Making marmalade, with its intoxicating bitter sweet aroma that permeates every room in the house, is one of the best tangy treats known to mankind when facing down a caustic winter wind, shovelfuls of snow and using any excuse not to go outside.
Assorted citrus baubles are something that breaks up winter in our village in Abruzzo; the arrival of the Sicilian orange man who it feels bounces round the village with a cheery glee when everyone else’s rhythm is on plod hibernation mode. Unlike the other food and produce vans that visit the village, he’s loud with a penchant for R’n’B disco pop, Beyonce his favourite artist to accompany selling his oranges.
Very occasionally he brings bitter Seville oranges sitting next to February’s Blood Orange season and I reminisce of a pot of Bitter Orange and Pistachio marmalade I bought up in the mountains outside Palermo on a visit to Sicily. The sweetness and slight crunch of the pistachios make them the perfect bedfellow to this textural orange jam. Unlabelled so no chance of tracking down its maker, and no matter how much I search online its recipe kept a family secret somewhere so hence this improvisation. It’s not strictly Abruzzo, but hey just 5 km down the road is Tossicia the HQ of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies locally until it was kicked out in 1806. I like to think that alongside troops and bureaucrats that a few oranges came along on that feudal journey and rolled themselves out to the surrounding villages to bring some welcome winter joy just like our Sicilian Orange Man today.
Orange & Pistachio Lady Marmalade Recipe
1k Seville oranges perferably organic
1 k unbleached cane sugar
2 lemons & 1 Seville Orange juiced
50 g Pistachio kernels blanched and smashed
Scrub the oranges and put them in large saucepan or preserving pan. Pour boiling hot water over the oranges – enought to cover. Put on the lid and leave for 10 minutes.
Remove the oranges and peel them removing the pith. Return the peeled fruit and skin to the pan and add any pips you have found and the pith into a tied muslin/cheese bag and add it into the fruit mixture and leave overnight.
Bring the mixture to the boil, turn down the heat and put on the lid and simmer for 1-2 hours. Every quarter of an hour push down on your pith and pip bag and turn it over. Once the peel is tender according to your taste remove from heat.
Cut the peel into fine slivers and reserve. Sieve the fruit and pith into a measuring jug and add the squeezed lemons and orange. Measure the liquid in the jug and return all into the pan with the slivered peel and a muslin bag of the pips you encountered whilst sieving.
For every 250 ml of pulp, stir in 500 g sugar. (I always add less 250 g on the final 250 ml as I don’t like my marmalade too sweet nor too thick like jelly). Bring to the boil and bubble gently till you reach setting-point – 20-30 minutes. Stir regularly – it may look juicy but it can easily stick and burn.
If your pistachio kernels aren’t skinless, now is the time to blanch them by pouring boiling water on them and leaving them to stand for 5 minutes. Rub their skins off and coarsely smash them with a rolling pin.
To test to see if it will set, drop a teaspoonful on a cold saucer and place in the freezer for 3 minutes, if you can push the surface with your finger and it wrinkles it’s ready. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Fish out the pip-bag and stir in the smashed pistachio kernels and give it a stir to make sure the chunky peel stays suspended. Using a soup ladle pour into clean hot jars. Leave to stand for 30 minutes then add on your lid.