Tuesday 31 January 2017

24 horas en Sevilla.

O for a draught of vintage! that hath been  
  Cool'd a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,  
Tasting of Flora and the country-green,  
  Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!  
O for a beaker full of the warm South!
Keats was dreaming of the booze and was far too poetic to find oblivion is a feed of pints. Nothing would do but claret or some other beverage with beaded bubbles winking at the brim and purple-stainèd mouth. Silly boy, look what all that plonk [and a good dose of Mycobacterium tuberculosis] did for him, tragically dead at 25. Me, I'm more of an orange sort of bloke, especially if they are from Andalusia and too bitter to eat raw. I last made marmalade at the beginning of 2014, which my calculators tells me is three long years ago. Then, my pal Aoife bought a crate of Seville oranges from Sam Dennigan in the Dublin Fruit Market and brought them down for a marmalade meitheal. That post generated an unaccountable spike of interest in The Blob - as if my nerdnik readers had never heard of marmalade before.

In November, Aoife said that she was down to her last pot and was I planning making more marmalade this Winter . . . and, after a good bit of dropped batons and missed messages, it was so. We agree that Saturday 28th Jan 2017 would be Den Tag der Marmelade, and it was so. Aoife+1 arrived at noon and 10 minutes later the three largest pots in the house were full of oranges and water for a 3 hour simmer. Making a batch of marmalade consumes a lot of time but most of it is not working time. After 3 hours at 100°C, the poor oranges have lost a lot of weight, but have transmuted their pectin into something gloopy that will gel the solution if supplied with enough sugar and if the pH is sufficiently acid. My recipe calls for squeezing the pectic-rich soup through a muslin cheese cloth and I started doing that on Saturday: massaging a bolus of hot orange pulp with my hands.
Then I remembered that, since the last marmalade time, we had acquired a a stainless steel conical sieve, so I put the cheese-cloth aside and lurried the pulp into the sieve. A great improvement, and at the end of the day my hands were normal coloured instead of red and raw as an 18thC washer-woman's.  Having separated the gelly liquid from the internal fibre and pips, we added 3kg of sugar to 3 pints [the alchemy of jam doesn't require consistent SI units] of gloop and the skins ground in my old-fashioned Spong mincer. [for which see prev]. Two batches of gloop+sugar+peel came quickly to the stage where the confection would set at room temperature and by 5pm we had bottled 32 jars of marmalade; in the process using up about 60% of the crate of oranges.

The next morning, my support team having returned to Dublin with most of the previous day's production, I rose at 0600hrs to start another batch. It took a little longer because I was on my own but by the forenoon I had finished the 2017 season with another 2 dozen jars - some double-sized. That was more or less 24 hours after we started the day before. It's sort of mad. If my time is worth the minimum wage of €8.20, then 25 pots of jam costs €40 in labour and about €10 for materials. €2 / lb is about the middle range of shop-bought marmalade: Tesco Value = €0.49; Olde Time Irish 2 for €4.00; Bonne Maman €3.39.  This doesn't factor in the cost of transport from Dublin, so maybe marmalade making is, to paraphrase Dr Johnson's assessment of Antrim's Giant's Causeway, "Worth doing but not worth going to do".

I was so taken with the utility of the conical sieve, that I went round to lend it to a jam-making pal of mine. No good to me was her response. Her recipe calls for cooking the oranges and throwing  the whole mess skin-and-all into a food-processor. Clearly no washer-woman hands in that home either.

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