So it's 7.00 on a Sunday morning and this is what the stovetop looks like:
What I really wanted to make this year was lemon & lime marmalade, which of course I could make at any time, but somehow, January is marmalade time, isn't it? And of course, rather than remembering my desire for lemon & lime, I was seduced by the sight of some Seville oranges, conveniently forgot the kilo or so I had in the freezer left over from last year (and some donated by a friend), and bought a 1.5 kilo bag. "I love making marmalade!"
Er, no you don't, Sally. It's all the setting point stress of jam that you put yourself through every summer, plus numerous opportunities for injury during the making process. And it takes a bloody age. You do not have enough time to make marmalade. You want to be doing OTHER THINGS.
We had a lovely day with the kids yesterday. The rain meant the Husband's current exterior project is on hold, so we all went into town in the morning and then after a dog walking/homework pause in the happy family scene, we played board games for nearly 3 hours. I must have come over all maternal, because I normally am no good at playing board games (I am a natural cheat for a start), and I will never never play monopoly again, but we had a good laugh. Amazing (and in case you're wondering, my kids are 9 and 6.5 and up till very recently, playing any kind of game for that long would have been utter hell). Great for family relations, but not so good if you've got over 2 kilos of marmalade oranges to prep.
By the time the kids were upstairs it was nearly 8.30. After the annual "Which recipe do we follow?" "No, Nigel's had too much liquid in it." "What about Delia?" "Didn't we combine Dan and Nigel last year?" debate, I settled on a very helpful method from the Guardian online - How to make Perfect Orange Marmalade . Sounded good to me. I didn't have the same type of sugar, but I wasn't about to add to my woes by heading up to the Co-Op (and actually, I'm not sure they stretch to light muscovado anyway) so bog standard preserving sugar (which I had in the cupboard) it is.
I couldn't work out how to get the food processor juicing attachment to work so started off doing it by hand. Squeezing into the pan, scraping the pips and pith into a muslin lined bowl, putting the empty halves in an other bowl... Just as the RSI was setting in nicely, the Husband came in, clicked the necessary attachments in the right place and got the juicer working. Let me tell you that having your knuckles skinned by a food processor juicer attachment when you're already wondering what madness possessed you to start on this, is just about the pits. Less Seville orange, more blood orange marmalade - I wish I'd stuck with the RSI to be honest (I jest, I didn't actually break the skin, but it hurt a lot - you have to hold the fruit halves down onto the attachment and it spins round very fast making it easy to slip and catch yourself. I say don't try this at home, kids.)
So, oranges (and lemons - I needed 2 - bang goes my lemon & lime marmalade that I was going to knock up from the various ends of lemon and lime knocking around in the fridge...) juiced, time to shred the peel. Oh hoo - f-ing - ray. By now, the Husband in firmly implanted on the sofa, watching TV & eating the crisps.
Reader, I started, with my sharp little knife, I found something I wanted to listen to on the radio and I set to work. Shred, shred, shred. Shred, shred, shred. AAAARRRGGGGHHHHHHH.
I put it all in the food processor. This time with the knife attachment. Fortunately, the lid has to be on for this to work, so no opportunity for further injury there. How is it possible to feel guilty about shredding orange peel in a food processor instead of with a knife. I really need to get a grip.
By now, you can appreciate that there's quite a lot in terms of volume. I have the juice and shredded (ha!) zest of 2.4 kilos of oranges and lemons (I'd got the frozen oranges out of the freezer to add to the mix). I have 2 kilos of sugar. All in my preserving pan (that's the one on the right in the photo - the other one is the Husband's beer making pan). I need to add 4-5 litres of water.
My pan is not big enough. But I have already put most of it into one pan, so I need to work out how to divide it between 2 pans.
I tried decanting some into the Husband's beer pan, but realised that because the sugar hadn't dissolved, there was a definitely uneven distribution. And I had to divide the contents of my muslin bag up. At that point I went to bed.
So you see, nearly 3 hours on and a night's sleep, I am really no closer to having marmalade. This morning, I have brought the stuff up to temperature to dissolve the sugar and then rather precariously remixed it and then redistributed it back between the 2 pans. It now needs to simmer for some time - the recipe says 2 hours, but working on past experience, this could be any time - to get the peel soft - before you get down to the business of bubbling it up to the dreaded setting point. Once I've done the simmering to soften the peel bit, I will be leaving it again till this evening for the final push. That's 2 nights of sofa surfing foregone in the pursuit of domestic smugness. That will teach me.
So is there a point to all this? Well, homemade marmalade is delicious, no doubt about it, but it's a right old faff, and it takes an age, and I'd like you all to remember that. I'm not saying don't do it, but just weigh up the costs and benefits - is it worth RSI, skinned knuckles and late nights? Do you have better things to do? Just think about that.
My only consolation is that with 2.4 kilos worth bubbling away, I will have enough to last us for a long time, and may be I can get on with my lemon & lime version. Can someone remind me of this next year, please?