Great Aunt Kyria’s marmalade

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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.

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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:

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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!


‘The’ shortest word ever hyphenated (possibly)

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The Economist, 18 December 2021.

Richard Hollick started working for Cambridge University Press in 1965 and remained there in various capacities for 29 years in London, Cambridge, and finally New York. He then switched sides, and worked for Oxford University Press in New York, retiring in 2013. His daily blog Making Books is full of great stuff, especially for people from his generation, like me.

He recently spotted possibly the most egregious example of automatic hyphenation, in a copy of The Economist, no less, and shown above. As he says in the accompanying post, with a sigh, all the established editorial authorities don’t actually forbid you to take over a single letter — because nobody would dream of doing such a thing. But automatic H&J programs which don’t have minimum character numbers specified may well resort to this.

Once again, old crusties like me mutter into our metaphorical beards and say it wasn’t like that in our day. This is principally because the human element has been taken out of the make-up of typeset text. A long time ago, I came across a description of how a traditionally trained Linotype compositor worked:

[He] knew, remembered and observed a set of rules for splitting words. He had to be ready to decide who to ‘turn the line over’, how to deal with word breaks, how much white space was tolerable between words. This decision-making influenced his setting from the first character of the line till the last. (Cynthia Cockburn, Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change, 2nd edition, Pluto Press, 1991.)

A fine explanation of exactly what is now missing.

From early sunsets to the long stretch

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Photograph taken at 15.59 on Friday 10 December 2021, two days before the earliest sunset time.

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Photograph taken at 16.02 on Tuesday 14 December 2021, one day after the earliest sunset time.

This is the time of the year when the earth’s orbit round the sun as seen in the northern hemisphere moves past the point where we have the least amount of daylight. In Dublin this year the earliest sunset was at 16.06.20 on both 12 and 13 December and the latest sunrise was at 08.40.17 on 29 December. The dates and times straddle the actual solstice which was on 21 December and is the day on which the shortest total daytime occurs. This year the daytime clocked in at 7h 30m 6s. (The reason why these dates vary was explained in this post of mine in 2016.) I have previously relied on the website but this only provides the data in hours and minutes. The site grills down to seconds in its listings, although the exact times differ slightly from the figures. Here is a screenshot from its site:

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Because we have had a few lovely bright afternoons this month I have managed to take some good photographs in the Phoenix Park near the time when the sun dips below the horizon, as seen while walking my dog Evie. The pics taken on 10 and 14 December are shown at the top of this post.

These pictures were all taken on bright afternoons, but when returning to my car on a different dull and misty day I was approached by a man with two large professional-type cameras slung round his neck. He turned out to be none other than Alan Betson, the celebrated Irish Times photographer. He had taken some pictures of Evie and me, and was about to send them in to the picture desk as possible shots for the next day’s gallery feature. Duly flattered, I of course agreed, and gave him our names.

Charles Foster and his dog Evie enjoy a walk in Dublins Phoenix Park

A dull day in the Phoenix Park. Pic: Alan Betson/Irish Times.

Sadly for me, the picture lost out to a much more joyful shot of a grandfather and grandchildren walking nearby. Our mundane trudge may not have been recorded in the national press, but with Alan’s permission, you can enjoy it as seen above.

No Comfort for planet as Unilever adds unnecessary plastic

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On the right is a bottle of Comfort fabric softener I bought recently. On the left is the empty one which it replaced. The old bottle, when finished, could be rinsed out and tossed straight into the green recycling bin. Top marks. However, the new one, although made of recyclable PET plastic, has a plastic film cover, which can’t be recycled. 

Many people don’t know this so they toss them in the recycling anyway. But some recyclers haven’t got a mechanism to process these bottles, and so they get thrown into landfill or incinerated. The most notorious of these items is Lucozade, although this is soon to be rectified according to this report. About time too.

So what am I supposed to do about my Comfort bottle? The answer is on the bottle, in a script typeface supposed to encourage user interaction.

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“Unzip here to undress the bottle for recycling.” I’ll ignore the twee language for the moment (part of the trend towards infantilism too common amongst today’s copywriters). Many punters won’t read the instruction, and many more will just not bother. Net result, fewer bottles recycled. In my view, anything that makes the act of recycling harder is going to reduce the numbers sent forward. This should mean companies should work to remove aluminium foil linings on cardboard pizza boxes, plastic film on PET bottles and plastic lamination on magazine covers (to name just three). And don’t get me started on those Pringle’s Crisps tubes. A plastic lid, an aluminium and cardboard tube with a steel collar and a foil sealer. The whole thing is a “recycling nightmare”, according to this 2020 BBC report on trials of new packaging. Some 90% is paper, but “around 10% is a polyal (plastic) barrier that seals the interior to protect the food against oxygen and moisture which would damage the taste.” And it may well still have a plastic lid. More plastic rubbish for easy dumping on our beaches or parks.

So what possessed a big company like Unilever to take the backward step on its Comfort bottles? Especially one which promotes its work for sustainability with a special page on its website. 

I should be interested to find out more. 

Unilever statement


The runaway comma

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For several years after moving to Dublin I would often drive through the district of Phibsborough, past a pet shop which proudly displayed its name as “Bob,s Pets”. The sign was also duly noted by Lynne Truss, and became known worldwide due to its appearance in her best selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Sadly, there don’t seem to be any photographs of the sign online, though I guess there must be some somewhere out there. 

In the meantime, here’s another Dublin example of a misplaced comma replacing an apostrophe, taken recently through my car windscreen while stopped at a traffic light. 

Pics of the real Bob,s Pets sign would be very welcome. Please get in touch. 

Type on the streets: Cooper Black

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There must be something about the Cooper Black typeface that encourages typographic nominative determinism. A mere three short years after my first post on this subject, I have recently spotted another commercial concern by the name of Cooper which uses its namesake typeface.

Step forward, as John Junor used to say, Cooper Insulation of Kells, Co Meath. Above is one of their vans, photographed in Sundrive Road, Dublin, a few hundred yards from my house. And here is the company website, featuring a number of lorries and vans decked out in the corporate colours.

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Choosing a typeface because of its “accidental association” is disapproved of by most eminent typographic writers, notably Robert Bringhurst in The Elements of Typographic Style (Hartley & Marks, second edition 1997). Here the great man writes:

Choose faces whose individual spirit and character is in keeping with the text.
Accidental associations are rarely a good basis for choosing a typeface. Books of poems by the twentieth-century Jewish American poet Marvin Bell, for example, have sometimes been set in Bell type – which is eighteenth-century, English and Presbyterian – solely because of its name. Puns of this kind are a private amusement for typographers. But a typographic page so well designed that it attains a life of its own must be based on something more than an inside joke. (p.99)

However, it must be said that Cooper Black and its associated italic are fine typefaces, and often used in display advertising and logo design. So who’s to say that it doesn’t fit the bill in this case? (See its original promotional ad from 1922 below, found in an article on Medium.) But you can’t help feeling that the designer who chose it for this client didn’t have have a little chuckle to themselves as they did so.

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Guardian Double Campbell raises journalism official secrecy danger

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Those of us of a certain vintage have waited more than 40 years to see the double photographic byline shown above, which appeared on 20 July in the print edition of The Guardian. (The byline can also be seen in the online edition here, although disappointingly the pictures are missing.)

The two Campbells are both Scots, the older (born 1944) from Edinburgh, the younger (born 1952) from Dundee. Their paths crossed in the 1970s when the older was news editor of Time Out, which in those days employed several of its own reporters as well as giving work to a number of freelances. One of these freelances was Campbell the younger, already a specialist in writing about communications and the secret state. It was he who, along with Time Out staffer Crispin Aubrey, went to interview an ex-army corporal John Berry about his service in the Royal Signals. All three were arrested after the interview had finished, and charged with offences under the Official Secrets Act.

The ad hoc group of friends, families and other supporters which came together to defend them became known by their initials, the ABC campaign. It won a significant victory in getting the most serious charges under Section 1 of the act dropped. At their trial, all three were eventually found guilty of Section 2 charges, after the judge indicated he was not considering custodial sentences.

Now Campbell and Campbell are writing together to alert readers to the latest danger posed by this most illiberal of UK governments, whose sights are now set on journalists merely doing their jobs. As the pair point out:

The Home Office now wants harder and more extensive secrecy laws that would have the effect of deterring sources, editors and reporters, making them potentially subject to uncontrolled official bans not approved by a court, and punished much more severely if they do not comply. In noisy political times, a government consultation issued two months ago has had worryingly little attention. Although portrayed as countering hostile activity by state actors, the new laws would, if passed, ensnare journalists and sources whose job is reporting “unauthorised disclosures” that are in the public interest.

These proposals are markedly different from those proposed by the independent Law Commission published last autumn. The commission recommended that “a statutory public interest defence should be created for anyone … including civilians and journalists, that they can rely upon in court”. Journalists and sources should not be convicted if it was in the public interest for the information disclosed to be known by recipients. An independent, statutory whistleblower commissioner “should be established to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing or criminality”.

The current “gung-ho, authoritarian approach of the government could allow press freedom to be clamped into silence” warn our Dynamic Duo, unless editors and others worried about press freedom and an open society do not highlight the dangers and call a halt. Well said, chaps.

Born on the same day

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One of my little obsessions is checking the Birthdays list in The Guardian every morning for people born on the same day. It’s the odd juxtaposition of names that I particularly love. In my game, you get points for any pair. Double points are awarded for two pairs born on the same day in different years, and treble points for three pairs. Yesterday, 7 July, was a treble point day. Shelley Duvall and Bob Stewart, born on 7 July 1949. Tony Jacklin, Glenys Kinnock and Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, born on 7 July 1944. And best coincidence of all, Michael Howard and Bill Oddie, born on 7 July 1941. Such a shame that, according to Wikipedia, there is no one to pair up with Ringo Starr, still rocking at 81, and born on 7 July 1940. 

Here are some other interesting recent coincidences from the last few weeks:

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George W Bush and Sylvester Stallone, born 6 July 1946.

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Fabien Barthez and Elon Musk, born 28 June 1971.

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Brian Leveson, Meryl Streep and Elizabeth Warren, born 22 June 1949.

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Kate Hoey, Malcolm Rifkind and Maurice Saatchi, born 21 June 1946.

Soc Dems add a little Holly to the picture

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Pic: David Kenny

To the long list of politicians inserted by Photoshop to events they never attended add Holly Cairns, the SDP TD for Cork West. Above is a leaflet being circulated by Sarah Durcan, the party candidate in the forthcoming Dublin Bay South by-election. 

Count the people behind her: the SDP’s two co-leaders and Labour Party defectors, Roisin Shortall and Catherine Murphy on the left and right. Behind them the party’s four other TDs. But look carefully: third from the left in the back row is Holly Cairns in what looks like a neatly coiffed studio shot, added in later by Photoshop.

And so it is. Because below is another leaflet (an official party leaflet!) using what must be an earlier version of the same photo:

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Pic: Alan Kinsella

Just three TDs standing behind their leaders and no sign of Ms Cairns. What puzzles me is the decision by the party’s communications team to use the doctored photograph after they had themselves issued the original one. A most unprofessional approach.

Meanwhile in the by-election itself, Sarah Durcan looks as though she will end up a long way back in the race. There haven’t been any opinion polls so far, but she’s well behind in Paddy Power’s latest odds. 

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I’ve been out canvassing for Labour’s estimable Ivana Bacik, probably the most impressive by-election candidate I’ve ever met. With under two weeks to go, she could yet end up top of the poll. 

Hat tip to David Kenny, who spotted the picture, and the wonderful Irish Election Literature archive of Alan Kinsella.