I must have met my Great Aunt Kyria in the dim and distant past – she died in 1966, when I was 16 – but I have no memory of her. However, I do remember my mother telling me that the home-made marmalade she made every year was based on a recipe given to her by Kyria. And she made industrial quantities of it – whenever I went home a jar or two would be presented to me as I was leaving.
When my father retired and the pair moved to St Leonards-on-Sea (a terrible idea but they couldn’t be dissuaded) my father took his part in the production process. A huge preserving pan was deployed and several batches were made every year, with each batch taking two days. So perhaps it was not surprising that when my mother died in 1987, he carried on. It was good therapy for him, we children reasoned. And on every visit, another couple of jars would be pressed into our hands as we left the house.
This carried on, even though a few years later he remarried. My new stepmother was also a home-made marmalade sort of woman, and helped him with its manufacture. Round about the year 2000 and approaching his eighties, however, he announced that he might retire from the annual production cycle. He gave the big pan and the recipe to my brother Andrew, and helped him the first year Andrew tried it. I took the hint that I might need to begin making any own, and Andrew dictated the recipe to me over the phone.
I remember the first year. I used my biggest saucepan but it was nothing like large enough and I had to scale the recipe back. The whole process seemed to take an age, and I stayed up half the night boiling the final mix and never seeming to get it to pass the required crinkly-skin-on-cold-saucer test. Eventually I gave up, and put the small amount I had left into jars, and – lo and behold – it did set and seemed to have worked. It was very dark, but it certainly smelt and tasted like the chunky marmalade that I was used to.
My father died in 2002, and when we cleared out the house in September of that year, there were dozens of jars lined up on shelves in the garage. So much so, that I didn’t need to make any for the next couple of years. But now, every January when the marmalade oranges arrive in my local supermarket, I buy a couple of bags and search out the largest lemons, ready to start work.
I bought a large stainless steel pan in our local Dunnes Stores – on sale as a ham pot – some 15 years ago, and have scaled up Dad’s recipe accordingly, so I now make just one batch of about 17 or 18 jars. And I’ve stretched the production cycle out over three days, which allows the mixture of fruit, pith and water to cool down completely. This makes getting the sticky gunk out of the muslin much easier.
This is my recipe:
15 large Seville oranges
5 large lemons
10.6 pts (6 l) water
10 lb (4.5 kg) sugar (I use 2 kg of jam sugar + 2.5 kg granulated sugar)
Day 1: Half and squeeze oranges and lemons, putting juice into the boiling pan, and the pips and bits of pith into a muslin cloth stretched out over a bowl. Cut the halved fruit into suitable size pieces, separating out any more pips and pith, and put the fruit in the pan. I use kitchen scissors for this, which I reckon is quicker than deploying a knife. Tie up the pips and pith inside the muslin cloth with cotton string and bung that into the pan as well. Add the water, and leave the mixture to soak overnight.
Day 2: Bring the mixture to the boil, and then maintain it at a rolling boil for about two hours, covered partially by the lid to reduce evaporation. Watch carefully as it may boil over and leave a sticky mess on your hob. Let it cool down overnight.
Day 3: Remove muslin bag, and squeeze out all the gunk into the mixture. (You can also then open the bag, put the remaining pips and pith into a small saucepan, add a little water and boil for ten minutes or so. Drain the liquid through a sieve back into the mixture.)
Bring the mixture up to the boil and add sugar in batches, stirring the pot after each batch in order to make sure it is properly dissolved. When all the sugar is dissolved, bring back to a rolling boil and watch carefully for about 1 ½ hours. Then take a small amount of liquid from the mixture and place it on a pre-cooled saucer taken from your freezer drawer. If the skin crinkles when you draw a finger through it, it’s ready. If not, keep boiling away and test again about 15 minutes later.
Let it cool for 30 minutes or so, and then decant into jars. Leave them to cool right down before you put the lids on.
Here’s the result:
A note on the jars and lids: these should all be washed thoroughly before use. I put them in the dishwasher the day before and sterilise the glass jars in a hot oven while the final boil is going on.
A final family history note. My second cousin Sarah, who is Kyria’s granddaughter, now lives in the States, and I hadn’t seen her since we were all children. But she came to stay a few years back, and brought with her some sample jars of the marmalade she makes for her local craft fairs. Lo and behold, she still uses Kyria’s recipe, and the jar she produced did taste much the same. Bon appetit!