disperse it, then stir in the whiskey, which may cause the mixture to bubble up a bit again. Pour the marmalade into warm, dry, sterilised jars (see above) to within a few millimetres of the rim and seal immediately. Store in a cool, dry place and use within two years.