It’s that time of year again. Like pumpkins for autumn, it’s cranberries for Christmas. It’s a relatively new berry for me, an introduction to a new ingredient via marriage. I have come to love it’s acidic tang and love the way it enhances any meat it’s paired up with. And let’s be honest, turkey needs all the help it can get! I think my favourite turkey based christmas time meal is the obligatory boxing day sandwich – a pile of thin slices of turkey, with fatter slices of stuffing, topped with a generous dollop of cranberry sauce, all squashed between two thick, fluffy slices of white bread.
Marmalade wouldn’t traditionally be considered Christmas fayre but consider that the original requires Seville oranges, available only in the deepest winter months. The chance of finding seville oranges here are akin to experiencing a blizzard in this desert land, so I’ve gone for another christmas citrus, clementines. Everything sweet needs acid to balance and tart, ruby – red cranberries, being seasonally and festively appropriate, make a pretty in pink partner.
I will not lie (Santa’s watching), this isn’t exactly simple. It is easy, in that it doesn’t require dexterity but it is multi-staged and requires a fair bit of time. I staggered the stages over a couple of days and these kept things manageable, including my inherent grumpiness.
I am quite pleased with how this marmalade turned out. The colour is a deep, translucent ruby, the set was perfect, the peel soft and the cranberries all plump and juicy still. I dislike excessively sweet preserves but the balance here was very satisfying. I even hauled out the yeast to make a Krentenwegge from my favourite book, Warm Bread and Honey Cake, to go with. It does take a bit of effort to make, but the payoff is worth it. Whenever I read marmalade recipes it always seemed like a massive undertaking but after making my own, and taking advantage of a slow cooker, it really is just a matter of time management. A bit of music in the background or your favourite podcast helps you slip into the rhythm of it all. Plus, how wonderful would these be for Christmas or hostess gifts over the festive period?
My mother popped over from Abu Dhabi for the weekend and I had a lovely homemade mid morning treat to serve her, which she enjoyed thoroughly. She takes two bottles back with her for my two brothers to lavish onto toast. Hopefully. You never know with brothers! The in-laws will be over for the Christmas holidays and there will be time for a nice breakfast spread, rather than the usual coffee chugging and toast gobbling. A pot of this marmalade on the table would be satisfying.
And so, this post officially kicks off the Christmas food festivities. And perhaps, more importantly, for my home and myself. It is after all, the season to be grateful. And surely one of the best ways to spread good feeling, is to share good things from your kitchen table. Starting with this marmalade.
Clementine & Cranberry Marmalade
You can stagger this process over a couple of days if that makes things easier. Prepare the fruit on one day and do the cooking on another. Also I, being tight for time in the kitchen, cooked the peel along with the muslin wrapped pith and seeds in the slow cooker on high until it was really soft. It worked a treat. Just remember to reduce the added water content if using a slow cooker. The pith, membranes and seeds are high in pectin, the natural setting agents in jams. Don’t avoid the palaver of scooping out membranes etc into a muslin bag. It makes all the difference to the set and finish of your preserve. Cooking the peel till it is very soft is essential. Sugar has a hardening effect on fruit, so once it is added, no amount of boiling will soften your peel further.
There is a lot of sugar for this amount of fruit. Sugar must be completely dissolved in the hot fruity liquid, or your jam may crystallise. To aid sugar dissolving quickly, you can heat it, in a large shallow roasting pan, in a 160deg oven until you can feel it’s hot to the touch, but before it starts to melt and caramelise at the edges. For this amount of sugar, it was only five minutes. I warmed up the sugar while the muslin bag was out of it’s bath, cooling.
1 kilo of unwaxed, preferably organic, clementines
Enough water to just about cover the cut clementine peels (this depends on the size of your pan)
Juice of one large lemon
900 gms of granulated sugar
300gms of fresh cranberries
Firstly deal with the clementines. Wash the fruit really well and dry with a kitchen towel. Cut all of them in half, juice the fruit (a lemon squeezer will suffice) into a medium sized, non-reactive bowl and set aside. Any flesh left in the fruit can be added to the juice bowl. Scoop out the membranes and seeds into a smaller bowl and set aside. Cut the hollowed peel halves into quarters, and slice them to the thickness you desire. I prefer a thin cut marmalade. Note, the thicker the peel the longer it will take to soften. Place the peel into the bowl with the juice as you work. Once you have all the peels done, place the membranes, any pith and seeds into a muslin bag or cheesecloth. Tie it loosely.
Put the peel, juice and muslin cloth into a large pan. Pour in enough water to barely cover the peel, settle the muslin bag right into the base of the pot and set on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, lower the temperature to a simmer and let it cook gently for an hour and a half or until the peel is well and truly soft and a fair bit of the liquid has evaporated and thickened. The best way to check if the peel is done is to squeeze a few strands between your thumb and forefinger. If it turns to puree with very little pressure, it’s done. Take care, as it will be hot!
While the peel is softening, take your jam jars, clean them in hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly and place on a baking tray lined with a kitchen towel. Place into a 160 deg oven and let it stay there, to dry and sterilise. Clean the lids and dry thoroughly, making sure your bare skin doesn’t come into contact with the underside of the lid. Place two small saucers into the freezer.
Back to the preserve – take the muslin bag out of the pan and leave in a bowl, until cool enough to handle. Now, using clean hands, squeeze every last drop of pectin out of the bag into the pan with the peel.
Put the pan back on the heat. Pour in the lemon juice. Once heated, add the sugar in one go, stirring to make sure it dissolves completely. If the sugar has been warmed, this will take a matter of minutes. Do not let the pan boil as the sugar is melting as the sugar will crystallise in the jam. To check if the sugar has dissolved, swipe the back of the stirring spoon. A feel of the sticky liquid between your fingertips will tell you if there are any granules undissolved.
When the sugar has completely dissolved, whack the pan on the highest heat, add the cranberries and let it come to a rolling boil. Stir from time to time. Start checking for setting point in 12 minutes. Place a teaspoon worth of liquid onto one of the frozen saucers. Return it to the fridge till it has cooled down. Push the liquid with your fingertip. If it wrinkles, the jam has reached setting point. If not, let it boil on and keep checking at 3-5 minute intervals. Err on the side of caution. I like a looser set jam, so if the blob on the saucer looks thick and doesn’t run around, that’s perfect for me.
Take the pan off the heat. If there is scum at the surface, stir in a wee blob of butter to disperse it. Leave the hot marmalade to settle for five minutes. This allows the peel and berries to set and stay suspended in the jam. Carefully remove the tray with the jars from the oven. Give the marmalade a good stir and then, preferably using a jam funnel, pour the marmalade into the jars. Put on the lid and seal tight. Fill all the jars, place in a cool, dark place and leave undisturbed for 12 hours, so as to cool thoroughly and set.