I don't often make homemade jams and preserves, partly because I rarely eat bread or toast, but now and then it is nice to make something to offer as a gift. And very occasionally, I do crave a slick of shiny, sharply-flavoured homemade marmalade on a slice of sourdough toast.

If you're quick, you can still catch the Seville oranges which are available at the moment. When I was a child, the arrival of the Sevilles from Spain was an event awaited with much anticipation by my father, who was (and still is) the family jam and marmalade maker, a habit he inherited from his own father. My paternal grandfather made all kinds of jams, preserves and pickles, probably a hangover from wartime, when, thanks to his economy, his garden and allotment, and his hens and rabbits, the entire family were well-provided for during rationing. I remember the shelves of his larder stacked with all kinds of interesting, wine-coloured preserves, or his infamous mustard-yellow Piccalilli. Grandad's Piccalilli was to be avoided, if at all possible. Like his horseradish sauce, it was eye-wateringly strong. I warned my husband-to-be, on going to high tea with my grandparents, not to eat the Piccalilli, but he ignored my advice and positively relished the relish, so to speak. So much so that Grandad sent him off with several jars of his famous pickle!

When my father made marmalade, it was always a very long and drawn out affair, involving a jam saucepan (a bronze cauldron) and muslin. I prefer the quick method, advocated by Nigella in her book How to Be A Domestic Goddess. You would never guess that the marmalade was made with a "cheat's method": it's far easier and is a process which can be applied to other citrus fruits, such as lemons and limes, and pink grapefruit (which makes a really beautiful preserve).

Seville orange marmalade

800g Seville oranges
1.4 kg preserving sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Put the oranges in a large saucepan and fill with enough water so that they float freely. Bring up to the boil and the simmer for about 2 hours, or until the fruit are very soft. Add more hot water from the kettle if the water is boiling away.

When cooked, remove the fruit from the pan (retaining the cooking water), cut them in half, scoop out the pips and put the flesh in a small saucepan with some of the orange cooking water. Bring to the boil and let the mixture boil for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, put the orange skins in a food-processor and pulse until you have small pieces, or chop by hand. Put the peel in a large pan.

Strain the pulp and water mixture over the chopped oranges and add the lemon juice (this adds the necessary pectin to the mixture to help it set). Stir in the sugar and bring to the boil gently, ensuring the mixture does not catch on the bottom of the pan (I use my biggest Le Creuset for this job), and making sure the sugar dissolves before the mixture actually starts boiling. Boil until setting point is reached (use a jam thermometer if you have one, otherwise use the plate method: put a plate in the freezer and test the mixture by spooning a small amount onto the cold plate. If the mixture wrinkle slightly when you draw a spoon or finger across it, it has reached setting point). Pour the marmalade into prepared jars and close the lids.

Makes just over 1 litre.


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