Seville Orange Marmalade

During a cold January, there is nothing better than driving past our local farm shop and seeing the roadside notice “Seville Oranges Now In”. This means the very short season for these wonderful fruits has begun, and then begins the race to get our share, before they go away again in a  few weeks time. These fruits are very bitter and are best used for cooking, so it makes them especially great for making a batch of marmalade. This year I’ve bought enough to make two batches (2kg), and have put one kilogram in the freezer, whole fruits, so I can make the most of the season and still make lovely marmalade in July! The other kilogram has been put to use straight away in order to fill our storecupboard with some lovely amber coloured jars - nice and cheery after the end of Christmas, and until the Spring comes along again. The house has been filled with their lovely citrus aroma all weekend, and brightened us up no end.

So, here is a little diary of how I got on…

I found a recipe that looked like it would fit the way I like marmalade, which is very thin shred and lightly coloured. It is from the River Cottage Preserves book but I did adapt it slightly.

There are only three ingredients and these are:

1kg Seville Oranges
2kg Sugar (the book says demerera sugar but I used normal granulated – gives a ligher colour)
75 ml lemon juice

I started by squeezing all the juice out of the oranges into a large bowl. Then the saved peel and pith was all chopped into fine shreds (you can make thicker if that is your preference), and added to the juice. Make sure no pips remain! Then 2.5 litres of water was poured on top and left to stand for 24 hours to help soften the fruit peel.

The fruit soaking

The fruit soaking

The next morning the fruit and liquid was poured into my preserving pan and brought to the boil. Then it was covered with foil and slowly simmered for about 2 hours to soften the fruit peel further.

Once this was complete, the lemon juice and sugar was added to the mixture. It was stirred slowly to dissolve the sugar and then brought to the boil again. This time it was left to boil rapidly for about 35 mins until setting point was reached (to test for setting point take the pan off the heat, spoon a teaspoonful onto a cold plate, put in the fridge for one minute and if it crinkles when pushed with your finger, the setting point has been reached. If not return to the boil for another couple of minutes and test again). The book suggested boiling for 20-25 mins but I found I needed longer.

The mixture was then left to cool for about 8-10 mins and poured into warm, sterilised jam jars (see my previous blog post for how to sterilise jars) and sealed immediately. The end result? Lovely amber nectar to put in the cupboard (and one or two jars saved for our Mums :-) .

Pouring the cooled marmalade into jars

Pouring the cooled marmalade into jars

Marmalade jars

The finished product - 6 jars of lovely amber nectar!

January

A lovely fieldfare who visited this week

Last weekend we sat down and had a proper think about our plans, committing our thoughts to paper. The first thing I recorded was the weather as I would like to keep a record of this, to enable me to see trends and how it changes through the years. Then I began to sort through the old seed packets we had leftover in the drawer from last year. Seeds do last a while, so don’t throw away your packets until you are sure they are no longer of use. Even after the recommended sow by date you could still give them a try. However if you are after more reliable results, it may be better to start afresh. We were quite pleasantly surprised that we still have ample seeds to grow the main, staple varieties of vegetables this year, perhaps with a few new and unusual ones purchased from a reliable supplier. 

The other thing we began to have a think about is fruit. Last year we concentrated on growing mainly vegetables, to give ourselves a chance to concentrate on one area of growing properly, adding a new subject each year. So this year (along with obtaining some chickens), it will be fruit growing.  Looking through the D T Brown catalogue we made a list of the ones we would like to try, then made a more realistic list based on the space we have! I would love to ultimately grow the kind of fruit you don’t normally see in shops such as mulberry and medlar, but these trees can grow quite large, not practical at the moment in our garden. So we opted for a range of currants instead (red, white and black) along with some of the more hedgerow varieties (indespensible in preserving), and will try sloes and crab apples. Quince is the only other fruit we will try. I am intrigued by this fruit and hear preserves made from it are perfect with cheese. Should be a lovely addition to my Christmas gift hampers for friends and family this year! 

The next thing to do was work out the areas in our garden in which we would grow everything. Our raised beds are in place from last year, so it is just a case of rotating the crops around. Brassicas will go in the onion & pea bed from last year, then new onions and peas in the old roots bed. This years roots will go in the old potato bed, and the last bed which currently has asparagus growing in it, will have the addition of some strawberries this year. We’ve made much more space for the main staple crops like potatoes and onions too this year, as found our 2009 crops of these didn’t last very long once harvested! A few other marked areas in the garden will have broad beans, french beans, squashes, leeks and edible/medicinal flowers. Raspberries complete the picture next to the leek bed. 

So from all that, a list was made to send to the most suitable seed supplier and here is what we will order: 

purple sprouting broccolli, oregano, chard, kohl rabi, purple tomatoes, coriander, sea kale, yellow beetroot, pumpkin, red chicory, spring onions, purple french beans, thyme, garlic, calendula, nasturtium, clary sage, borage, currants, crab apple, sloe, quince, strawberries 

Not bad to be going on with! 

Lastly we made a plan for the growing year, of what we need to do and when. Here are our jobs for this month: 

1. Dig over ground ready for growing. Dig in green manures sown last autumn and dig over new areas for growth. Add in soil improver such as home made compost, chicken manure etc. 

2. Clean pots, seed trays and greenhouse thoroughly 

3. Fix broken panes of glass in greenhouse 

4. Weatherproof sheds 

5. Prune old fruit bushes and woody plants such as rosemary, lavender 

6. Order seeds and supplies such as fleece, netting etc. 

Well, I think that is quite enough for now, so better get started! I will leave you with an image of our raised beds in the snow, and above is a pictre of a little fieldfare who ventured into the garden this week looking for berries. These are normally found in the hedgerows but have been visiting lots of gardens in the recent cold snap looking for extra food. We were very pleased to have been able to help them :-)  

Raised beds in the snow

Raised beds in the snow

New Year, New Self-Sufficiency Plans

Well 2010 is now well underway and after using the Christmas holidays for some much needed reflection and planning time, we are feeling inspired again at Herne Cottage. After moving to our lovely semi-rural property in 2007, the space and facililites it provided, as well as the area in which it is located, very much inspired us to try our hand at self sufficiency. We recognised the fact that it is hard to be be entirely self sufficient these days (especially if you have a mortgage!), but still wanted to try our hand at as many things we can. In this way we knew we would get a great sense of achievement from enjoying the taste of home-grown food (and stop relying on evil supermarkets), raising our own animals (more fresh food), helping care for the enviroment, and setting up a lifestyle for ourselves that we enjoy and will prosper in. We recognised that we could not do it all at once, so are introducing each element in stages, and this blog is a diary of our achievements and dreams. We hope it inspires you too!

Well, after an excellent first year of growing our own veg, we have decided to build on it further this year, by adding some more unusual veg varieties to our crops, and bringing some livestock into the mix. Yes, we are getting chickens! The seed catalogues are already ordered along with various hen-keeping books borrowed from the library and purchased from the internet.

A few veggies we would like to try have been inspired by some of our visits last year. At Hampton Court gardens in Herefordshire , the excellent farm shop sold purple french beans and round cucumbers, so they will be on our list to find. Also a lovely stallholder at our local farmers market in Tring had a very unusual variety of purple tomatoes. Another reason for this decision is that if you do buy local at a supermarket or farmers market, seasonal vegetables will be in plentiful supply and very cheap anyway. After a year of growing standard veggies and calculating any cost savings, our conclusion is that it would be better to grow some more unusual or heritage varieties at home, and buy local and seasonal for more standard veg, giving us an interesting variety of ingredients to cook with. The excellent Chiltern Seeds catalogue (www.chilternseeds.co.uk) will be a great source for what we are after this year and an order will be going in shortly.

One standard/staple crop we will be growing more of this year though will be potatoes and onions. You can never have too many of these, shop bought or otherwise. We have some overwintering onions and garlic in which should be ready in the spring, just in time to plant some more sets for later in the year. We bought seed potatoes at the weekend of Pentland Javelin (earlies), Charlotte (2nd earlies) and King Edward (maincrop) which should keep us in good supply throughout the year. Time to set these out to chit soon – although I feel we may be a little too keen and slightly early in January!

The new addition to our self sufficiency dream will of course be our chickens this year. We can’t wait for these, as have been told by so many people that they are very rewarding animals to keep. More research is needed before we do take the plunge, such as what varieties to keep, housing etc. This book looks the most useful so far – Henkeeping by Mike Hatcher. But we have made a start by informing our neighbours and checking the deeds on our house, and all is fine on that front. Check back over the next few months for our progress!

Oh, and we also gave friends and family hampers for Christmas presents with our homemade jams and chutneys from last years supply, so looking forward to feedback on those recipes in the next few weeks!

That’s all for now and we’ll leave you with some images of how the veg patch looks today in the lovely frosty weather. Work will start at the weekend on planning, cleaning out and clearing ready for the new growing season!

Raised Beds January 2010

Raised Beds January 2010

Raised beds looking up to house - Jan 2010

Raised beds looking up to house - Jan 2010