I made marmalade yesterday. I have to write that down because I'm still really quite surprised about it. Although everyone who makes something a bit complicated, like marmalade or a pork pie or a souffle, has to say it out loud to make it real, and they always look a bit stunned when they tell you. "I made my own chocolate out of raw cocoa beans," they might say, apropos of nothing, and then look shocked, as if someone else is using their mouth to speak.

So, yes - I made marmalade, out of a grapefruit, some limes and some lemons. I've always shied away from jams and marmalade - and really anything that requires a specific chemical reaction to take place, (in this case, for the stuff to set firm-ish), because I don't like to fail. And trying to make jam seems like just setting yourself up for heartbreak and dismalness.

And the recipes don't half bang on and make it sound impossible, what with preserving pans and jelly bags and sterilising jars and all that crap. And then who wants 5 litres of jam anyway? You can't give it to people as a gift - you really can't. The recession simply isn't that bad. Well, you can if it's really amazing. But it's never that amazing, I find. Home made jam, unless it's home-made BY A CHEF is always a bit un-set, too sweet or rammed full of skin and pips and string and all kinds of weird stuff that you really don't want on your toast first thing.

So I've never done it. But then I had to yesterday, for reasons I won't go into. The recipe I was working from, I must say, wasn't very good. It was badly-written and weird and I had no faith that it would work. I stood in the kitchen, stirring my acid-smelling slop despondently, angrily re-writing the recipe in my head to make more sense and wondering how I was going to dispose of 1 litre of marmalade.

And then an amazing thing happened. It actually worked. It WORKED! I blobbed a teaspoonful of the mixture onto a cold plate and it set. It f***ing SET like... like... JAM. And I was so excited that I didn't care about the faff of sterilising the jar in the oven (170C for 20 mins) or about the fact that I have got 1 litre of marmalade that I'm never going to eat. And I just had to tell you that it works.

So here we go. This is a recipe for grapefruit, lemon and lime marmalade. It makes one litre but you can halve the quantities if you like.

You will need:
One large-ish casserole pan
One saucer
Some muslin, about one foot square - you can get this from most cooking departments or a material shop.
Some string
1 grapefruit
3 unwaxed lemons
2 limes
1.5 litres water
900g granulated sugar (eek)

1 Wash the 3 lemons and 1 lime, cut in half and juice. Set to one side the rind and all the pips (picking out all the pips is a bit fiddly, I apologise). Keep the juice also to one side.

2 Cut the rind into strips. These don't have to be gorgeous as you're going to boil the shit out of them later, so just vertical strips, the best way to can see how. Don't worry if they've still got strings of flesh attached, it all goes in. Put your strips into your casserole pan. If you're reading about marmalade on an amateur cookery blog I'm assuming you don't have a preserving pan. But if you DID, put the rind in there instead.

3 Peel the skin from the grapefruit and the other lime - a potato peeler works fine -and set aside, for use in a minute. Carve the pith away from the flesh of the grapefruit and set aside. Cut the grapefruit into quarters and take out any pips you find (I didn't find any, but you might) and add the flesh only to your casserole/preserving pan. Put the peeled lime, the grapefruit pith and your painstakingly picked-out pips (tongue twister!!!!) into your 1 square foot of muslin and tie it at the top with string. (Feeling very much like someone in 1875.)

4 Chop up the grapefruit and lime skin - my recipe said 'into thin strips' but that would have taken me about four hours, so I just smashed them up a bit with a long sharp knife and it was FINE. Add your skins to the casserole/preserving pan, then plonk in the muslin bag and then pour over the 1.5 litres of water. Simmer gently for 1.5 hours with the lid off.

5 Turn off the heat under your almost-marmalade and, using a variety of improvised implements in your kitchen, devise a way of lifting out and squeezing as much of the contents of the muslin bag out into your pan as possible. Those of you who are wide awake will notice that this is tricky because it's BOILING HOT and you can't just squeeze it with your hands, unless you are the Human Torch from the Fantastic Four. I did this by picking the bag out with one pair of tongs and then squeezing it as best I could with another pair of tongs. If I was going to do this again I would enlist Giles - or probably a grandchild, by the time I need to make more marmalade - to hold it up with the tongs and then I would use both hands with another pair of tongs to really squeeze the bag hard. The stuff in the bag is full of pectin - the setting agent - so the more of it you squeeze out of the bag the better your chances of your marmalade setting.

6 Put a saucer in the freezer for later. You ought to have about 1 litre of gunk by now, but measure it out just to make sure. Add 450g sugar for every 500ml of marmalade mixture. Then put the pan back on the heat and bring it to a rolling boil, stirring every so often. The recipe I had said to start testing your marmalade for readiness after 15 mins. You do this by blobbing a bit on a cold plate and then pushing at the side with your finger and if it wrinkles up like it's set then it's set. I must say that this was very dispiriting as it didn't work after 15 mins, 20 mins or 30 mins and I threw things across the kitchen in a rage. I would just advise that you just boil this for 45 minutes straight and then put a blob on your cold saucer and watch it set like magic.

Then work out what the hell you're going to do with a lifetime's supply of marmalade.


I'd like to add as a P.S. to this that to my surprise, it's actually really lovely having this much marmalade around the place. It's delicious on toast, looks nice and other people really like its homemade-ness (even if it DOES have bits of string in it) Definitely one of my top-five things I've ever made.

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