Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lemon and Blood Lime Marmalade.

As autumn turns to winter and as the rain pelts down over Sydney, a young girl's thoughts turn to preserving. I've been inspired by some of my friends' attempts and was determined that this autumn would not pass without me putting some things into jars (and coating the whole kitchen in sticky substances along the way).

My marmalade making begins with a trip to the Sydney growers market where I picked up some blood limes. I had a vague idea what I'd be able to make marmalade out of this uniquely Australian fruit which is a cross between a mandarin and a finger lime. Their flavour is described online as sour, although I'm assuming that someone wasn't feeling very poetic that day. I'd say they have very high acidity with less of a perfumed flavour than your average lime. The flavour of mandarin isn't very pronounced at all. I then popped to my local chi-chi cookery store and picked up a dozen of the world's cutest Bormioli preserving jars and a citrus reamer ready for the following weekend.

I did my research, scouring my books for marmalade recipes. I knew that nowhere would have a blood lime recipe, so I was trying to work out the best method and a way to convert my blood limes into another citrus fruit. I read what the myths are about preserving (there's no need to warm the sugar no matter what Delia says) and fretted if I'd need to pasturise the jars after I'd filled them. There was a brief flirtation with making a tequila flavoured lime marmalade, but I chickened out as I was worried that it wouldn't set. This was, afterall, my first attempt. I plumped for a Delia recipe in the end, from her Winter Collection.

I scrubbed the fruit in some scaldingly hot water and set about juicing it. It was at this point that I started to regret the whole blood lime thing. Turns out you can squeeze six lemons in about 35 seconds, but it takes far longer to juice 450g of blood limes. Next up came the chopping of the skins. Then lemons were fine once I got over my panic about what to do the with left over flesh and connecting tissue but it took me about 45 minutes to shred the blood lime skins.

The pith and pips of citrus fruits contain large amounts of pectin, the magical stuff that sets your preserves, so I had juiced the fruit into a jug (to keep track of the quantities, I ended up using about three quarters lime to lemon) before adding it to the preserving pan. You're supposed to put your pips into a square of muslin, but of course I couldn't find any. Let's just say we're lucky that Myer's had a 30% off sale on tights. I'd probably go with a lower denier next time (I used 20) as it can be quite hard to squeeze the pectin through the reinforced toe. Otherwise a (brand new) leg of a pair of tights is a really useful option as you can easily tie it to the pan, or just knot it and drop it in.

The skin and juice goes into the pan with the pips and pith tied in their tights. Bring to the boil and then simmer for two hours, or until the peel squashes easily between your fingers. It only took an hour to get to this stage for me and I started to worry as most of the lime shred had melted into the liquid. I trusted my instinct and stopped the simmering at this stage. Take your tights out of the jam and leave them onto the side to cool as you're going to squish and squeeze all of the gooey pectin out and then whisk it into the pan. Heat the oven to about 170 degrees at this point and pop four saucers into the freezer.

Now for the dangerous bit. My brother still bears the scar of the last time I heated sugar to any great temperature and asked him to check that it was at the hard crack stage. I was about 11 years old and was already bright enough to recognise that I didn't want to stick my finger into the sugar and see it if was at 150 degrees, although obviously not bright enough to know when you need to buy a sugar thermometer. I did what all precocious children do and got my older brother to do it for me. I don't think I'd prepped Carl very well, as rather than dipping in and pulling his fingers apart to tell me if the sugar was hot enough, he screamed, put his fingers to his mouth but missed and glued his fingers to his moustache with molten sugar. So, I added the 1.3kg of sugar to the pan and brought it to a rolling boil, leaving it there for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes you can start checking for your set, by putting a teaspoon of the marmalade onto a chilled saucer. If your marmalade is set, it will form a skin as you push your (or your older brother's) finger through. If you don't have a set you keep boiling for another 10 minutes before you check again. My marmalade took about 30 minutes to reach setting point which was worrying me a little as lemons and limes are high pectin fruits. I wonder if I should have left it to simmer for a little longer?

It didn't seem to matter as I got my set in the end. It's a good idea to leave your marmalade now to settle for about 20 minutes. This allows the shred to settle throughout the jam and makes sure that you get even distribution of shred. It also means you can pop your washed jars into the oven to warm and call one of your best friends to tell them what you're doing. The filling is the bit where things get slightly messy. I'd recommend getting a jam funnel rather than using a sterilised jug like I did. My jars had little vacuum seals on the top so I was planning to have to pasterise the jars after filling them, but hot filling seemed to do the job and the vacuums "set" (or whatever the technical term would be). Wait until the jars are cold before you label as otherwise they'll just fall off.

I was planning to wait for a couple of weeks before opening the jars but I was planning to give some as gifts so I needed to test it the next morning. For quality control purposes you understand...

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