Mediocre marmalade and some handy ratios

April 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

Oh dear. I’ve been silent on the subject of the World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain this year which were held at the beginning of March.

It’s time to disclose that this year I achieved marks of only 15 out of 20 for my Seville orange marmalade and, slightly better, 17 for the bergamot. This compares to the almost perfect score of 19 last year and, worst of all, to husband Tim’s respectable score of 18!


So what went wrong? I did go and chat to the white-coated WI judges this year. It seems I went a little bit too far with my liking for a soft set, and once again my marmalade was criticised for being cloudy. This is a tough one to crack but their advice was NOT to squeeze the muslin bag containing the pectin-rich peel and pips.Just to remind myself for next year, previous advice on achieving clarity was NOT to add the knob of butter when boiling but to skim, skim and skim again, also to add a just a dash of alcohol at the end when ready to pot.

On reflection, my peel was slightly unevenly distributed within the jar. Thinking back, I potted hot straight from the pan relying on a gentle shake to redistribute the peel but was distracted from doing this by a teenage tantrum shortly before setting off to a match at the Etihad stadium…The lesson is that marmalade cannot be rushed.

So far so fair. I felt somewhat peeved to have been docked a mark for having placed my label a few millimetres too high up on the jar. The WI ladies like it low it seems. I did subsequently have a look at The National Federation of Womens’ Institutes “On the Show” publication which states:

“Labels should be plain, neat and straight and of suitable size for the container. Place label between the seams of the jar. Label should state contents and day, month and year of making.”

Hmmm, nothing about vertical positioning of labels here. I think I was robbed.

Bitterly disappointed but undaunted I went along to the marmalade Q&A session to learn how to correct my mistakes and also to try and answer a couple of queries raised by a like-minded friend Shelley who had written a week or so earlier as follows:

“Really nice to talk to you about marmalade last week. Looking at your notes and reading various recipes gave me quite a bit to think about. The part in the recipes that was puzzling when I made mine this year was in the Riverford recipe which states 1.5 kg oranges, 2 lemons and approx 2.5kg sugar BUT in the video on the Riverford website the guy says after boiling there should be approx 1.7litres of liquid and then to add 450g sugar per 500ml which would only require 1.53 kg sugar so big discrepancy. As I mentioned to you I have always been a bit puzzled by the fact that the amount the liquid reduces by can vary between batches so I quite liked some guidelines on how much liquid should be left.

Also in your notes from the Marmalade workshop with Jane Maggs the optimum sugar content was 59-65% but if you add 450g sugar per 500ml liquid then sugar content is (450/950)*100% = 47% unless I am missing something.

I would like to try another batch just to see if I can get a different result but it is getting late in the season and I’m not sure we could eat it all anyway.”

First of all Shelley, I have to admit to a typo of my own – the recipe actually said 2kg of sugar and I then typed it incorrectly as 2.5kg. There’s still a discrepancy but not as bad as it first appears.

I put the water question to the panel comprising from L to R Jane Maggs of Wild and Fruitful; Jonathan Miller preserves buyer for Fortnum & Mason, compère Dan “Master Baker” (careful how you say that) Lepard, Pam “The Jam” Corbin all round preserving expert and author of Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2, and finally Rosemary Jameson, the Jam Jar Shop lady.


There was unanimous agreement that it would make perfect sense to put a lid on your pan and use less water. For reasons of custom, tradition and utility most recipes expect you to add water to the peels in a non-lidded preserving pan, boil for 2 hours to soften the peel by which time approximately half the liquid will have boiled away. Most people used to have just one large unlidded preserving pan thus recipes were drafted to take account of the larger amount of water needed.

Jane Maggs said that most standard marmalade recipes adopted a rule of thumb by which for every 1lb fruit, 2 pints water and 2lb sugar were required. If half the water boils away then you’re left with 1lb fruit and 1 pint water which is matched to 2lb sugar giving approximately a 50:50 ratio. There is approximately 5% natural fruit sugar in the boiled peel liquid so that plus the small amount of evaporation that takes place when boiling for a set will give you the right sugar percentage of around 60% to achieve a set.

Thinking afterwards, there’s an unstated assumption that 1 pint water weighs 1lb. It doesn’t unless you use a US style pint which is just 16 floz rather than our UK 20 fl oz pint.

Looking again at the Riverford recipe, I think it’s never going to work matching 450g sugar to 500ml liquid. All that will happen is that the liquid has to boil away until the correct balance is achieved. Next time I’m going to work with a 1:1 ratio. This will require 1.7kg sugar for 1.7 litres liquid, so still a discrepancy with the 2kg weight of sugar stated in the ingredients list but not so great any more.

The other difference between the Riverford marmalade recipe and the standard ratios is the proportion of water added (2.5 litres) to weight of fruit (1.7kg once lemons are taken into account). The standard ratios would suggest 3.4 litres water (twice the weight of the fruit). I wondered why this might be and remembered that the Riverford recipe uses only finely shredded peel removed from the whole fruit using a peeler. This means that all the pith which is used still attached to the peel in a standard recipe is discarded in the muslin bag. As less fruit is used, so the quantity of water needs to be less. I assume that what the recipe wants is for the boiled liquid to be equivalent to the weight of fruit you first started with (1.7kg fruit for 1.7 litres water) which sounds both nice and neat and inherently sensible in terms of achieving a good concentration of flavour.

So that’s it – rather technical I know but at least I’ve recorded my thinking ready for next year. And if I can’t achieve a clear marmalade I can be happy in the knowledge that Jonathan Miller, buyer for Fortnums will only ever consider cloudy marmalades as these have more flavour.

Student food

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Centre stage goes to my son George today. He’s studying for a Food and Nutrition GCSE qualification at school and one of his recent assignments (or “controlled assessments” in exam board jargon) was to research and prepare two meals suitable for a student living away from home.

George came up with two dishes: a spicy sausage and bean casserole and a vegetable and goat’s cheese frittata, both of which can be served with oven-baked potato wedges and a mixed salad to turn them into a balanced meal.

It’s fair to say that over the last month or so we’ve eaten a lot of sausage casserole and frittata as George tweaked his recipes and perfected his cooking techniques. Both of George’s final dishes are really good: packed with flavour; simple and relatively quick to make; dirty dishes for washing up kept to a minimum; relatively inexpensive; incorporating vegetables to help achieve the 5 a day target. What more could you ask for in a weekday meal? As a result they’ve become part of our family cooking repertoire and George is now very proud to have a couple of “signature dishes” up his sleeve.

The sausage and bean casserole is enriched with smoked paprika, tomatoes, sweet peppers and, controversially in a school kitchen, red wine:

The frittata combines chunks of goat cheese with spring onions, peas and lightly cooked purple sprouting broccoli with the egg and grana padano cheese base. You can use different green vegetables depending on what’s in season and you can leave out the goat’s cheese if you like, but if so George suggests adding more grated grana padano to boost the flavour of the finished dish.

Recipe for sausage and bean casserole

The starting point for this recipe was “James’ Sausage Casserole” from Fiona Beckett’s book “The Ultimate Student Cookbook” which George reckons is the best student cookbook currently on the market.

All the tin/can sizes in the recipe are for a standard 400g can

Serves 4


1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 pack of good quality high meat content sausages. (A pack will weigh 400-500g and if it contains 8 sausages it makes for easy serving portions of 2 sausages per person).
1 yellow pepper, halved, deseeded and cut into strips
1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed in hot water from the kettle
1 tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed in hot water from the kettle
1 tin chopped tomatoes (with herbs if you like)
100ml red wine
100ml hot chicken or vegetable stock (stock made from powder or a cube is fine for this recipe)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
olive oil

Select a large, heavy-based lidded saucepan or enamelled cast-iron casserole big enough to hold all the ingredients. Add a little olive oil to the chosen pan (maybe 2 tablespoons oil), place it over a low to medium heat, add the sliced onions, half cover with the lid and cook gently, lifting the lid and stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time, until the onion is soft and cooked through but not browned. This cooking technique is called sweating.

Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium and add the sausages and yellow pepper strips. Cook for a couple of minutes, turning the sausages frequently with tongs or your wooden spoon from time to time. Don’t worry too much about trying to brown the sausages as they might stick if they cook at too high a temperature for too long.

Next add the beans, tomatoes, wine, stock, smoked paprika and a little salt and pepper. Stir to mix, bring to the boil over a high heat then cover the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer over a low heat for one hour. Lift the lid and give the contents of the pan a stir every 10 minutes or so. If after 45 minutes, there is too much liquid in the pan, remove the pan lid, turn the heat up and boil more fiercely to reduce and thicken the sauce. Watch the pan carefully though and stir more frequently so that the sausages and vegetables don’t burn.

Recipe for Vegetable and Goat’s Cheese Frittata

Again, a recipe from Fiona Beckett’s “The Ultimate Student Cookbook” (Spring Vegetable Frittata) provided a great starting point for this frittata. Technically, a true Italian frittata is cooked very gently so that it does not brown. This is a looser interpretation of what a frittata should be and does taste good cooked to brown the surfaces lightly – don’t overdo it though.

Serves 2


2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 spring onions trimmed and finely sliced
60g defrosted frozen peas (you could of course use fresh peas from your garden if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some)
60g trimmed, steamed broccoli (purple sprouting, tenderstem or ordinary all good but the purple sprouting kind needs a slightly longer cooking time to soften its stems which have a tendency to be a bit woody)
100g goat’s cheese (a slice of French chèvre log is fine – use all of it including the edible rind) cut or crumbled into rough 1cm cube chunks
25-50g finely grated grana padano cheese (similar to Parmesan but less expensive)
a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, chervil or a teaspoon of chopped fresh tarragon which is stronger in flavour (optional)
5 large eggs, choose free range or organic
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Choose a medium heavy-based non-stick frying pan with a metal handle suitable for going under the grill about 20cm in diameter for this recipe. It’s very disheartening to have your lovely frittata stick and burn in the wrong kind of frying pan. The frittata top is cooked under a hot grill so turn this on now and set to a medium heat.

In a large jug, whisk together the eggs, salt, pepper and grated grana padano cheese with a fork just to mix thoroughly. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in your frying pan over a medium heat and fry the spring onions gently for a minute or two. Add the peas and broccoli to the pan and cook for a minute or two, stirring gently. Turn the heat up a little then pour in the egg and cheese mixture from the jug. Dot the pieces of goat’s cheese over the surface of the frittata. Lift the egg away from the surface of the pan at the edges as it begins to set and allow more liquid egg to take its place. Reduce the heat if the egg seems to be cooking too quickly. After 3 or 4 minutes once the frittata is mostly set, slip the pan under the grill and continue to cook until the top surface is puffed up and lightly browned. Cool for 10 minutes or so in the pan, then turn out, cut into wedges and serve warm. It’s also good cold the next day if you happen to have some leftover.

Honours even: world marmalade awards 2012

April 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

Once again, the World Marmalade Awards held at Dalemain in Cumbria brightened up those last days of February just before spring proper arrives. Tim and I had both submitted our marmalades for judging, each using our favourite recipe. Tim favours a straightforward Delia Smith recipe with a firmish set, whereas I’m wedded to an alternative recipe with very fine shreds of peel and a softish set. You can find both of our recipes via the Recipe Index page.

We were delighted to discover that both of us had been awarded 19 marks out of a possible 20 this year. This gained us a silver award each and, more importantly meant marital harmony over the breakfast table was maintained.

So where did we each drop that final elusive mark? In my case the judge remarked that my marmalade was “just rather cloudy” which was true as this picture of my 2012 batch shows:

I don’t know what made my marmalade cloudy this year but the most likely tip I’ve found is to skim off the scum rigorously while boiling and NOT to add a knob of butter to the boiling pan to reduce scumming as this will cause it to be dissolved back into the mixture, thus making it cloudy. So that’s the change I’ll be making next year.

In Tim’s case, the judge quibbled that his peel “needs a little more cooking” something which can be pretty easily put right. I think this may have happened as his oranges were hanging round in the fridge for about a month before he got round to making his marmalade right at the last minute.

Here’s one of the judges giving Tim a few tips to achieve that elusive gold next year:

It’s human nature to dwell on the one point lost but perhaps it’s more constructive to focus on what we did right.

We both used beautiful organic oranges delivered via our Riverford veg box man. This was really top quality fruit which was bursting with zesty flavour. I bought my fruit early and used it straightaway and found the peel was quick to soften (ready in half an hour or so whereas older fruit can need an hour or more to soften) and a set was achieved relatively quickly once sugar was added. I think a shorter cooking time means a fresher, zingier citrus flavour.

I experimented with a sugar thermometer this year and stopped boiling once my marmalade reached 104.5 degrees C in order to achieve the wobbly softer set I was looking for. I think if I’d used the chilled saucer and fingertip wrinkle test alone, I’d have been tempted to boil the mixture for a good 5 minutes or so longer.

I potted while the mixture was still extremely hot, filling the jars to the brim, hoping that the peel would be correctly saturated with sugar and would therefore be suspended in the marmalade in perfect equilibrium. It didn’t work and infuriatingly rose to the top! This was soon put right by making sure the lids were on firmly and gently inverting and rotating the jars once the marmalade had cooled a little to help redistribute the peel.

Enought navel-gazing and what of the marmalade festival itself? As well as viewing the hundreds, nay thousands of jars of marmalade on display in the house itself, I attended three additional events this year.

The first was food historian Ivan Day’s talk on the history of marmalade and its links with Dalemain. He then proceeded to cook “Lady Westmoreland’s White Pot” a recipe for an enriched bread and butter pudding from a collection within the Dalemain archive. He’s a fascinating man with a laudable devotion to authenticity and an evident passion for his specialist subject. I’ll be checking out his website for details of food courses next time I feel like treating myself.

The second was celebrity baker Dan Lepard’s breadmaking workshop. One might have expected Dan to talk about baking the perfect loaf of bread to set off a pot of award-winning marmalade, but this session was more of an improvisation on the theme of bread prompted by audience questions. Lots of interesting tips for the serious home-baker with a good deal of previous experience, but I’d defy a novice to be able to bake a simple loaf after this 2 hour session!

My final special event was a marmalade-making workshop run by The Jam Jar Shop team. Our little group of four actually made a batch of marmalade in less tanusing the boiled whole orange method under the watchful eye of our friendly Jam Jar Shop tutor who took this picture:

In case you’re wondering how we managed to prepare a batch of marmalade in less than 2 hours, the whole oranges had been precooked in order for us to be able to complete the marmalade making process in a reasonable timescale.

What did I learn that was new? Well, making marmalade with soft precooked oranges is something I don’t do often. It’s pretty easy to cut up the peel and scrape out the pith using this method but I still prefer to begin with raw fruit as I think ease of cutting is outweighed by a slight loss of flavour.

I learned how to refine my muslin bag-making technique. First, we enclosed all the pith and pips in a big square of muslin and tied the square securely with string to enclose all the contents and stop them escaping. So far so good. Next, we were told not to trim the string but to fold in all the loose raw edges forming the neck of the bag then roll it back down towards the knotted string. Next we wrapped the string around the resulting roll of fabric and tied securely thus enclosing all the raw edges and stopping any loose threads escaping into the pan of marmalade. Finally, the long ends of string were knotted together to form a loop secured to the pan handle for easy retrieval. Very professional looking and a tip I’ll be using again.

This method forms a robust bag that can stand up to the all important squeezing to extract as much pectin as possible so that the marmalade achieves a good set.

The peel was a little irregular as four different people had cut it up each according to their own preference and skill level but the end result of the workshop wasn’t at all bad:

If you fancy giving this marmalade-making method a go next year (or maybe you have some Sevilles stashed away in the freezer), you can download the recipe directly from the Jam Jar shop website by following this link

Silver medal Seville orange marmalade 2011

February 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

I posted recently about my silver medal winning marmalade at the World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain in Cumbria and promised to divulge my new marmalade recipe. OK folks here’s how it’s done:

Recipe for Thin Cut Seville Orange Marmalade

This is the recipe which was enclosed with my Riverford Organics “marmalade kit” (a big brown paper bag containing 1.5kg of spanking fresh Seville oranges and 2 lemons, all unwaxed and organic of course). Many thanks to Riverford and owner Guy Watson for this recipe which Guy demonstrates at
I’ve quoted it exactly as printed with my editorial comments included in brackets.


1.5kg Seville oranges
2 lemons
2.5 litres cold water
Approximate 2kg granulated sugar

1. With a sharp knife (or vegetable peeler) peel the skin from the oranges and lemons, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible. Chop the peel into 3mm strips (or thinner if you have the patience) and put into a large pan (lidded stock type pot rather than a preserving pan best for this stage).

2. Line a large bowl with a piece of muslin, leaving plenty to overhang the sides of the bowl. Cut the oranges and lemons in half. With your hands, squeeze the juice from the fruit over the bowl, dropping the leftover squeezed fruit, pith, pips and flesh, into the muslin. Lift the muslin out of the bowl, gather the sides and squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl. Tie the muslin together to keep the fruit in and form a bag.

3. Place the muslin bag in the saucepan with the peel, leaving the top of the muslin overhanging the saucepan. Add the squeezed fruit juice and 2.5 litres cold water to the pan. Heat until boiling, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours, until the peel is tender.

4. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze all the sticky juice from the bag into the pan. An easy way to do this is to put the bag in a colander and use a spoon to press it out. Measure the contents of the pan in a jug (or weigh in the pan using a suitable pair of scales having had the foresight to weigh your pan in advance). Return to the pan and add 450g of sugar for every 500ml liquid. Gently heat for 15 minutes, until the sugar crystals have dissolved. Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 15 minutes. (Knowing what I know now, I would start testing after just 5 minutes of rapid boiling especially if the oranges are very fresh).

5. Test that the marmalade has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of the liquid on a cold saucer and gently pushing with the back of a spoon. If the liquid starts to wrinkle, setting point has been reached. If no wrinkling happens, keep boiling and retest every 10 minutes. (I would in fact retest every 5 minutes). Turn off the heat as soon as you reach setting point.

6. Skim any scum from the surface. Leave the mixture to stand for 15 minutes. Stir gently, then carefully spoon into warmed sterilised jars. If using screw top lids, put the lids on while the marmalade is still hot and turn upside down for 5 minutes (surely should be 5 seconds?) to sterilise the lids. If using cellophane, put a wax disc on the marmalade while warm, then seal with cellophane and an elastic band.

So that’s it – the time consuming part is cutting the peel into appropriately thin shreds, and removing the glue from recycled jam jars of course…

After attending a really helpful marmalade making workshop given by Jane Maggs at Dalemain, I have a few extra pointers for success. Jane runs an artisanal preserving business “Wild & Fruitful” from her home kitchen in Cumbria and took double gold in the artisanal producers category at last year’s Marmalade Awards with her Lemon and Lavender Marmalade so could not be better qualified to advise all us would-be winners. An added bonus to the workshop was the presence in the audience of previous amateur winner Dr Yen-Chung Chong. Dr Chong, a retired biochemist now living in Brighton struck gold with his Campari and blood orange marmalade. He helped us out by adding a good dose of scientific method to marmalade-making and debunking one or two marmalade making old wives’ tales along the way.

Pointers for marmalade success:

1) DO try and use really fresh Seville oranges from early in the season – they become available in late December. The fresher they are, the more flavour they have and the higher the pectin content meaning a set will be achieved with less boiling. Less boiling means more fresh flavour and no caramelisation (a marmalade fault in the judges’ eyes).

2) DON’T omit the lemons – these sound in some recipes as if they are optional but a good set can only be achieved if the mixture has the correct acidity – a pH of 2.5-3.5 is apparently optimal. No need for litmus paper, just aim for breakfast orange juice acidity. Jane tasted her mixture after adding and dissolving the sugar, adding the juice of 2-3 more lemons to the mix at this stage. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

3) DO soak the peel, juice, water and muslin bag of pith mix overnight. This helps dissolve the pectin and soften the peel. Given that it takes a while to cut up all those oranges, it helps in terms of time management to be able to spread the process over 2 days.

4) DO make sure the peel is boiled until it is thoroughly softened. This may take 2 hours or even more. Tough peel is a common marmalade making fault picked up by the judges. And don’t imagine that the peel will continue to soften when the sugar is added – in fact it firms up a little at this stage.

5) DON’T be afraid to add extra water during the peel softening stage if it boils off too quickly. And you can measure whether your mixture has reduced by half by using a wooden spoon handle or chopstick calibrated with a discreet pencil mark.

6) DO squeeze your muslin bag to extract all of that vital pectin – it really won’t make your marmalade unduly cloudy.

7) DO consider warming your sugar in the oven to make sure it dissolves quickly.

8) DON”T bother with expensive big-crystal preserving sugar (no need for jam sugar with pre-added pectin either). Ordinary white granulated sugar is just fine. There was a consensus that cane sugar just had the edge on beet sugar in terms of flavour, clarity and set. You can salve your conscience about the extra food miles in cane sugar by buying the fair trade version.

9) DON”T add too much alcohol if you like a boozy marmalade as it will prevent it from setting. Keep the alcohol content down to 2% of the finished product if you want to achieve a set without boiling for too long. Dr Chung informed us that alcohol will help to clarify your marmalade and will not all be boiled away but will reduce proportionately with the rest of the liquid.

10) Don’t try and reduce the sugar content in your marmalade recipe too much. Sugar, acidity and temperature are all contributory factors to achieving a good set. Jane reckons that a 65% sugar content for marmalade is about right and counsels not taking the percentage below 59%. In fact for anyone selling marmalade commercially, 56% is the minimum sugar content set by Trading Standards so go below this at your peril…

11) DO start testing for a set early on in the boiling process. Jane reckons on achieving a set with really fresh oranges early in the season after just 4-5 minutes. So start testing after 5 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter.

12) DON’T overboil as a rubber set is not good! Jane removed her pan from the heat during the testing process and spent quite a bit of time testing for a set, waiting for the marmalade to go cold before pushing the surface of the gel with a clean finger to test for that all important wrinkling. Experienced marmalade makers can simply lift the spoon from the pan and if the liquid falls in thick droplets “flakes” from the spoon, they can tell at a glance that it’s ready.

13) DON”T wait too long before potting if you want your marmalade to keep well and not go mouldy. Waiting 15 minutes before potting is probably too long. We’re told to do this to make sure the peel is evenly distributed and doesn’t all rise to the top. Jane reckons that if the peel has absorbed the sugar syrup correctly it will have the same specific gravity as the surrounding liquid and won’t rise to the top even if potted when very hot. She advises potting hot, filling the jars very full, screwing on the lids straightaway and, with a hand suitably protected from the heat, gently inverting the filled jars after 10 minutes to correct any tendency in the peel to rise. Doing it this way stops bubbles forming in your marmalade too.

14) DO use new lids if you want to a win a competition – also try and fill your jars with a jam funnel so the jar top is left completely clean. And only use the wax discs if you’re covering with cellophane rather than a screw top lid – some entrants were marked down for using a redundant wax disc with a screw top lid.

All that remains is to affix a pleasing label neatly to the side of your jar, package the jar well in bubble wrap and cardboard and pop it in the post.

Best of luck for next year’s competition!

Preserving pans at dawn – return to the Dalemain marmalade competition 2011

February 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Husband Tim and I decided to go head to head this year and both enter jars of marmalade into the World Marmalade Awards at Dalemain in Cumbria. Tim achieved modest success last year and achieving 16 marks out of a possible 20 and hoped to up his game. Risking marital tension but unable to resist the challenge I decided to take him on and enter a jar of my own.

This was perhaps a little rash as I am practically a novice at marmalade making having only made one batch before. I was inspired by a slightly different recipe for marmalade which accompanied our Riverford organic fruit and veg box in mid January this year. This was accompanied by a little video clip of hunky Guy Watson, proprietor of the Riverford business nonchalantly cutting peel to make his version of marmalade. The differences are that the peel is removed from the orange using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler before shredding, resulting in delicate shreds rather than chunks, also there is markedly less sugar in his recipe. I thought that this less sweet marmalade might play well with the judges.

We decided to visit the Marmalade Awards in person as they take place up the road in Cumbria so it was the perfect excuse for a weekend away. We arrived early, parking on the sweeping lawns which front this rather lovely stately home. On into the courtyard to pay our entrance fee then with bated breath we entered the main house searching for our jars amongst the thousand plus entries…

I was surprised and delighted to discover my jar (Thin cut Seville category) with a silver award and 18 marks out of a possible 20…

But poor Tim (Man Made Seville category) was robbed with just 14 marks…

Still basking in my triumph a week later but hope I haven’t upset Tim too much.

It was a really fun day out and I was surprised to find both my sons enthralled by the marmalade making demo given by the very knowledgeable Jane Maggs who makes artisanal preserves under the name “Wild and Fruitful”:

The range and inventiveness of commercial marmalades on display was an eye-opener too. Clearly I wasn’t the only one attracted to this “Breakfast Mojito” marmalade made with limes, muddled mint and a healthy dash of white rum:

I can see that the Marmalade Awards are going to become an annual event in our household from now on with even younger son Arthur keen to enter a jar of his own next year.

My next post will be on the new recipe I used this year, annotated with top tips picked up from the demo plus ideas on how to pick up those extra marks from the demanding Women’s Institute judges.

More marmalade

March 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I discovered a little goody bag of frozen Seville oranges in the bottom of my freezer this week and decided to make a second batch of marmalade.

This reminded me that I hadn’t posted the results of Tim’s Man-Made Marmalade entry into the World’s Original Marmalade Competition held at Dalemain in the Lake District back in February (see my February post

The Marmalade Competition and associated Festival did really well this year both in terms of the number of entries (over 800 jars) and in terms of media coverage. I read about the competition in every publication I picked up in February from the Independent to Delicious Magazine and even the Virgin Trains in-house magazine.

BBC Radio 4’s flagship Food Programme devoted a whole show to marmalade in which the competition featured prominently. At the time of writing, the programme was still available to listen again.

I’m proud to report that Tim did pretty well in his first ever marmalade competition. Here’s the personalised results slip he was sent:

The judges are the redoubtable ladies of the Womens’ Institute who have developed their own national standardised scoring system. 15 marks out of 20 is not at all bad for a first attempt – and if he hadn’t scored an own goal by slightly burning the rubber seal on the lid in an over-zealous attempt to sterilise it in the oven he would certainly have increased his score to 16, just 2 marks away from a bronze medal score of 18. That’s the challenge for 2011…

I thought my own marmalade turned out pretty well but elder son George (aged 13 and already a marmalade enthusiast) pronounced it “not bad, but not as good as daddy’s”.

Harsh but fair!

Dalemain marmalade competition 2010

February 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

We wait with bated breath this morning for the results of this year’s “Grand Prix of Marmalade” held at Dalemain, a country house and estate near Penrith in Cumbria.

Marmalade is a man-thing in our household.  Much as I enjoy marmalade, it’s my husband Tim and our two sons who insist on its presence at the breakfast table.  It’s become part of our annual ritual that Tim tracks down Seville oranges every January, painstakingly shreds the tough peel and produces 6 or so gleaming jars of marmalade that generally last us through until August.  Then it’s back to the Tiptree or Frank Cooper’s to get us through the rest of th year.

We discovered the Dalemain marmalade festival during a tour of the house and gardens during the summer.  It seemed entirely natural that the right category to enter would be the “man-made” one (name self-explanatory).

Here is Tim carefully scraping pulp and pips from the juiced Seville oranges into a piece of muslin.  These are a rich source of pectin and will give the marmalade the right set.

Here are the prepared oranges ready for the first boiling stage. This fills the house with delicious orange aromas brightening up the depths of winter. You can see the little muslin bag containing pips and pith tied to the preserving pan handle.

Here is the selected jar ready for despatch to Dalemain:

I must say the marmalade was very good this year, the aromatic and with just about the perfect set – not too runny, not rubber-solid.  Tim’s fate is in the hands of those tough Women’s Institute judges now who’ll make their decision later this morning.  Let’s see what happens…

Recipe for Seville orange marmalade

This is the recipe that Tim uses for consistently reliable results.  It’s from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course.


2 lb (900g) Seville oranges
1 lemon
4 lb (1.8kg) preserving sugar (ie the large crystal kind, NOT the one with added pectin) or granulated sugar
4 pints (2.25 litres) water

Measure the water into the preserving pan.  Cut the oranges and lemon in half and squeeze out the juice. Add the juice to the water and place the pips and bits of pith clinging to the squeezer onto a square of muslin.

Cut the orange peel (not the lemon peel) into quarters with a sharp knife, then cut each quarter into thinnish shreds.  As you cut, add the shreds to the water and any further pips of pith to the muslin. The pips and pith contain the all-important  pectin to set the marmalade so be diligent at this stage and don’t just chuck it away.

Tie up the piece of muslin to form a little bag and tie this to the handle of the pan so that the bag is suspended in the water. Bring the liquid up to simmering point and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours or so until the peel is completely soft. Test by pressing and/or biting it.

Remove the bag of pips and set aside to cool. Add the warmed sugar to the pan and stir it occasionally over a low heat until it dissolves. Increase the heat, and squeeze the bag of pips over the pan to extract as much jelly-like pectin as you can, scraping it off.  Stir to mix thoroughly.

Once the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes test for a set by spooning a teaspoon of marmalade onto a saucer cooled in your freezer. You have the right set if, once the mixture has cooled for a minute it has a crinkly skin. If it’s not reached setting point, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. Keep doing this until setting-point is reached.  This can take some time depending on your particular batch of oranges.

Once setting-point is reached, remove the pan from the heat. Skim off any excess scum at this stage.  Leave the marmalade to settle for 20 minutes. This resting will ensure the peel is evenly distributed in the jar when you come to pot.

While you wait, warm your cleaned, rinsed and dried jars (6  1lb jars or their equivalent) in a moderate oven for 10 minutes.

Pour the marmalade with the aid of a metal jam funnel or ladle into the jars.  Top each with a waxed disc and seal with a lid immediately.  Label when cool.

Performance anxiety at the school Christmas fair

December 8, 2009 § 2 Comments

Attending the school Christmas fair has become one of the landmark events leading up to Christmas in our social calendar.  It has become a badge of honour to bring in a batch of freshly baked home-made cakes to sell on the cake stall (rather than produce something plastic wrapped from Costco as I am afraid, Dear Reader, some parents do…)  I can’t be alone in worrying about whether my cakes will sell.  Fear not, follow my top tips below and cake stall success is virtually guaranteed.

This year, in consultation with son Arthur whose opinion was sought as to what would appeal to his classmates, I decided to bake a batch of chocolate muffins.  These ticked all the right boxes – quick, easy and cheap to make, easy to transport and, with their sprinkling of chocolate chips on top, all-important visual appeal.  The recipe, which I give below, comes from a little book “Alison Holst’s Marvellous Muffins” which my mother-in-law Monica brought back for me after a trip to New Zealand.  Baked goods including both muffins and the curiously named friands are big in the Antipodes.

The muffin mixture is gloriously mud-like and improbably runny and lumpy but this means it is just right. Here it is, in double quantity, in my trusty stainless steel All-Clad mixing bowl:

The muffin mixture is spooned into cases and each is topped with a sprinkling of chocolate chips.  I chose a pleasingly contrasted mixture of both white and dark chips.  The chocolate chips are I think essential to the success of these muffins as without them both the texture and flavour of the muffins are a bit dull.

Fresh out of the oven they look like this:

As soon as the muffins had cooled, off to school we went bearing our cake box proudly.

I had planned to position the muffins artfully in pole position at the front of the stall (it is mortifying if your cakes don’t sell) and then head for the dining room for a well-deserved cup of coffee.  It was not to be. The cake stall was short-staffed so I ducked under the trestle table and got stuck-in.  After initial panic, we soon had the stall under control.  The art of origami was mastered and several dozen cardboard cake boxes were swiftly assembled; cakes were unpacked and displayed as prettily as we could manage, items were priced, the money was managed and we were soon operating like a well oiled machine.  We managed to sell the lot without resorting to heavy discounting.  After all, as the old Yorkshire saying goes “any fool can give away t’cake”.

After my morning’s experience my 5 top tips for bakers are:

1) Appearance is everything – people buy with their eyes
2) A single large cake is easy to make and is much in demand
3) Slabs of neatly sliced rocky road and attractively decorated cupcakes also sell well
4) Sending in cakes decorated with wet icing is just unkind to the poor souls manning the stall
5) If you choose to decorate your cakes with blue and black icing, they will appeal only to a niche market of small boys under the age of 4…

Does anyone out there have their own top tips for cake stalls, whether recipes or practical ideas?

Recipe for double chocolate muffins

This recipe comes from a little New Zealand book “Alison Holst’s Marvellous Muffins”.  I give below both the cup measurements from the original recipe and metric weight equivalents.  if you choose to use the cup measurements, please remember that Australian/New Zealand cup sizes are, annoyingly not the same as US ones.  You have been warned!

The recipe makes 12 standard-sized muffins.


1 and 3/4 cups (245g) plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (225g) caster sugar
1/4 cup (35g) cocoa powder
100g butter
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (250ml) natural yoghurt
1/2 cup (125ml) milk
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 cup (25-50g) chocolate chips, a mixture of dark and white if you like

Sift the dry ingredients (excluding the chocolate chips) into a large mixing bowl.

Melt the butter and add it to the other wet ingredients and mix until smooth.

Add the combined liquids to the dry ingredients and fold together but do not overmix so that the mixture is smooth.  Lumps are desirable at this stage.

Divide the mixture evenly between 12 muffin tins lined with muffin cases.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake at 200 degrees C for 10-12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  The muffins freeze well.  Take them out of the freezer and warm them through in a low oven for 10-15 minutes when you’re ready to eat them.

Battle of the bakers: exhibiting at Guernsey’s North Show

August 28, 2009 § Leave a comment

I’ve cherished the ambition for a number of years now of entering some home-made produce into an agricultural show.  Being an urban dweller, opportunities to visit rural shows are thin on the ground, but if you happen to be in Guernsey in August (as we were on our family summer holiday) you can’t fail to miss the three events on the social calendar, the South Show, the West Show, and the biggest and best of the lot, the North Show which hosts the famous Battle of the Flowers (more on this later).  Curiously, there is no East Show – presumably because the east of the island is dominated by St. Peter Port or Town as the locals call it.

All three shows were heavily trailed on the local radio stations: after all, Island FM’s strap line is “Breaking News Across the Bailiwick” so it wasn’t long before I realised this could be my big opportunity.  I seized the moment and telephoned Mr Dorey, the show organiser and soon found out how to register.  I had to attend Castel Parish’s Douzaine Room, a local community hall, between the hours of 3.00 and 5.00 on the Saturday afternoon before the show.

I turned up at the appointed time to find the hall bustling.  The first thing I had to do was become a member of the North Show Agricultural and Horticultural Society, annual subscription £15.00.  Oh no! I quickly learned that  in order to qualify as a member not only do you have to be resident of Guernsey but of three specific parishes, Castel, Vale and St Sampson’s.  Fortunately, this is Guernsey where a relaxed attitude is taken to addresses of convenience.  In return for fifteen quid they were happy to accept the address of our holiday apartment which we would occupy for precisely one week.  They didn’t even rumble me when I mispronounced the name of our parish Castel, which in the local accent is pronounced Cattle.

Phew.  Next hurdle was choosing what to exhibit.  I picked up a handsome looking Show Schedule, homed in on the baking section and practically with my eyes closed stuck my pen down on a random choice which turned out to be local speciality Gâche Melée.  I had no idea what this was, but it seemed to be a popular choice and, what the heck, I had a few days to research it before the show opened on Wednesday.



Back to our holiday apartment in Vazon Bay and within minutes, with the help of the miraculous iPod Touch, a WiFi Hotspot and of course the assistance of a 10 year old boy, I had discovered that Gâche Melée was a rustic apple cake. That sounded manageable.  After copying down seven different recipes, I stopped – they were all similar but subtly different, the kind of dish that is handed down mother to daughter with each family taking pride in their own version.  The ingredients were simple enough: apples, flour, sugar, fat in the form of suet or butter, liquid in the form of egg or milk, plus a little spice – nutmeg or cinnamon.

Game on!  I reckoned I could show the natives a thing or two so decided to experiment that evening with the most cheffy of the recipes I’d found – a version which caramelised the apples and used loads of butter.  The recipe was simple enough but, oh dear, I hadn’t reckoned on the self catering oven which was completely devoid of markings, temperature controls and instructions.  My first attempt to achieve a moderate heat resulted in a super-hot grill, whereas my next attempt heated up just the oven base.  After a little trial and error, I found a workable baking heat and put my gâche in to bake.

Here is the end  result.


Hmm.  It tasted OK but wasn’t going to win any prizes in the looks department.  That self-catering pyrex dish didn’t really cut the mustard in the style stakes either.  I was going to have to raise my game.  I decided that for the Show itself, I should stick with what worked and use a prizewinning recipe.

Presentation is important too so next day in St Peter Port I called into well stocked kitchen shop Lelievre’s, just on the harbour frontage, and picked up a square metal tin (so important for a non-soggy crust) and, my secret weapon, a modish square plate to present my creation!  The helpful staff also told me how to pronounce gâche melée the local way – you should say gosh molloy rather than putting on your best French accent.

The morning of the Show dawned and I was up at 5.00 am to make sure my Gâche Melée was as freshly baked as it could be.  I’d prepared the apples the night before so it was pretty easy to throw together.  I forgot to mention earlier that not only was I winging it on oven temperatures but I had no scales either, so it was completely put together by eye.  I was pretty pleased with the end result:


I cut a neat but generous square for the judges, positioned it artfully onto my new square plate then packed up the whole lot and transported it on my bike to Saumarez Park, the show venue, a mile or so up the road. There was an air of purposeful activity in the showground.  Guernsey cows and goats were being installed outside, and there was a steady stream of people coming and going through the main show tent.  Exhibitors were giving there vegetables, baking, mini gardens and so on the final primping.  I placed my gâche in its right place on the long trestle table assigned to baked goods, slipped the brown envelope with my exhibitor card next to it and had a quick look at the competing entries – mine didn’t look half bad in comparison – I could be in with a chance.


Back to the apartment for a well-deserved breakfast.

We made a family outing to the Show later on that morning, admiring the perfectly groomed animals and the too-perfect horticultural produce.  The laden tables were a sight to behold.


11.00 o’clock was the designated time for judging.  As you can see, the entries were protected from flies, and perhaps greedy spectators, by netting.


Once the judges had made their decisions and awarded the coveted red and blue cards it was the moment of truth.  I wasn’t expecting a first place, after all as a non-Islander, it would be pretty embarrassing.  I needn’t have worried.  Marion Legg won first prize with this entry, generously proportioned, crusty and golden-brown and sensibly cling-filmed.


Would the blue card and second prize be mine?  No, this went to Sarah Giles with her appealing, crumbly version.


There was still hope – there was no shame in a third prize.  Could this be mine?


No! Sadly not, as this was awarded to Janet Le Pelley (a good Guernsey surname). I was disappointed and would have to try again.  With the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if a more rustic traditional presentation might have suited the judges better.  Also, I think you get a lighter textured gâche if you chop the apples, add them to the batter and bake straightaway without leaving the mixture to stand.  I had prepared my apples in advance causing the juices to run and dilute the batter producing a dense clafoutis like result rather than the more cakey texture of the prizewinners.

Tension relieved, we were able to enjoy the rest of the show. The main event is the Battle of the Flowers, a competition for floats decorated with flowers, both artificial and real.  Here are two of my favourites:



Both took first prize in their respective classes and the Viking Longship was the overall Battle of the Flowers Champion.

It’s time I gave you the gâche melée recipe.  We all enjoyed testing it and it definitely has potential to become a family favourite – quick and easy to make, the children enjoy it and it makes good use of apples, (both cookers or eaters work).

Recipe for Gâche Melée


1 and 1/2 lb apples peeled, cored and chopped
3 oz granulated sugar
2 oz suet
4 oz self-raising flour
1 beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

Combine chopped apples, sugar, suet, flour and cinnamon in a bowl.  Mix thoroughly then mix in the beaten egg to form a softish batter.  Add a tablespoon or so of milk if it seems to stiff.  Spoon into a prepared baking tin – a rectangular 6″ by 7″ metal baking tin lined with baking parchment is recommended. Sprinkle the surface with a little additional sugar and cinnamon  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 180 degrees C or until the top is a deep golden brown.  Serve with cream, custard or ice cream or just enjoy it on its own as a cake.  It transports well for picnics.

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