recipe

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

Clementine marmalade with star anise and black pepper

O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Photographed remotely by Earl Carter

I love citrus, a family of fruits all with a sour tang and varying degrees of sweetness, their history a tale of hybrids. There were four firsts – citron, pomelo, papeda and the mandarin, the only sweet one – that were mixed and interbred so successfully we now have a large and happy clan of great variety. Mandarins are a particular favourite of mine and in that group clementines are one of the standouts. They are firm and versatile, generally without too many seeds and have a delightful balance between sweet and tart. They are the perfect size both to eat and to fit nicely in your hand. It’s also particularly lovely that citrus appear in winter when their brightness and zest are a gift in the gloom.

It’s claimed that Seville oranges are the original marmalade citrus, which makes sense, as without all that sugar I’m not really sure what you would do with them. All citrus though can be wrangled into making this jewel-like treat. Kumquats give a delicious flavour, but having to cut enough of those little fruits to make it worthwhile falls into the category of futile kitchen jobs, much like picking thyme leaves. Limes and grapefruit both work well as they too live on the more bitter edge of the citrus family. Lemon marmalade is more uncommon but equally good. I have made a few versions, one that was perfect and another, with lemonade fruit, that was probably a little too sweet to attain the balance needed. Blood orange is another fine fruit to use, partly, I think, because it is so pretty. There are endless types of mandarins, many unsuited to the job, but the clementine is perfect for its flavour, tartness and skin thickness.

As much as I love a good jam – essentially the same thing – there is something more complex and grown-up about marmalade. The bitterness gives that extra edge that I so love. I also love that the flavour comes from the skin, so often discarded but the part that contains all the aromatic oils.

One of my favourite breakfasts is to eat eggs and soldiers with a pot of tea and then finish it with another slice of toast with too much butter and marmalade. It’s also a glorious flavour to follow on from some bacon. I also find marmalade on toast is a perfect afternoon snack – and, yes, as I write this on a sunny winter’s afternoon, I have had to stop for a moment to do just that…

The only disappointing thing about marmalade is that I always feel like it’s quite healthy, but then you make a batch and realise just how much sugar goes into it.

I currently have about five different versions of marmalade rattling around my house with various viscosities – some are gifts, some I’ve made. One version, from a particularly large batch I once made, is almost 10 years old. I’m not quite sure how it’s lasted this long without being eaten but it is still delicious.

The recipe here does give amounts but can easily be adapted to any citrus of any amount – useful, as when citrus season does happen there is usually a bounty of the fruit. The ratios I use are: 120 grams of castor sugar for each cup of fruit and liquid.

From there, your marmalade journey can start. Purists would say sugar is the only other thing needed but I feel a little spice never hurt. The pepper here is almost indistinct as a flavour yet you feel it as a slight tingly after-heat; the star anise has a deep aniseed woodiness that grounds the sweetness of the marmalade and matches the flavour of the clementines. The salt is added for extra balance.

Ingredients

Makes 2 medium-sized jars

500g clementines

seeds from 2 lemons

1 tsp black peppercorns, pounded just enough to break open

3 whole star anise

salt flakes

600g castor sugar (about)

a small piece of muslin

Method
  1. Slice your clementines in half and then slice across the fruit into two-millimetre slices. Go a little thicker if you prefer a chunkier marmalade. As you cut your fruit, remove and reserve all the seeds.
  2. Place your fruit into a bowl and add enough water to just cover it (about 550 millilitres). Gather the seeds you collected from the clementines, the seeds from the lemons, and the peppercorns, and use the muslin to make a little pouch for them. Tie this up and add to the bowl of soaking fruit along with the star anise and a generous pinch of salt. Leave this to sit out overnight, covered or not.
  3. Measure the fruit, along with the soaking water and spices, into a large heavy-based saucepan. You want quite high sides as it will boil up. Add in the appropriate amount of sugar (120 grams for each cup of fruit and liquid), stir to disperse the sugar and place over a high heat.
  4. Once the mix has come to a rapid boil, turn the heat down just a little and cook vigorously for 25-30 minutes.
  5. Keep a close eye on your cooking marmalade as you don’t want it to boil over (I tend to give the saucepan an occasional jiggle in the beginning to make sure it’s cooking evenly). As the marmalade gets closer to being ready the mix will look more viscous, the fruit shiny and glassy and the bubbles from boiling will have an oily looking sheen to them and will start to slow a little.
  6. The marmalade is ready once it reaches setting point.
  7. The traditional way to measure this is to have a small saucer sitting in your freezer. When you feel the marmalade is coming close, add a dollop to the plate, put it back in the freezer for a minute to cool completely and then have a look at the texture. If it holds its shape and is jammy then it’s good to go; but you can take it a little further if you want a thicker marmalade.
  8. The other way to test setting point is to use a thermometer. Apparently 104°C is optimal but I have had varying results with this.
  9. Once ready, transfer your marmalade to sterilised jars, add the lid and allow to cool before serving.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 14, 2021 as "Spread joy".

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O Tama Carey is the owner of Lankan Filling Station. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.