Sharp practice

Mark Hix marks the arrival of Seville oranges with a perfect bittersweet symphony
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Just when things are looking their bleakest, one thing is guaranteed to gets the juices flowing: the arrival of Seville oranges. These sharp citrus fruits brighten up the rest of this month and next. You wouldn't want to eat them raw as their skin is thick and their flesh bitter. But with an equal amount of fruit to sugar you can transform the oranges into a fabulously fruity marmalade. It'll be a world away from the "commercial" stuff made with more sugar than fruit because it's cheaper.

Just when things are looking their bleakest, one thing is guaranteed to gets the juices flowing: the arrival of Seville oranges. These sharp citrus fruits brighten up the rest of this month and next. You wouldn't want to eat them raw as their skin is thick and their flesh bitter. But with an equal amount of fruit to sugar you can transform the oranges into a fabulously fruity marmalade. It'll be a world away from the "commercial" stuff made with more sugar than fruit because it's cheaper.

Then again, not many people suck on raw lemons, and you can make marmalade with them too. Or any citrus fruit, come to that. But it's my guess that most lemons are thrown into shopping trolleys without much thought, and then mainly end up sliced in vodka or gin and tonic, or used for a quick squirt on fish fingers. How often do we squeeze a fresh lemon for lemonade or to make a nice, sharp lemon tart with juice and zest? There are some great, classic citrus desserts and drinks that use oranges and lemons.

Even whole oranges must be feeling the squeeze - or not - as ready-made juice in all sorts of varieties, such as clementine, ortanique and blood orange, is now available in cartons. It's so much easier than making your own. I'm as guilty as anyone but now I've got into marmalade making, I'm going to be setting loose the juice on other citrus fruits too.

Seville orange marmalade

Makes 1.5-2kg

There should be plenty of Seville oranges in the shops until at least halfway through next month. This simple and fruity recipe, cooking them whole then chopping them up, seems the easiest and best, and you can adapt it to other fruits such as grapefruit and lemons, or even a mixture. A pressure cooker is perfect for jam-making as it cuts down the cooking time, although the pans tend not to be that big, so you have to make smaller batches.

Marmalade has changed over the centuries. It started out rather like a quince paste, the fruit boiled down so it was thick and sliceable. At the end of the 18th century it started to become more refined and jelly-like with fine shreds of orange in it. Bulking it out with peel and sugar was more economical than just boiling down the juice. Now thick-cut and chunky are associated with superior marmalade, but if you're making your own it's up to you to have the peel the way you like it.

1.5kg Seville oranges, washed
3kg jam or preserving sugar or granulated

Put the oranges into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 11/2 hours or until the skins are soft and tender and easily pierced with a small knife.

Remove the oranges from the liquid, cut them in half and put them on a plate to cool. Once cool, scoop out the seeds with any pulp and push through a colander with the back of a large spoon. This pulpy mixture is very gelatinous and will help to set the marmalade. Put the pulp mixture in the cooking liquid and discard the seeds. Cut the halves in half again and cut them into thin strips or chunks, according to whether you like fine or chunky marmalade.

Add the peel back into the cooking water with the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10-15 minutes, skimming off any white impurities every so often, until setting point is reached. The best way to test this is to drop a teaspoonful on to a small plate that has been in the fridge. If it sets after, say, a minute to a marmalade consistency, it's done; if not, continue boiling it and keep re-testing it. If you want a really thick marmalade, continue to boil until the sugar is almost caramelised.

Leave the marmalade to cool for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often, so that the pieces of orange suspend in the liquid. Then fill into sterilised jam or Kilner-type jars. Store in a cool place for up to 6-8 months.

Steamed orange marmalade pudding

Serves 4-6

You can't beat a good old steamed pudding, especially when it's served with thick custard, preferably with a few lumps in it. The addition of marmalade, home-made or bought, gives the pudding the stickiness of a treacle pudding with a bit of a zing.

You can use orange marmalade, or even an orange and lemon one, if you fancy a St Clement's-theme pudding.

100g butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
Grated zest of 1 orange
100g self-raising flour, sieved
Butter for greasing
8tbsp chunky orange marmalade, plus some extra if you prefer to serve on top

Cream the butter and sugar, by hand or in a mixing machine, until light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs and orange zest and beat until well mixed. Gently fold in the flour until well mixed.

Grease a large, or 4 small individual pudding basins, spoon 4 tablespoons of the marmalade into the bottoms, levelling it out with the back of a spoon, then add the pudding mixture. Cover with a circle of buttered greaseproof paper, then some kitchen foil and secure tightly with a piece of string around the edge of the bowl.

Put the bowl/bowls into a saucepan with boiling water half way up the bowl, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 11/2 hours for a large one or 40 minutes for small individual ones, topping up with water if necessary.

Remove from the pan and turn out on to a serving dish. You may just need to run a knife around the edge of the pudding basin to loosen it slightly. Serve with some thick custard and some more marmalade if you wish, heated up with a little water and spooned on top.

Lemon meringue pie

Serves 6-8

I've adapted this from a recipe for a dish called Chester pie that was virtually identical to the good old lemon meringue pie, which now seems more American than British. The recipe was in Warne's Model Cookery by Mary Jewry, in the new (well, not that new any more) edition from 1868. As Liverpool, the nearest port to Chester, was where so much emigration to America took place from, perhaps this was where lemon meringue pie originated. Either way, this is my version of the classic sharp'n'sweet tart.

for the pastry

60g unsalted butter
30g caster sugar
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon (reserve the juice)
1/2 a medium egg, beaten
125g plain flour
flour for dusting

for the filling

100g butter
Grated rind of 2 lemons
Juice of 3 lemons (2 grated above, and 1 for the pastry)
225g granulated sugar
8 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
2tbsp ground almonds
120ml double cream

for the topping

2 egg whites
60g caster sugar

First make the pastry. In a food processor, mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar together with the lemon zest until smooth. Slowly add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer, until they are mixed well, then slowly fold in the flour and mould the dough into a ball.

Lightly grease an 18-20cm wide, 3cm deep, straight-sided flan ring with a removable bottom, (if not use a buttered, bottomless flan ring on a buttered tray). Roll out the pastry on a floured table until it's about 3mm thick, then lay it into the flan ring. The best way to do this is to roll the pastry around the rolling pin then unroll it over the flan ring and ease the pastry into the ring with your hands. Press the pastry firmly into the corners of the flan ring and patch up any holes by pinching the pastry together, or by patching in some of the excess pastry. This pastry is quite forgiving and a bit of patchwork won't be noticeable once it's cooked.

Roll the rolling pin across the top of the flan ring to trim off the excess pastry, then neaten up the edges by going round and pinching them with your thumb and forefinger. Leave to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Remove from the stove and beat in the lemon rind and juice, sugar, egg yolks, almonds and double cream. Return to the stove and stir on a low heat until it thickens, but don't let it boil. Remove from the heat, give a final stir and cover with clingfilm to stop it forming a skin.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 5. Line the flan ring with a large disc of greaseproof paper or foil and fill with baking beans.

Bake the pastry for 25 minutes, or until lightly coloured, then remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Reduce the oven to gas mark 150°C/gas mark 3.

Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and pour in the lemon filling. If you have too much, save to have as lemon curd on toast. Bake for 10-15 minutes until just set, then remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220°C/Gas mark 7.

Clean a stainless-steel mixing bowl and whisk (preferably electric) with boiling water and dry with a clean cloth to remove any traces of grease. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then add the sugar and continue whisking until they are stiff and shiny. Spoon the mixture on to the filling and return to the oven for about 3-5 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool and eat at room temperature within 24 hours.

Whiskey sour

Makes 2

I got hooked on these on a trip to New Orleans a couple years ago. My fellow samplers and I had to try several whiskey sours to make sure we were getting the genuine article.

2 measures Bourbon
2 measures freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 measure sugar syrup (or according to taste)
4 drops Angostura bitters
1 egg white

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all other ingredients. Shake vigorously. Strain into tumblers and add a maraschino cherry, and a straw to sip it through.

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