Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bitter Marmalade and English Tea

I worked for a Scottish photographer in New York many years ago who summarized the difference between the Americans and the English with the simple observations that Americans had better teeth but the English made a better cup of tea. He attributed the former to better health care and the latter, I think, to superior character. Anthony Burgess puts it more bluntly: "The Americans, just like the French, do not know how to make tea." In all the time that I worked at this photographer's studio there was nothing in the manner or technique of his preparation that spoke of some mystical art or tea freemasonry – hot water from an electric kettle and a standard-issue bag of one's tea of choice dunked into a Crate-and-Barrel mug. Was I missing something? I always chose Earl Grey which he pronounced with wry, mocking authority to be for "old ladies." And then there's milk and sugar. Did the English use milk but the Chinese didn't? Or was it the other way around? Did anybody use sugar or was that the sure sign of a rube? I despaired of ever being able to make a proper cup of tea.

But I've been on a bit of a marmalade-making binge lately. So sooner or later you find yourself hankering for a cup of tea. And not just any tea – English tea. "But what is English tea?", I ask myself. What makes it English? They certainly don't grow any tea in England. English Breakfast Tea?

As it turns out, English tea is fermented black tea from India (or Ceylan.) Back in the good old days, when the sun never set on the British Empire, they tried a number of tactics to get the Chinese to supply their growing appetite for tea – coercion, infiltration, addiction and finally armed conflict. In the end they decided to eliminate the middle-man and just plant tea in India instead. They owned it after all.
The stronger, darker tea went well with sweeter foods and its bitterness could stand a little "milk and sugar", as opposed to the lighter more elegant green teas drunk in China and Japan.

Whichever way you look at it, it goes great with marmalade.

Orange Campari Marmalade
adapted from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

I've been enjoying a Campari and soda in the evenings lately – always with a slice of orange. The bitter and the slightly sweet really hits a spot deep in my Italian soul. So once I started thinking about making Rachel's Bitter Orange & Cinnamon Marmalade I couldn't get the idea of adding Campari out of my head. Luckily she has a lemon marmalade recipe that uses limoncello which I took as her blessing. I substituted cardamom for the cinnamon because I'll add it to anything I can reasonably get away with. I can honestly say this is the best damn marmalade I've ever had in my life - hats off to Rachel Saunders. Special thanks to the folks at Blue Chair for letting me reprint this recipe almost verbatim.

1 1/4 pounds Seville oranges, cut into eighths
3/4 pound lemons (preferably Lisbon), cut into eighths
2 3/4 pounds seeded Seville or other sour oranges, halved crosswise
each half cut lengthwise into quarters and sliced thinly crosswise
4 pounds white cane sugar
3 to 4 extra Seville oranges, to make 6 ounces strained freshly squeezed juice
1/4 cup Campari
1 1/2 tablespoons green cardamom pods, crushed lightly in a mortar to release their seeds

Makes approximately twelve 8-ounce jars

Day 1
Prepare the cooked citrus juice: Place the orange and lemon eighths in a large nonreactive saucepan. Add enough water to cover the fruit by 1 inch. Bring the fruit to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium. Cook at a lively simmer, covered, for 3 hours, or until the fruit is very soft and the liquid has become slightly syrupy. As the oranges and lemons cook, press down on them gently with a spoon every 30 minutes or so, adding a little more water if necessary. The water level should stay consistently high enough for the fruit to remain submerged as it cooks.

When the oranges and lemons are finished cooking, strain their juice by pouring the hot fruit and liquid into a medium strainer or colander suspended over a heatproof storage container or nonreactive saucepan. Cover the entire setup well with plastic wrap and let drip overnight at room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the thinly sliced oranges. Place the slices in a wide stainless-steel kettle and cover amply with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat and cook at a lively simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid. Return the orange slices to the kettle and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to medium and cook, covered, at a lively simmer for 2 hours, or until the fruit is very tender. As the fruit cooks, stir it gently every 30 minutes or so, adding a little water if necessary. The water level should stay high enough for the fruit to remain submerged as it cooks. Remove the pan from the heat, cover tightly, and let rest overnight at room temperature.

Day 2
Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later.

Place your perfectly clean jars and lids on a baking sheet and put into a 250˚ oven to sterilize while you finish the marmalade.

Remove the plastic wrap from the orange and lemon eighths and their juice and discard the fruit. Strain the juice well enough through very fine-mesh strainer to remove any lingering solids.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, cooked citrus juice, fresh orange juice, the Campari, and the orange slices and their liquid, stirring well.
Transfer the mixture to an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or wide nonreactive kettle. Place the cardamom into a fine-mesh stainless-steel tea infuser with a firm latch and add to the mixture, pressing down on it to be sure it is submerged.

Bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Cook at a rapid boil over high heat until the setting point is reached; this will take a minimum of 20 minutes, but may take longer depending on your individual stove and pan. Initially, the mixture will bubble gently for several minutes; then, as more moisture cooks out of it and its sugar concentration increases, it will start to foam. Do not stir it at all during the initial bubbling; then, once it starts to foam, stir it gently every few minutes with a heatproof rubber spatula. As it gets close to being done, stir it slowly every minute or two to prevent burning, decreasing the heat a tiny bit if necessary. The marmalade is ready for testing when its color darkens and its bubbles become very small.

To test the marmalade for doneness, remove it from the heat and carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful to one of your frozen spoons. It should look shiny, with tiny bubbles throughout. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 or 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see if it runs; if it does not run, and if its top layer has thickened to a jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs, cook it for another few minutes, stirring and test again as needed.

When the marmalade is finished cooking, turn off the heat but do not stir. Remove the tea-infuser. Using a stainless steel spoon, skin off any surface foam and discard. Pour the marmalade into the preheated, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and screw the lids on just until they are snug and put the whole lot back into the 250˚ oven for 15 minutes to ensure they are sterilized, then set aside to cool.