Although this isn’t the first article I have published this year, it is the first time I have really put finger to keyboard as the previous articles were largely written in 2016. It is therefore the first time I have sat down and really thought about 2017….. not great thoughts I might add, I am not trying to fix all the world’s problems nor indeed my own, just everyday thoughts, thoughts about the season we are in and a few ideas about what I would like to do this year.
Not that I have much time for speculative thinking as the truth is that I am as busy, if not more busy, this year than previous years. I am actually a summer person, a person who likes to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays on his back. I guess that is one of the reasons why I moved from the uplands of northern England to the more sunnier clime of Spain, that and a Spanish girl…… Even here is Spain, winter for me has always been a dismal time, a time of waiting for a spring that never seems to arrive. Spain doesn’t feel like Spain to me until the warmer days entice people out onto the open air terraces, to sample the local wines and tapas. For some years now however I have found winter to be all too brief, to short to fit in all that I have to do.
It is my own fault no doubt as I keep planting fruit trees and bushes, trees that require amongst other things pruning. I love pruning trees. I do, honestly. I already know I am crazy, and I guess this is just further proof. The truth is though that for me pruning is almost an art form, and I don’t mean of the topiary type!
Each tree of course has its own natural form and shape, from tall erect poplar trees to weeping willows. Some trees naturally grow tall, others prefer a shorter more rounded shape. Some bear fruit on the new growth, others on the old growth from the previous year. Pruning involves finding that balance between letting the tree grow how it wants and what best suits the fruit grower, in this case me. For example I want branches I can reach without a ladder and I prefer fewer larger fruits than lots of smaller ones.
Long ago our fore-fathers worked all this out and defined structures that permitted the grower to get the best fruit crops for each type of tree, without forcing the tree to grow in a way that was completely alien to it. A balance between nature and nurture if you will. In this more “enlightened” age where the Buck come first, farmers tend to choose forms and structures that are easy to create and maintain. To a certain degree they disregard the tree’s natural inclinations and often butcher the trees with machines rather than hand-prune with skilled craftsmen. We are running roughshod over nature in search of quick monetary gain. Quality is being abandoned in favour of margins and traditional skills and knowledge are often maligned instead of revered.
Luckily for my trees, I have the time and inclination to use more traditional structures and tools. Of course to get the best growth and the best fruit I need to do more than just prune the trees, I also need to feed them too. Luckily there is a farmer up the road who allows me to collect the, well shall we say muck, that his animals leave behind.
Although I tend to talk about anything but, this blog is supposedly dedicated to “traditional” and “sustainable” food. Although I mention it seldom, it does in fact underlie most of what I do. Sometimes sustainability is best achieved by the small things we do, as opposed to the larger things we talk about. For example you may have noticed that in my recipes I preheat the oven half way through the recipes so that it reaches the required temperature just when I need it and not before. Many recipes would have you preheating the oven at the start, which if often a waste of energy and money. Switching your oven on as late as possible and collecting local muck reduces costs and helps the environment.
What about organic muck I hear you say? An article a couple of years back changed the way I think about the subject of organic produce, and I don’t just mean the muck variety. Basically, and talking about produce in general, it asked which is better for the environment, local non-organic produce or organic ones that might have come from afar. Shipping products over a distance normally means higher energy usage in areas such as the preparation, packaging and transportation of the product. Just because a product is marked as “organic” doesn’t necessarily make it the ideal one to buy. Sourcing local can be environmentally better, cheaper and also can be an important part of supporting local families and communities.
One thing I do mention relatively often on my blog is of course seasonality, as apart from all the above seasonal products tend to be easier to find, fresher and therefore tastier. This week’s recipe was to have been something completely different, but as we are in the orange season here and they were on offer (at 5Kg for 3€) I just couldn’t resist. If all the above were not enough, then as they say in Spanish, my “half orange” wanted some marmalade…..……
Makes 6 to 7 jars
2.5 Kg Oranges
Put a metal dish or tray in the freezer. This will be used later to test the set of the jam.
Peel the zest off the oranges and place in a large pan.
Remove the pith and discard.
Chop the remaining flesh of the oranges and place in the pan together with the water.
Simmer for 30 minutes, the first 15 minutes covered and the last with the lid off.
Strain the solids reserving 300ml of the liquid.
Sterilise the jars in a hot oven for a few minutes.
Purée the solids. I use a manual food mill, but you can use one of the many food processors available.
Weigh the solids and add 1.2 times as much sugar as pulp. Put the pulp, sugar and reserved liquid back into the pan and boil for 25 minutes.
Test for set and bottle. I test using the metal tray mentioned at the start of the recipe. I drop a teaspoon of mixture onto the tray and pop it back in the freezer for a minute or two. Taking it back out again, I give the mixture a little push with my finger. The surface should wrinkle up and the mixture have a jam-like consistency. If this is not the case, boil for another 5 minutes or so and try again.
As you will have seen from the recipe, I use standard oranges. In spite of living in Spain I can’t get Seville oranges where I live. In spite of this, the recipe does provide a good, strong, orange flavoured marmalade that will bring your tastebuds back to life first thing in a morning.
I often add pectin to my jams as it reduces the cooking time. Jams can lose colour and flavour if they are cooked too long. Most pectins are just mixed into the sugar before adding into the fruit. In many cases the jams should set after just 5 minutes of boiling. They are all easy to use, just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Seville oranges normally have a higher pectin content and stronger flavour. If you use Seville oranges you may want to bear this in mind!
This week I have included a couple of seasonal recipes using lemons. The tart in particular is easy to make and has an intense flavour that is perfect to clean the palate after a big meal:
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge