Monday, 21 January 2013

Seville Marmalade for 55p a jar

Unfortunately I can't do that.  

I tried. I bought 2 kilos of granulated sugar at 99p each and a kilo of Seville oranges for £1.99, from my local greengrocers, the Broadway Fruiterer in Crouch End (lovely old-fashioned name).  Plus two lemons for 60p.

I used River Cottage Pam the Jam's method and boiled the whole fruit for two and a half hours in two and a half litres of water at a steady simmer. I halved the now softened fruit, poked out the pips, and sliced the peel into fine strips.  Removing the pips was a bit of a chore, but handling the tender, squishy pith was quite pleasurable. 

Then I topped up the water to 1.7 litres, tipped in the pulp and peel and poured in two kilos of warmed granulated sugar. Plus the juice of two lemons to ensure the right level of pectin.  (I added in a little extra, because when I did the methylated spirit test for pectin, the liquid didn't clump.)

I placed the temperature probe in the preserving pan and waited for the alert,  knowing that when my concoction had reached 105 degrees C,  the setting point of 104.5 had been reached.  This made for a rather relaxed marmalade making session: the probe meant I could actually leave the pan for half an hour, confident that the resulting marmalade would set.

It did and this is how it looked.

But then there was the stress of working out how much it cost. In the end, I made 3040g of marmalade and spent £4.57. Or to put it another way, each 100g of my marmalade cost 15p.  But that's still more than Waitrose's Essential Fine Cut Seville Marmalade which at 55p a jar, costs 12.1p for every 100g.

How can they do that?!!  My costs didn't factor in the three hours' use of gas or the considerable labour, and that was using the whole fruit method.  (Cutting up the peel before being softened is even more effortful and time-consuming.) The jars were free, since they were recycled. I hadn't included the industrial chemicals in the Waitrose version: citric acid, gelling agent pectin, acidity regulator sodium citrates, firming agent calcium chloride.

However looking at their ingredients, their marmalade contained 26% fruit, whereas mine contained 33%, and while their sugar content at 63% was roughly equivalent to mine, this included glucose-fructose syrup, or corn syrup as it is known in the USA. Corn syrup is cheaper than sugar and is a much used ingredient in processed food; it is not so easily digested by the body and research has suggested that excessive consumption can lead to obesity.  

I'm not saying that consuming large amounts of Essentials Waitrose Marmalade will make you fat; that is the nature of sugar!  But I feel more reassured, pleased even, that I failed the budget marmalade challenge.  All my ingredients were natural and my citric acid and pectin came from the fruit itself.  Moreover I did not have to resort to cheap, potentially harmful substitutes and I know my marmalade will not go off, because of the way it has been prepared.  That's why it is called a 'preserve.'

Or to put it another way, for well under a fiver, I made over eight jars of delicious marmalade, with complex flavours and a lovely consistency.

And with a bit of tweaking and little extra cost, I can add a splash of whisky or a few grams of stem ginger to make my own Wastelady speciality.

Now that's a premium product.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wassailing Time Again

Last year we wassailed the trees in Harold Road Garden and this is what we sang.

Our little song honoured the lovely apple trees in Harold Road Garden, including the splendid specimen donated by Blackmoor Estate on Apple Day: we'll be expecting hatfuls and bagfuls and barn floors of apples in summer.  A little bit of Wassail Punch and soggy toast at the foot of each tree followed by a communal sup from the Wassailing Bowl all helped combat the winter chill.  The brew was a mysterious punch made of baked apples, ale, sugar, Christmas spices and just a dash of Pimms. Afterwards we sang our song, and no-one seemed to mind, certainly not the Police Station next door.

Thanks to everyone who came and to Bethany who taught us a Cornish Wassailing Carol, lyrics courtesy of her smart phonb, and her friend, David who accompanied our dowsing with his melodeon.

Here's Bethany's version -just a taster - there are ten verses... 

 1. Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl1, we'll drink to thee.

 2. Here's to our horse, and to his right ear,
God send our master a happy new year:
A happy new year as e'er he did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

3. So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee

4. Here's to our mare, and to her right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Glamping in Almayate, Spain

A pair of earplugs is not usually part of a welcome pack but it certainly proved useful that first night at our ‘glampsite’ in Almayate, on the Costa del Sol.  Our hosts, Richard and Carol apologised in advance for the feria that rollicked until 4am in the morning.  Perhaps it did, I don’t know.  I was sound asleep. 

A Mongolian yurt in Andalucia suggests remoteness and retreat.  This wasn’t really the case here. Arriving at 10pm, we were assailed by the heady smell of bougainvillea and oleander and the tick, tick, ticking of the automatic watering system. 
The yurt was positioned by a gate with parking space for two cars and a path to a wooden structure, comprising a kitchen and bathroom and dining areas outside. At the other end of the garden were two pools, one a water feature housing carp, the other an oversized paddling pool, which our hosts would tend lovingly during our week long stay. Nocturnal excursions to the loo were easily achieved as the path flooded with light on passing.  Inside the yurt was dominated by a fine double bed, underneath a circular gap in the roof, which revealed the stars at night, although for more sublunary souls there was Sky TV and Wi-Fi.

In the distance, you could hear the rumble of traffic streaming along the coast.  I relinquished the idea of silence, punctuated only by the cry of vultures and the clanging of goat bells.  Instead early the next morning we were woken up by a rhythmic ringing sound, as Pepe, the local farmer trundled his oxen cart to the local market.  Another reason for having ear plugs.

I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of tourism and agriculture: apartment blocks beside a field of goats; a vegetable patch that merged into a site for billboards.  It was easy to avoid roads and in time the traffic sounds faded into my unconscious.  As the July temperatures crept up into the high thirties, we wanted to bathe.  The back way took us past acequias which irrigated fields of cucumber, courgette and pepper, and a simple smallholding with two chairs, a radio and a skittish kitten. We found the beach eventually with its basic beach bar and two types of gin.

Carol and Richard told us how they had escaped the rat race to live a simple life.  Here it was all around us in abundance.

You can find out more about Glamping in Almayate on Carol and Richard's website: