Take one kilo of lemons from the tree, one kilo of sugar and a couple of hours on a wet day before Christmas and you’ve four jars of the tangiest, freshest lemon zest marmalade to give as thoughtful Christmas gifts…or simply munch your own way through in 2015!
Last Christmas, I played a trick, for want of a better word, on relatives and friends. I spent a week hovering over the Maslin pan of hubble bubbling Seville marmalade and bottled it up in preserving jars replete with my own label. All thought I’d nipped off down to some deli to buy the marmalade. Presentation aside, the difference in homemade preserves lies in their flavour. Nothing more than sugar and very fresh fruit at a 40:60 per cent ratio, and some man-hours carefully watching the pan for that just-right setting point and to guard against it boiling over (a nightmare for hobs if it does!).
With Malta’s Sevilles not yet ready to pick from the various state palace citrus groves (some dating back to the time of the Knights of St John), I opted this year for lemon zest thin-shred marmalade. For those new to jam making, lemon marmalade is one of the easiest to get to grips with as lemons have large amounts of natural pectin and the jam will set within 10 minutes on reaching a rolling boil. It is a far more bitter-sweet marmalade than regular Seville, but with the zest shredded finely, it is delicate in flavour all the same. Perfect with morning croissant, toast and in lemon desserts like that good old fashioned sponge pud Eve pudding, or Queens of puddings.
Recipe: Lemon Zest Marmalade
makes 4 x 400g jars. You can double these amounts, but I advise making small batches as they are easier to handle and take less time to set
1 kg fresh, unwaxed lemons
1 kg granulated sugar (you can opt for 600g per kilo of fruit if you like more bitterness and tang!)
You will need: a preserving (Maslin) pan or heavy-based deep-sided casserole, ideally wider at the top than the base; a long-handled spoon or spatula (wooden or silicon that can take very high temperature); 4 x 400g jam jars or preserving jars – these need sterilising by washing in hot soapy water, drying and then popping in the oven to 150°C for 20 minutes. Leave in the oven til ready to pot up the jam. Ensure jars’ lids are not rusty and that any seals are firm and not perished. Also, to pour hot jam into the jars you’ll need a heat-resistant, non-corrosive funnel, and perhaps a jar grip to remove and handle hot jars from the oven. Make some labels that include the month and year of the batch.
1. Place 3 saucers in the freezer. These are to test the marmalade for a set later on. Wash and dry the lemons, then zest their skin into strips (ie, not grating the peel, but leaving it in strips as in the photos here). Cut any very long shreds in half. Then, place the shreds in a pan (not the preserving pan but any large and heavy-based saucepan) with 750ml of water and bring the boil and simmer until zested peel is soft. This is around 30 minutes depending on zest size. Strain off the zest when cooked soft, retaining the water. Set zest aside.
2. While the zest is cooking, chop up the whole lemons roughly and pop in the maslin pan with 1 litre of water, bring to the boil then simmer for around an hour til the peel and pith is soft. Strain the cooked lemon mush either using a jelly bag, muslin or a non-corrosive sieve. Discard the pithy mush but retain the liquid which should be more or less clear (as if making a jelly).
3. Measure the cooking water and top up to 1 litre using the water used to cook the zest. Place the water in the preserving pan and add the sugar and zest strips. Heat gently at first until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rapid, bubbling boil and cook for around 10 minutes. At this point, take a chilled saucer and drip a little jam from your spoon on the saucer; rub your finger gently over the jam’s surface. If it puckers up, the jam is ready. If not, and is too runny still, keep on boiling and test again in 5 minutes. I find setting point comes when the cooking jam forms a froth. This disperses if you stir, but I find it’s about this point the jam, even if looking runny in the pan, will form a set.
4. When you’ve reached a set, turn off the heat and leave the jam to stand for 5-10 minutes. This ensures the zest stays suspended evenly throughout the jar otherwise it will rise to the top. If you like, to disperse any surface foam add a very small sliver of unsalted butter and stir it in before leaving to settle.
5. Bottle up using a heat-resistant, non-corrosive funnel to avoid spillages and burning your fingers! Put on lids asap on filling each jar. As the jam cools, the lids will loosen so tighten up more when the jars are easier to handle and less hot. Leave the bottled jam to cool overnight on a rack before labeling. When cooled, the lids should dimple inwards to show the jam is sealed. If it hasn’t, simply reheat and re-bottle. This can be done by loosening the lids, placing the jars in a pan of water (jars balanced on a trivet in the pan) and filling the pan with water to around half way up the jars. Then simmer for 10 mins. Remove jars, replace lids tightly.
All images © Liz Ayling 2014
The black & silver scroll leaf background is a luxurious wallpaper called Cadiz by Thibault. The range is available in Malta from Camilleri Paris Mode whom we’d like to thank for the kind loan of the sumptuous samples book for our Xmas photo shoots.
Heavens Preserve deli products will be available from Red Bistro in early 2015.