Out the front of our friend Antonia’s family home in Taroona Tasmania, which is so close to the sea that in storms foam washes right up to the windows, there are large, round, black rocks that are nicknamed The Puddings. If they weren’t covered in cormorants you could imagine them with holly on top. Sarah and I were in Tasmania three weeks ago. How we fit this in-between moving house and me catching the jet plane defies comprehension. Amongst other adventures, we were staying with Antonia and visiting our friend Anna who is in Tasmania writing a book. All of us were sitting out on the wooden steps that fall to the sea at Antonia’s family home. We were drinking tea, eating oranges and staring out at The Puddings, but this post isn’t about pudding, it’s about marmalade.
We made this Petal Marmalade for Anna. While staying in Tasmania she has had to call on the kindness of strangers – when she’s not sleeping rough in her swag in the freezing countryside – and wanted something personal to offer as thanks.
Months ago, before she left on the Spirit of Tasmania – the great RSL of the sea – she rode over to our house with a backpack heavy with citrus and sugar. On a midweek afternoon with work rearranged and set aside, we peeled and chopped kilos of oranges, lemons and grapefruit.
Whenever I make marmalade I never, ever remember that you are supposed to chop the citrus the night before and soak over night. Every time I forget and have to soak it for an hour on the day but it always turns out fine. Sarah and I think the defining factor in the taste of marmalade is not just in the quality of the fruit, it’s in how fine the peel is cut. The finer the better! Unless you like it chunky? A sharp knife here makes things so much easier. Halfway through our chopping marathon it was brought to my attention that I was chopping my peel too chunky, but I assure you it was only because I ended up with the blunt knife. Anna and Sarah with their fine, tendril thin strips of peel and sharp knives, didn’t seem to believe me.
I love the bitter sweetness of Marmalade, and this mix of three fruits is lovely. The sugary oranges balance the bitter lemon and grapefruit. We included red geranium petals in the mix for prettiness and a rosier colour. I’m fond of a marmalade toast straight after eating eggs on toast, as a zesty desert. Okay, so it looks like Sarah and I are obsessed with zest.
After making the jam we sent Anna off to The Spirit with a car boot full of sticky, orange jars clinking together. Sarah and I hadn’t seen Anna since the jam making and it was so good to just get a hold of her and sit watching the cormorants without the great, hulking Bass Strait and the thought of surely the worst boat ride invented, between us.
mix of orange, grapefruit, lemon
Thinly slice fruit, removing all pips and central membrane. Put pips and membrane in muslin and tie up tightly with string in a little parcel. For every 500g of prepared fruit, allow 1.8litres of water and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Simmer fruit salt and water until peel is soft and easily squashed. Allow to rest for 24hours in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl.
After resting, measure fruit and water into a preserving pan or a heavy based saucepan using a cup (count them!). Measure equal parts sugar (for every cup of fruit mix allow an equal measure of sugar) and warm in a tray in a moderate oven. Bring the fruit mix to boiling point. Add warmed sugar from the oven and return to a boil and cook for 25-30 minutes until it reaches setting stage*.
Remove the muslin parcel of pips and discard. Bottle into hot, sterilised jars**. You can place a few red geranium petals in the end here if you like.
*Setting stage is easy to test by putting a small plate in the fridge or freezer, then spoon a small amount of jam onto the cold plate and leave for a moment. If you can run your finger through the jam on the plate, and if the jam stays in two distinct halves, it’s ready.
**To sterilise jars, wash in warm soapy water, then dry in the oven.