a winter ritual: marmellata di mandarini
|January 27, 2012||Posted by ameliaps under sweets, winter|
Growing up, we had this winter ritual, usually in December, when the mandarin trees are laden with fruits: we would sit around the wooden table in the kitchen to make “marmellata di mandarini” (mandarin orange marmalade), and be a family.
My mother received the original recipe for orange marmalade from a British lady years back, when we were living in London for a couple of years, which is were my sister and brother were both born. I have vague memories of that time since I must have been 3 or 4. Mostly I remember how much I hated cold milk as a snack during recess and how much I loved salt and vinegar chips. The moss on the trees at the park, feeding the ducks at Kew gardens with my sister and our friends Nina and Giulia, business men in pin stripes, Indian food, riding the apple-red double-decker bus, the hippies… Oh, London in the seventies was a curious, magical, happening place. I vaguely remember it, but have a good imprinting from it. And then there was rain, lots and lots of it, but it was a fine mist, a persistent companion throughout the year. Predictable, recurrent, safe… just like this ritual that we took back to Italy with us when we came back. And we brought back many other fond things from England too. My father spoke to me English for a few years more, and to this day I call him “daddy”.
My mother took a winning formula (orange marmalade) and turned it into perfection by using the Sorrento citrus. She experimented with oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruits, citron, even kumquats, and sometimes she mixed them up. Each one had it’s uniqueness. But my favorite has always been the mandarin one with an extra touch of tartness from a few added lemons, to balance the sweetness.
The ritual goes like this: first prepare yourself a cup of Twining tea with sugar and shortbread, then put on your wellingtons and rain coat. Now, find yourself a fine woven basket layered with a cloth, head to the garden for a long walk during which you will talk about the stars, the Beatles, the impermanence of being and start collecting the mandarins from the trees. Pause for a while, and eat a few right from the basket, as you sit next to the moss-covered fountain on the wooden bench, facing the gulf of Naples with a snow-covered Vesuvius cap. You’ll want to laugh a little too, and cry, if you have to. Next, proceed to the kitchen quarters, where you will wash the tangerines. Meanwhile, pile up the fireplace with dry wood and light a crackling fire. If you have some, toss some chestnuts in an old blackened pan with holes in the bottom. This will keep you snacking while you prepare the marmalade. Now turn on some music, preferably an old and scratchy LP from the seventies (which my parents have quite a few of: the who, the doors, pink floyd, the beatles,…). Gather all the ingredients around the kitchen table (including the family members) and provide a chopping board and a knife to everyone. No one is exempt. Someone cuts the mandarins in half, someone else squeezes the juice (a good job for the little ones), another person removes the white pith, and then everyone starts cutting the peels in thin slices. All this, while singing some…and chatting a lot. At this point it’s time for a martini: use some of the lemons you just picked up from the garden. Start talking about dinner plans, add in a few memories from London and other travels and that time we burned the marmalade… And keep on working. Now it’s time to make dinner. Have dinner, enjoy another long sit down conversation, cleanup. Allow the peels and juice to sit together overnight, becoming one happy family. Allow the seeds to jelly-fy in water to create natural pectin. Walk on the terrace, stare at the stars, give hugs, go to bed. The next morning, meet everyone in the kitchen to complete the ritual. While you eat a slice of toasted bread with last year’s production of marmalade, and drink coffee and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, discuss the weather. Then read the paper. Now it’s time to cook the marmalade. Towards the end, add in hot sugar, and then pour into oven-sterilized jars. Wrap some in a checkered fabric and wrap with a silk ribbon. Write down the year and give a jar to someone you really love, as this potion is made with lots of it.
|marmellata di mandarini|
- 2 Kg. (4.4 lbs) mandarin oranges (or Satsuma)
- 800 kg (1.8 lbs.) sugar
- 1 liter (1 quart) of water
- 2 lemons
- Start the afternoon before you want to cook the marmalade.
- Wash the citruses (mandarins and lemons)
- Cut them in half and squeeze out all the juice, reserving the peels in one bowl and the seeds in another small bowl. You will need to cover the seeds with water (about 1/2 cup) so they will release the pectin overnight.
- Take each peel and scrape off carefully all the white pith, which is bitter and will affect the flavor. This is an art… it will take you some time to figure out your best technique. I like to cut each half peel in half (to make a quarter), flatten it out and with a diagonal movement scrape off the pith.
- Now cut all the the peels into thin strips (a.k.a. julienne) and set aside.
- In a big pot (the one you will use to cook the marmalade), combine the juice, the peels, and the water. Let rest overnight.
- In the morning, strain the seeds from their liquid (it will be now very gelatinous) and pour the said liquid into the pan with the juices. Place the seeds in a clean linen handkerchief (or muslin or cheese cloth), tie to close into a knot, and drop this bundle into the large pan with the juices and peels.
- Place the pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, removing the froth that might surface, which could be bitter. Insert a wooden spoon in the pan and with a knife mark the spot where the liquid stops. That will be your gauge. Allow the marmalade to cook on medium until it halves (use the wooden spoon “marker” to check) and reaches the jell point. It should take about 1 to 2 hours. Stir occasionally. To test: place a small saucer in the freezer with a spoonful of marmalade and chill it: draw a line on the jam with a wooden spoon and if it wrinkles then its ready. If not, keep boiling for a little more and test again, repeating as needed.
- Turn the oven on at 160F/320F.
- Warm the sugar in the oven (my mom uses a metal tray to spread it out nicely and make sure it is warm through) and pour it into the marmalade, stir and allow to cook about 20 more minutes.
- Meanwhile, sterilize the jars: heat a few clean jars in the oven for about 10-20 minutes (until the marmalade is ready): the jars need to be hot otherwise they will crack. Handle carefully…everything you do from now on!
- When the marmalade is ready, remove the seed bundle and discard. Pour the marmalade into the hot sterilized jars. Seal when the jars are cool enough to handle, about 10-15 minutes later. Wrap, label, gift or enjoy on toast!
(squeezing the citruses)
(cutting the peels)
(creating the pectin from the seeds)
(making the seed bundle)
(measuring the height)
(adding the sugar)
(pouring the marmalade into the jars)
(the finished product)