our (not so) daily bread :: 1

white loafI have been making bread on and off for many years; since I was a teenager, in fact. Sometimes I bake a lone loaf, made on the spur of the moment, just because; at other times, I fall into the rhythm of regular bread-making and happily turn out a couple of loaves a week for several months (more often than not I make a smug vow that I will never again buy my bread). And then, for no particular reason, I find that the shop-bought bagels, bread rolls, pittas and loaves have made their way back into our lives once more. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

But last month, as I started bottling the first of this year’s jam, the home-baked loaves began to appear with increasing frequency and I realised that there is a cycle to my bread-baking: it follows the seasonal spikes in my jam and marmalade-making. A batch of homemade marmalade prompts a home-baked loaf. And then, as the novelty of marmalade wears off, homemade bread disappears from the menu until I start turning summer fruit into jam.

sliced whiteOver the years it has occurred to me that investing in a breadmaker might be the solution to a more reliable supply of homemade bread. I have many friends who swear by them, and certainly the bread they make with their machines tastes wonderful. Machines are convenient too: a daily loaf, hot and delicious, first thing in the morning with minimal fuss and planning — who could argue with that? But a bread machine would deny me the part of the process I really enjoy. I like to feel the dough change texture: gloopy, resistant and impossible one minute, smooth and elastic the next.

No matter how often I make bread, it never ceases to amaze me that such humble ingredients (flour, water, yeast and salt) can be combined to create something so delicious. And this sense of alchemy is never more powerful than in those first moments when the water is added to the flour to create a sticky, shaggy mess — how, one wonders, will this ever turn into a loaf of bread?

P1250633Last year, having baked my way through those jammy summer summer months, I decided to add sourdough to my repertoire — I love its flavour and texture and thought the challenge might sustain my bread-making through the winter months. I had long wanted to try my hand at making a sourdough starter but couldn’t quite muster the courage or energy to get my head around the process.

As with all such things, it really wasn’t very difficult at all, more a matter of planning than skill. And so last winter we enjoyed an unusually long period during which homemade bread was a daily fixture. But although my sourdough tasted good, I didn’t manage to achieve the rise, the lift, I had hoped for. And then, just as my loaves began to improve, I found an uninvited guest in my starter: a fruit fly. Although there was just the one fruit fly, the thought that many more might be lurking beneath the bubbly surface put me off. I lost my nerve and ditched the starter. And as I watched it swirl away down the plug hole I decided not to bother with another starter until I had enlisted a little professional help. I cleaned out the Kilner jar (aesthetically pleasing, but a decidedly wrong-headed choice of storage for my starter as it turns out), and put my name on the waiting list for Laura Hart’s Bread and Breakfast Workshop. The joys of which I will share in my next post.

homemade marmalade

P1270176When it comes to making marmalade, you are either a whole-fruiter or a juicer it seems. Whole fruiters boil the fruit before scraping out pips, pith and pulp and then slice up the peel. Juicers attack the fruit first, doing all the above once they’ve juiced their oranges.

P1270177Having read through a number of versions of both approaches I think they probably come out neck and neck in terms of time and faff; I doubt you could tell the difference in a taste test*. So although you will no doubt have someone telling you emphatically that their method is best, it just comes down to a matter of whether or not you prefer to slice your peel before it has been boiled or afterwards, when it is softer, but also stickier.

IMG_2364I find mucking about with hot, sticky fruit a pain, so I juice my oranges and lemons, then quarter the ‘shells’ and scrape out the pips and pith and finally, with a sharp knife, shred the peel. This is quite time-consuming and, if the knife isn’t sharp enough, it can hurt too.

IMG_2366This year, however, I had a moment of divine inspiration when I looked up from my slicing and spied the kitchen scissors. The rest of the pile of peel was cut into neat little matchsticks in no time at all. Why I hadn’t thought of this before I’ll never know, but really, it has transformed marmalade making for me.

P1270181And finally, before I give the recipe, one or two notes on preparation before you start.

1) I collect jam jars throughout the year, washing them in the dishwasher as I go. If I think they’ve been sitting around too long I tend to put them all in the dishwasher at the start of my marmalade session so that they are clean and ready to use around halfway through the simmering stage. I then put the oven on its lowest setting and stand the jars upside down on the racks. Depending how far along in the process I am, I sometimes put the sugar in the oven at this point too – though warming the sugar is not necessary.

2) I don’t have a jam thermometer so I test my ‘set’ with a cold saucer. Once I’ve got my jars in the dishwasher, I put a couple of saucers in the freezer so that they are really, really icy by the time I want to check how my marmalade is doing.

Seville Orange Marmalade (from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course with quantities doubled)

Ingredients: 4lbs /1.8kg Seville oranges; 8 pints/4.5 litres water; 2 lemons; 8lbs/3.6kg granulated sugar** (warmed – I like to do this, but I doubt that it’s really necessary); 1tsp butter (again, not sure that I always bother with this, it help’s clarify the mixture, but it’s not a disaster if you don’t bother or you forget)


1) Measure the water into the pan along with the juice from all the oranges and lemons. Place all the pips and pulp in a muslin placed over a bowl or wide-mouthed jug to keep everything in place as it fills up.

2) Next, cut the orange and lemon halves into half again — quarters, really — and with a sharp knife scrape out the rest of the pith, pips and pulp and put it in the muslin. Incidentally, I never bother tying the muslin bag to the pan handle, it bobs about and is easily fished out when you need to. You don’t need to be too obsessive about the pith as much of it will dissolve during the boiling stage, just get as much as will come away easily.

3) Next, slice up the peel to create the shreds which are characteristic of English marmalade — thick or thin according to taste. This can be time-consuming as the peel is tough so a sharp knife is key. Better still, use kitchen scissors!

4) Tip the shredded peel into the pan with the water and juice and bring it all to simmering point and then turn the heat down so that it simmers gently for around 2 hours, or until the peel is soft enough to mash with a fork or squish between your fingers. (Towards the end of this process I put the sugar in the bottom of the oven).

5) At this point remove the muslin from the pan and set it aside to cool. I place mine in a sieve over a bowl so that the juice and pectin can start to drain out. When the bag is cool enough to handle you need to squeeze it in order to release as much pectin as possible. Delia suggests pressing it between two saucers. I tend to twist the top as tightly as I can, round and round, so the soft pulp and pith strains against the muslin and then I scrape at the surface with a spatula. It is oddly satisfying watching the pale jelly-like substance ooze out. Once you have all that you can get (or that you can be bothered to get), add it to the pan and stir it in.

6) Now whack up the heat and get everything to a rolling boil, and then set the timer for 15 minutes. I tend to stir the mixture occasionally to make sure that none of the peel gets stuck to the bottom of the pan and burns (this has happened to me before and I ended up having to ditch half the batch).

I find that the time my marmalade takes to reach setting point varies quite dramatically and is probably affected by the quantity of fruit I have used and also by how much pectin I’ve managed to squeeze out of the muslin bag. The last time I made marmalade I had a set after 15 minutes, this time it was closer to thirty minutes. The key is to check at regular ten minute intervals after the first fifteen minutes, taking the pan off the heat each time while you spoon a little of the marmalade onto one of the saucers from the freezer. Put the saucer in the fridge for a few minutes so that the marmalade can cool and then test it by pushing slightly with your finger. If the splodge of marmalade has formed a thin skin which wrinkles when pushed it’s reached setting point. And this is why it is important to take the pan off the heat when you test: you could find that the five minutes spent waiting for your sample to cool is all it takes for your marmalade to go from soft and spreadable to solid rubber. I know this from bitter experience.

7) So, you’ve reached setting point. Turn off the heat and get your jars out of the oven. This is also the moment when you can stir in a little butter if the mix looks a little scummy. It does seem to do the trick, but I don’t always have any scum and even if I do I often forget this stage. You can make yourself a cup of tea at this point (or pour yourself a glass of wine), as it is worth waiting five minutes or so before ladling the marmalade into the jars — apparently this stops the fruit rising to the top, a problem I had with a batch of lime marmalade. I kept turning the jars over in the hope of redistributing the peel!

IMG_23718) Be warned, bottling the marmalade is always sticky and messy. I tend to put my jars on a large tray, which I place on the stove top as close as possible to the pan. I do have a funnel somewhere, but always end up using a smallish ladle instead.

9) Once the jars have been filled, place wax discs on the marmalade and screw the lids on while hot. I use a damp tea towel for this or a wad of damp kitchen roll: it makes it easier to handle the hot jars whilst also cleaning off any sticky drips.

And that’s it. It might seem complicated, but really it isn’t, it’s just time-consuming. But on a cold January day, making marmalade is the perfect excuse to stay indoors. It is also worth noting that you can pause production between the two main stages — A) cooking the fruit (whole or shredded), and B) adding the sugar and boiling to setting point.

And finally, a huge thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. I have added Chloe’s brandy and Ruth’s Vodka to my list, which also includes a Seville orange Ice-cream and a bitter orange curd. I’ll also try make another batch of marmalade using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe, here, which features Demerara sugar and whisky (the Seville orange meringue pie looks good too). And I expect I’ll pop a kilo of oranges in the freezer just in case.

For now though, I am off to make a chocolate cake with one of my very old jars of marmalade and I also have plans for marmalade bread and butter pudding with vanilla sugar, as suggested by Sue.

* some swear that the taste in the whole fruit method is more complex, though how this can be when both methods make use of the entire fruit just in different states, is a mystery.

** sugar – much debate about what you can and can’t use. The generally accepted rule is that you should use granulated sugar for marmalade. Of course a quick look online threw up a number of recipes which stipulate Demerara sugar and also Muscavado.

I don’t bother with jam sugar which has added pectin, I don’t think pectin is ever an issue with Seville oranges and lemons. I don’t tend to bother with it when making jam either.

seville season

P1270200Blink and you miss them: the season for Seville oranges is so short that many greengrocers and supermarkets don’t get round to stocking them at all. And if you fail to bag a kilo or two in January, early February if you are lucky, you can forget about making marmalade for another year.

I suspect that I am more in thrall to the ritual of making marmalade than I am to the  marmalade itself. I like the idea of tracking my prey (has anyone spotted them in the shops yet, I ask fellow marmalade makers), gathering the jars and then setting aside a day in which to juice, slice, boil and then bottle these unpromising oranges which are so bitter and lacking in actual fruit it’s a wonder that anything good can be done with them at all.

P1270175This year it’s fair to say that I’ve gone a little overboard. No one, not even the keenest marmalade maker, needs more than a couple of kilos of Seville oranges. But a fruitless search (excuse the pun) for marmalade oranges in my local shops resulted in a trip to Bristol’s fruit and veg market with my mother-in-law, Sue, where a kind of madness came over us. We were offered 20kg/44lbs of Sevilles for £17 with a few lemons thrown in for free. It seemed to silly to say no.

I have now made sixteen jars of marmalade with roughly 2kg and given 2kg to a friend. This leaves me with another six kg to deal with. Hmm…

P1270186And then, as I put my jars away, I found three jars of marmalade from January 2012. Vintage marmalade, you might say. It looks a little fudge-like so I’ve decided it needs using up quickly. Some will go in a marinade; some in a chocolate cake; and I now have it on good authority from various Instagramers that bread and butter and marmalade pudding is the business.

But of course none of this deals with the Seville orange mountain on the kitchen table. So I spent yesterday evening doing a little googling and have come up with some interesting recipes for the oranges themselves rather than clever things to do with marmalade. I will report on my experiments.

And tomorrow I’ll post the marmalade recipe I use.

St Philip’s Wholesale Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Market: Albert Crescent, St Philips Monday to Friday, 5am – 11am Saturday 5am – 9am

christmas: making and baking

baking plansTime to dust off a favourite cookery book – Linda Collister’s Christmas Treats to Make and GiveThe girls are still in full baking mode (both Martha and Bea have been to GB Bake-off themed birthday parties in the last fortnight, and their cousin is threatening Matilda with something similar along the lines of Come Dine With Me), so I thought it would be a good idea to channel their enthusiasm and get them to bake some Christmas presents.

For my part, I am planning to make a few treats from Diana Henry’s excellent Salt Sugar Smoke. I have already raided Ikea’s kitchen department and have a large stash of jars at the ready, along with some really lovely labels (also from the Swedish giant). Just need to brave the high street in search of the ingredients…


Every year, in late August, my neighbours pass a vast sack of crab apples over the wall. They give me their harvest in exchange for half the crab apple jelly I make with it. But not this year. The endless rain put paid to that. I think Jo could probably count the number of apples on her tree they were so few and far between.

However, the plum tree at the bottom of her garden has produced a bumper crop, its branches laden with dark fruit. But because the tree stands behind a robust and spiky rose and the tree’s branches shoot up and over their back fence, away from the garden, we’ve never bothered trying to reach the plums. But this year the thought of our empty jam jars spurred us into action, to say sod it to the rose and the scratches, and get at that fruit. Actually I say us, but beyond saying, “I know it’s a shame about those crab apples, but what about the plums?” I had nothing to do with harvesting them. I am scratch-free.

It turns out that this is the first time anyone has ever tasted these plums and they are very sour indeed – perfect for jam. I cooked them down on a very low heat in a tiny amount of water until they began to fall apart at which point I started picking out the stones.

I had 1.8 kg of fruit to which I added 500g of jam sugar (with added pectin) and 100g of granulated sugar. Although the general guide for jam making is to have equal amounts of fruit and sugar, I think the sugar can sometimes overpower the flavour of the fruit. I’ve been experimenting with smaller and smaller quantities of sugar. So far so good.

And whilst of the subject of sugar, I love the moment when it is added to the thick pulpy fruit which instantly brightens and takes on a jewel-like clarity – in this case a glorious garnet. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t use jam sugar for plum jam as I think the stones add enough pectin, but it was the only sugar I had, apart from the 100g of granulated.

Making jam prompted me to start making my own bread again, something I’ve done only very occasionally over the last six years. Back in London I got into the habit of making several loaves each week having discovered an incredibly easy recipe on a packet of Dove’s flour. I’m not sure why I stopped. Just one of those things, I suppose. But I’ve now established a little routine having worked out a similarly straightforward recipe using a mix of equal amounts of strong white flour and wholemeal flour, both from Waitrose.

Now I need to get to work on these…

3.5 kg of greengages from my sister’s garden.

rose petal jam: part 2

I must start by saying that this is not a fail-safe recipe. I think there are far too many variables involved to make such a claim. So much depends upon how heavily scented your roses are, maybe even how large the petals are, and of course their colour must play a part too. And then there is the issue of what time of day you pick them and whether they have been baking in the heat of the sun or pounded by a summer downpour.

It’s probably best to use my recipe as a sort of jumping off point, and then experiment until you get a flavour and consistency that you are happy with. And because it really isn’t very practical to make a large batch, it won’t feel so very awful if it all goes wrong. Above you can see the second batch of jam made from 40g of petals, below you can see both versions, and the runny first attempt, made using 30g of petals, is in the Kilner jar.

The first batch, although delicious on a crumpet, was far more successful stirred into a rhubarb fool and later some plain yoghurt. I’d happily use the method again if I wanted a rose-scented syrup for a pudding.

Both methods are very straightforward the only time-consuming part of the process is picking or cutting off the pale section at the bottom of each petal which is boring, but worth doing as it’s bitter and will affect the flavour.

1) Rose petal jam / syrup

30g petals (white part removed), 60g jam sugar, 500ml water

I began by massaging half the sugar into the petals as I had read somewhere about the importance of bruising them in order to release  colour and oils. I left them in the pan for a couple of hours with the lid on. Then when I was ready to make the jam I added the water to the petals. One method I had consulted suggested placing petals in a measuring jug and then using the same volume of water. On reflection I should have pressed the petals down a little as I had far too much liquid. The smell was wonderful and the water quickly turned a fabulous garnet colour. I stirred in the rest of the sugar and raised the heat to a rolling boil. After half an hour I poured the liquid into the Kilner jar and once cooled I placed it in the fridge. If you feel the rose flavour is too faint, you can always boost it with a dash of rose water.

2) Improved rose petal jam

40g rose petals, 80g jam sugar, 80g water,

This time I weighed my water and then having tipped 40g of water over the petals, I decided it needed another 40g.

So – take your rose petals, white bits cut off, and massage them in half the sugar. Leave for half an hour or so – I don’t suppose it would matter if you left them overnight even – and then add the water. If you like to test your setting point with a cold plate, put that in the freezer now. Bring the water and petals to a simmer and stir in the remaining sugar, taking care that it doesn’t catch as there isn’t much liquid. Then turn up the heat and once you have a good rolling boil, set the timer for five minutes. I had a set after the first five minutes.

Inspired by a comment left by Thrifty Household, I used most of this batch in a cake.

40g of petals also produced enough jam to cover a few slices of toast as well, and would have gone further were it not for the girls who preferred to eat it from their fingers.

I shall certainly be making more of both the jam and the syrup throughout the summer. And I think I enjoyed the process almost as much as the jam itself – the whole business of stripping petals from the flowers, and then stirring them with sugar and water took me straight back to childhood potion making.