Sunday, 24 November 2013

Making marmalade...

A re-post from my old blog, now moth-balled. Written in early spring of 2012. 

Marmalade fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits and water. The benchmark citrus fruit for marmalade production in Britain is the Seville orange thus called because it was originally only grown in Spain; it is higher in pectin than most oranges and therefore gives a good set. The peel has a distinctive bitter taste which it imparts to the marmalade. Marmalade can be made from lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins and sweet oranges or any combination thereof.Wikipedia

During my working week, and often at the weekends, I spend a great deal of time engaged in mental activity of the most intense complexity. I kid you not, much of the time even I do not understand what I am thinking and I often sit back and wonder what kind of weird and wonderful world this is in which I now find myself.
So much mental activity is not good for a person. Indeed I firmly believe that we homo sapiens are insufficiently evolved to cope with the technology that we have developed and are frantically running to catch up with ourselves.

Certainly the internet is changing us physiologically, recent studies suggest that our brains are changing, our 'soft-wiring' is altering as we spend more and more time in the 'wired-world.' Purely personally I find my attention span shrinking as my desire for instant-information gratification is expanding.

So it was time to spend some time in physical, real-world activities that do not require much brain power and yesterday I came across a post devoted to marmalade over at the blog 'my french country home' which I read daily (despite the ads) and decided that marmalade would be just the thing for a Saturday away from the office...

Marmalade is ridiculously easy to make. Actually much of that which we are offered on the shelves of the supermarkets ready-made, is easy to make, tastes much, much better and is free of nasty chemicals and I, for one, am slowly becoming a devotee of home-made.

For marmalade organic fruit is not just a luxury but a necessity. I will refrain from writing about the pesticides and waxes to which citrus fruit are 'treated' as they grow from flower to fruit but since marmalade is made from the peel and pith and pips as well as the fruit itself, all that you want in your pan is pure fruit and sunshine.

I like my marmalade with thin slivers of peel, they give it a pleasantly crunchy texture that goes perfectly with well-toasted, lavishly-buttered, brown bread, so I sliced but you could chop or dice if that is your choice.

However you prepare the fruit, the scents of citrus that are released as your knife slices through the peel are wonderful, especially on an early-spring morning when summer seems elusive and far away and the risk of rain is ever present.

Once sliced the fruit is popped into a pan, covered with water and left to soak. Overnight is best but mine only had a few hours because I wanted to make the marmalade in time for Sunday breakfast.

Time for a walk with the dog...

The only disadvantage to living in The Doll's House is the lack of a decent garden. The plot at the back of the house is too small and mean to be called a garden and I tend to ignore it, save for hanging my washing there. Well, few things in life are perfect, I make up for this by enjoying other people's gardens, albeit by way of secret glimpses through fences and hedges and the odd surreptitious and rather guilty photograph taken when no-one is looking.

Happily, the green is right on my doorstep and is a perfectly lovely garden for the dog and me. And it has the added bonus of a regular supply of nice people and their dogs so we pause, and exchange greetings and sometimes I walk alongside them while my dog plays with their dogs. I am quite fond of my 'other dogs' some of whom kiss my nose if I bend down low enough, it reminds me that if I were in France it is the men who would be kissing me and not the dogs but I don't mind, a kiss is a kiss...

Back to the kitchen...

The pips from the fruit must be tied in little muslin bags and added to the pan because the pectin in them helps the marmalade to set. I have no muslin, I am not so organised, a strip from an old, clean net curtain suffices. And then the fruit and water is boiled for a couple of hours and the citrus scents now seep into all of the rooms of the small house and are as lovely as an expensive pot-pourri but better somehow. And while that is all going on in the kitchen time can be spent on other things, in my case, my French studies and an intense session with past tenses that lasted for four hours and left me reeling.

After the initial boiling sugar is added. The same weight of sugar as fruit which realisation made me pause and wonder how I would know because the fruit was now in the water and had been boiled, until common sense returned to nudge me and politely suggest that I weigh another orange, lemon and grapefruit from the bowl on the cupboard. D'oh...

And then another hour of bubbling in the pan and frequent admiring glances as the whole lot becomes soft and syrupy and much dipping in of the tip of a wooden spoon because the taste is absolutely divine.

And then the bottling...

Did I say that marmalade is easy to make?
Alas, something fundamental went wrong with my marmalade. I suspect insufficient pips. I had thought as I sliced the fruit that it was distinctly lacking in the pip-department, and was a little worried but hoped that using sugar with added pectin would be enough.

It wasn't. My marmalade is runny.

I am not despondent. I shall pour some onto my Sunday-morning toast regardless because the taste is so very lovely and the rest, the other two jars, I will use to add to sponge-puddings and tarts and cakes, a kind of sharp syrupy kiss.

And one day in the week, when my head is too stuffed-full of complex computer code and the latest bank Trojan trickery, I shall return home to spend a sane and peaceful evening making Marmalade Mark II.

A little gift of sunshine and citrus from this Oxfordshire village...

Thursday, 21 November 2013

November means...


Last year I produced the best part of my first novel during November.
Flies in the Ointment is now actively seeking an agent which process is, I am learning, rather like speed-dating. No, I have never tried speed-dating and never will but I'm pretty sure that's how it feels to try to find an agent who will love my novel.

This November I am working on a second novel.
It's not the sequel to 'Flies', that's already in my head, this is a rather dark, quite erotic, often crazy story set, as are all my books, in Brittany, France. I'm not accustomed to writing such explicit stuff and I'm just grateful that neither of my parents will ever read it. I did ask myself, 'Can I really write explicit sex scenes? What will people think of me?' And then I remembered that the novel also contains sadism and a death, so I can safely say it's all fictional, and spare my blushes.

So this is why I am not blogging much...
Two novels and my final O.U course, and in between I have to fit in the Day Job

Be back in December