Making Seville Orange Marmalade

Perfect timing, it was raining and windy today, and a wonderful time to make a batch of Seville orange marmalade. As you can see from the above photo, they are not at all like sweet oranges.

Quite a bit of preparation beforehand, and an overnight soaking to release the pectin from the pips and the pith. Not to mention several hours of boiling and reducing before adding the sugar.

Then we end up with a wonderful, sweet golden, sticky jam which is then bottled and labelled. Perfect!

First Signs of Spring

Another Sunny day out on the veg patch today. When the wind wasn't blowing it was almost warm out in the sun, but once in the shade with a bit of a breeze it was still definitely Winter. Just in the last couple of days the first leaves of rhubarb have shown their crinkly little heads above the soil. I am keenly awaiting my rhubarb this year. Last January a good friend gave me some crowns to plant, so I did not pick any stalks at all last year to allow them to establish. I have also given them many dressings of rotted manure, so they should do well.

I spent some time in the greenhouse today, dusted off my heated propagators and plugged them all in. I have already planted some early tomatoes in the propagator, I thought I would try Supersweet 100 this year, has anyone tried them? Here is a picture of some purple podded peas which I seed swapped with Celia from ... purple podded peas along with some of her crimson flowered broad beans. Here you can see I've made good use of more toilet rolls as root trainers. Roll on Summer!

How to make the best Seville Orange Marmalade - ever!

Now is the time of year when you will see Seville oranges on sale in the shops. They are only available for a few short weeks in January and February so make haste if you want to make marmalade. Seville oranges are grown almost entirely for the British market to make marmalade, they are much too sour and full of seeds for anything else. It is this combination of acid and high pectin content which makes them ideal for setting jams and jellies.

The chunkiness - or lack thereof - is a personal matter but you can decide which bits to cut up and keep in your marmalade.

3lbs Seville Oranges
6 pints water
6lbs sugar
2 lemons

Peel the zest off the oranges and cut the strips with a pair of scissors to whichever shape and length you like. Cut the oranges and lemons in half and keep the seeds aside in a dish - there will be lots of them. Squeeze all the orange halves and chop them roughly. Put the orange halves in a muslin bag and tie them up. Put the orange seeds in a square of muslin and tie them up. Leave the two bags in 6 pints of water along with the chopped peel and leave them to soak for 24hours. The pectin will have an extra chance to come out in the water if you soak them like this. The orange pips have about 10 times their weight in pectin, they are an important ingredient.

When fully soaked you should notice that the water has started to thicken slightly due to the pectin release. Transfer all this to a large pan and boil for about 90 minutes or until it has reduced by half. Keep stirring to bring out the pectin from the two muslin bags. The orange peel will be floating freely in the liquid. Remove the bags from the liquid and strain all the juice out of them, discard the bags. Add 6lb sugar and boil until the setting point has been reached.

I always test for setting point with a small plate which is cooled in the freezer. Pop a spoonful of liquid on the plate and place back in the freezer for about 5 mins. Draw a finger through this and see if this is the consistency of the jam you want. I usually do this about 10 times to get the set I want. Allow this to cool a fair bit before pouring into hot, sterilized glass jars.

Matron's Titbox

Here is the family titbox! At the end of last Summer I gave it a coating of a varnish preservative to help it last a few more years. Last Spring we did have blue tits start a nest and it was wonderful entertainment watching them fly in and out every minute of the day. Sadly, some creature probably a cat or a magpie took the lid off the titbox and destroyed the nest. Today I took all the old nesting material out from the box and gave it a bit of a tidy up. I also nailed the lid shut! Fingers crossed a family will be putting a deposit on the property soon!
I also took the opportunity of tieing up the loganberry stems. You can just see here that I had 7 stems from the root. I used a staplegun and some plant ties to fasten them to the fence. 3 each side and one in the middle. The tits can help themselves!

I took advantage of a beautifully clear and bright weekend to put some hard work in. Yesterday I dug, weeded and raked flat an area for my onion bed this year. Overnight some wretched cat had walked all over it and dug holes and defacated all over my nice new bed!! Today I did more digging and weeding. It is so satisfying to stand back at the end of the day and see what you have done. Much more satisfying than pushing papers across a desk all day, eh?
My next post will be about how to make the best Seville Orange Marmalade in the world!

A blog for Robbie Burns

Tomorrow night 25th January is Burns night! Scottish people all over the world will be celebrating the birthday of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. On Burns night one consumes haggis with 'bashed neeps and tatties' - that is mashed swede (Americans call them rutabagas?)and potatoes. I love the emphasis on the 'bashed' as my ideal mashed potato still contains lumps of potato, not creamy smooth. This supper is traditionally washed down with a dram or two of Whisky.
Just in case you don't already know, haggis is a meat dish containing lamb offal, oatmeal, fat, onions, salt, pepper, and spices. This is all bound together in natural casings, ie. stomach and intestine. In my mind Macsween make the finest haggis.

Jerusalem Artichokes

I went out today in the drizzle and dug up some of my Jerusalem artichokes. The soil is based on London clay, so it just sticks to your boots, your spade, your fork, your bucket, hands.. anything it touches. After washing them in a bucket of cold water - my hands nearly froze, I had the most wonderful lunch. The taste of these fartichokes is very similar to that of the globe artichoke (you know, the one that looks like a thistle) but they are related in no way. Jerusalem fartichokes have a very complex carbohydrate structure which makes them very good for diabetics or anyone following a glycemic index (GI) diet. The side effects of this wonderful but windy vegetable are just beginning to become apparent to me!

New Potatoes

I have finally decided on the varieties of potato I am going to grow this year. I always have a hard time trying to decide which ones to grow as I am quite short of space. In past years I have grown Epicure. I remember growing Epicure when I was a child down on our allotment with my Father. I suppose it is out of sentimentality that this is the first year that I have not ordered them. So many other varieties to choose from, so in a spirit of adventure this year from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue, I have ordered Red Duke of York and International Kidney. By the way, if I was to grow International Kidney and I was living on the island of Jersey... I would be able to call them Jersey Royal. Looking forward to trying them. As soon as they arrive I will plant some in a container in the greenhouse for an ultra early crop.

Book Review

Look what Santa gave me for Christmas! My gardening guru, Bob Flowerdew has come up with another essential gardening book. He really knows his stuff! I do try most of the time to be as organic and as environmentally friendly as I can, but I am afraid slug pellets are the reason I cannot claim to be totally organic down on the allotment.
My all time favourite veggie gardening book is the Gourmet Gardener. Bob has years of practical gardening experience but really knows his onions, right down to the chemical intricacies of ripening hormones. If you want to know the reason why companion planting really works - the scientific reason - not just native American folklore... you must find out from Bob.
One of his best pieces of advice ever... to deter the birds from eating your precious soft fruit and your raspberries, go to a charity shop and buy an old fur coat. Cut the arm off the coat and sew the two ends together. Place this object on the soil beneath your soft fruit and the birds will assume it is a sleeping cat... and not go anywhere near it! Three cheers for Bob!

First Seeds of the Year Planted!

I managed to get out today and plant some seeds in a heated propagator in the greenhouse. Just a few Winter lettuce to be starting off with, but an indication that the days are getting longer and Spring is just round the corner. Here you can see one of my leeks complete with its toilet roll protection! Not only does it add a few more inches of partially blanched stem, but I have found that there is considerably less mud and soil to clean off from inside the layers when I take them in to wash them. This protection seems to make for much longer stems and much cleaner leeks as well.
Another experiment which worked well last year as well of this was my mini leeks. These are the same seeds as the larger leeks, but the final size of the vegetable is directly proportionate to the space between the plants. Just planting the seedlings a couple of inches apart makes for a large number of smaller leeks of about a pencil thickness. A wonderful mid-Winter delicacy when there is not much else about. A useful way to use up a couple of spare feet of soil.

One Cold January Morning

I managed to get out for a day's digging down on the allotment this week. It was something I had meant to get around to doing but never quite managed. It's like blowing the cobwebs out isn't it? I cleared out the greenhouse and swept the floor. I am now thinking about planting my first, earliest seeds in the propagator.

I turned my compost heap and added some more stuff to it. When I peeled back the covering carpet I said hello to my resident FROG. Whilst digging around there were several robins paying attention to me. Here I must confess this robin was not in my garden, but posted it nevertheless to illustrate that our British robin is not the same as the American robin. I always laughed when I watched Mary Poppins singing 'a spoonful of sugar' while an American robin perched on her finger in the centre of London. Hmmm

This robin was photographed a couple of years ago at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, in Cornwall. Completely tame, no need for a zoom lens for this picture, it just posed inches away from me!

My Favourite Magazine

It is always a thrill to get my monthly edition of Kitchen Garden Magazine. Just fruit and veggies and no flowers or garden furniture, phew! My hero Bob Flowerdew writes an article every month which is entertaining and informative.

This month an advert caught my attention. The seed company Seeds of Italy have produced a range of seeds called Living Pet Foods. These are a selected assortment of seeds which you can grow in a garden or window box, which provide essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients specifically tailored for your cat, dog, budgie, tortoise, rabbit, guinea pig... and all sorts of other pets. I am very interested in this concept as I am currently studying the field of dog nutrition and have heard that green leaves of parsley, alfalfa and aniseed contain beneficial nutrients for dogs. What do you think? Is it a scam or is there something in it? Personally, Matron thinks this is the next BIG thing! watch this space.. you heard it first here folks!

Sloe Gin !

Blog readers will remember that way back in September I started my first attempt at making sloe gin. Well, 4 months later the results are stunning! Most advice was that Christmas was a little too early to be drinking it, and that it was really better left for about 6 months to a year. We decided on Christmas Day to sample a little sip each.... er... well it was rather nice. I think it tastes rather like a very grown up, sophisticated version of cherry brandy. Absolutely delicious. I do have a second un-opened bottle which I will try to leave as long as I can.

You can see here the appearance on the day I made it. Just gin, sloes, and sugar... I must remind myself next year to make loads more!

In the Bleak Mid Winter

Just the bare bones in the garden at the moment. Sticks, fences, stones, concrete, mud, compost. I did notice a few daffodils poking their early heads out of the soil today, Spring is on its way.

I ordered some Shallots from Marshalls Seeds a couple of days ago, a variety called 'Pikant' apparently very tasty and prolific. They can be planted right now, in fact it is traditional to plant them on the shortest day, but I've missed that one. I might start them off in pots or toilet rolls in the greenhouse for a few weeks to get a start then pot them out later on. Any views? will they do better if I plant them outdoors straight away? Won't the critters get them?