For me, oranges are the fruit of a new year. Spanish citrus season provides fruits that are deliciously sweet and inexpensive to buy. With its cheerful colour, refreshing taste and floral scent the orange makes a welcome change from the plethora of root veg and dark, earthy greens of winter.
A well travelled fruit with origins in China and India; the orange first came to Europe along with the Romans, hitching a ride to Spain and Portugal with Moorish conquests in the 8th century. Rich Britains got their first taste as the orange found its way onto the banquet tables of Tudor England.
As the bitter tasting Seville also comes into season this month, January is the time for marmalade making in many households. I’m particularly keen on the Pam Corbin recipe from the River Cottage handbook Preserves. This year I fancied a change so opted to follow our Tudor ancestors by turning the whole fruit into a thick, unctious preserve. While Henry VIII might have eaten this as part of a large final course of sweetmeats and fine desserts, I’m sure you will find your own uses for this deliciously bitter sweet conserve.
Whole Fruit Orange Preserve
Equipment – Around 12 – 15 small jars, hand blender.
800g sweet Spanish (unwaxed) oranges
750g white sugar
Juice of two lemons
Fill a sink with hot soapy water and soak the jars and lids for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 50C. Put the soaked jars upside down onto a roasting tray (along with the lids) and place them in the oven to dry.
Wash the orange skins in warm water but do not peel. Cut the fruit first into four, and then into eight pieces. Pile the orange segments into a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and just cover with water. (For me this took about a litre of water.)
Bring the oranges and water up to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for around an hour or until the skins are soft. Cool for around 10 minutes before blitzing everything to a thick puree.
Put the pan of orange puree back on a medium heat before tipping in the sugar and lemon juice, stirring all the time until the sugar completely dissolved.
Simmer the sweetened mixture on a low to medium heat until the colour begins to darken, the texture thickens and the ‘jam’ takes on a glassy, boiled sweet kind of appearance. Stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent it burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. This part takes patience but the end result is most definitely worth the wait.
When you are happy with your preserve remove from the heat and take your sterilised jars from the oven. Fill the jars and tighten the lids while everything is hot. Please remember that boiled sugar is the hottest substance known to man, I don’t want to be responsible for any trips to A+E.