Normal people have certain staples in their freezers. Bags of peas. Ice cream. Breaded fish fillets. Ready meals. Frozen pizzas. In the freezer of the food-waste-phobe, this set of staples will probably have a few extra additions: tubs of homemade stock from the leftovers of a roast dinner; parmesan rinds to be added to soups; odds and ends of bread to be turned into breadcrumbs when the need arises.
And then, if you’re me, you can add to this list a plastic bag full of squeezed lemon halves, and three frozen bergamots.
I ran out of time before I went on a ten week trip to Asia. The fortnight or so beforehand was a manic, crazed time of cooking and photographing multiple recipes a day to meet certain deadlines, packing and unpacking and repacking and trying to decide whether I really needed to take two ‘mindful colouring’ books (no) and whether the entirety of the His Dark Materials trilogy on audiobook would be enough for the 100+ hours I would be spending on Indian trains (yes), and attempting to use up anything perishable that had found its way into my fridge and cupboards in the preceding weeks.
These perishables included three bergamots, which I had been bulk buying at Waitrose due to the fact that they were perpetually reduced because, shock horror, no one was buying them. It’s probably the same reason the York Waitrose stopped stocking quinces – they were there, for one glorious moment, in a crate near the figs and pomegranates (their rightful neighbours, of course), and then before I could return and stock up they had vanished forever – apparently the cooking population of this city is just not yet au fait with the culinary potential of certain esoteric fruits.
More fool them. Those bergamots made a glorious milky-yellow sweet curd which I slathered on my breakfast toast, its floral astringency a perfect pick-me-up on our rainy spring mornings. The rind I turned into homemade candied peel and added to hot cross buns, because my obsession with preventing food waste is spawning ever more creative strategies to avoid opening the kitchen bin. There were three left, and although I had plans for sorbet and ceviche, I simply ran out of time. India, and my mindful colouring books, were calling. I hastily stashed them in the freezer, to worry about at a later date.
Fast forward to ten-and-a-bit weeks later, and I’m rummaging through the freezer to see what needs using up. The kitchen freezer, that is. There is also a freezer in my garage that currently contains assorted clothing, a mosquito net, a washbag, a Kindle case and several Indian scarves, in a bid to eliminate the bedbugs that I may or may not have picked up in Mandalay. Let it never be said that my life is all just glamour and bergamot preparation.
The aforementioned bag of lemon halves in the freezer were a legacy from the gorgeous lemons that I picked up in the greengrocer in the Dales and waxed lyrical about in this blog post (and which, incidentally, I also turned into curd). They may have been Meyer lemons, I’m not sure, but I will henceforth refer to them as Mystery Lemons. Their fragrance, so much more floral and complex than the harsh rasp of an ordinary lemon, was too stunning to waste, so I saved the juiced lemon skins for some unspecified future use. I envisaged perhaps using them to stuff a roast chicken, but then decided to combine them with my bergamots in a sugary paean to esoteric citrus.
I’ve made marmalade three times before. The first attempt, Nigel Slater’s lime and lime leaf marmalade recipe, saw me spend an agonising hour juicing and shredding fourteen limes to the detriment of all the skin on my hands, but the result was gorgeous. The second attempt, using Seville oranges and bay leaves, was edible but slightly chunkier and chewier than I would have liked. The third, using Diana Henry’s recipe for blood orange, Seville orange and grapefruit marmalade, was perfection. I’ve never made lemon marmalade before, though, nor tried it. I was intrigued.
This is much quicker than some traditional marmalade recipes, requiring only a couple of hours rather than a couple of days. You simply slice the fruit into very thin strips (a sharp knife is essential here), removing any seeds (save these for later), and boil it for five minutes to remove any bitterness and to soften the peel. After draining the fruit, you add water and sugar, plus the seeds in a muslin bag to help the set, and cook like a normal jam until the pale yellow mixture thickens and darkens to a russet caramel colour interspersed with glistening shreds of burnished citrus.
The colour of this almost hints at normal orange marmalade, but the flavour gives it away. It’s sharp, with a slight bitter floral note from the bergamots, but sweet from those fragrant mystery lemons. You could, of course, use normal lemons mixed with the bergamots, but if you can find Meyer lemons (for those are the closest thing I can think of to my mystery lemons) then those will make this very special indeed.
My only worry is that if the citizens of York get their hands on this recipe, bergamots will stop being on perpetual sale in Waitrose.
Bergamot and mystery lemon marmalade (makes around 3 x 450g jars):
- 1.2kg bergamots and Meyer or ordinary lemons (I used half and half)
- 800g granulated sugar
First, prep the fruit. Scrub the fruit well in warm soapy water to remove any wax on the skins. Cut each fruit into quarters lengthways (bergamots are round, so ‘lengthways’ doesn’t really apply, but make sure the stalk end is facing upwards when you cut down). Cut out the seeds and set them aside in a bowl (as bergamots have lots, I find it easiest to just cut a chunk out of each quarter as if you were coring the quarters of an apple, taking seeds and bit of the flesh with them).
Now slice each quarter widthways into very thin slices, as thin as you can – use a very sharp knife. Put the slices into a large jam pan or saucepan.
Cover the fruit slices with water and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes, then drain well in a sieve lined with muslin. Return the fruit to the pan.
Put the reserved fruit pips and flesh in a piece of muslin and tie it tightly with string to make a small bag. Add this to the pan too. Add the sugar and 500ml water to the pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Once the mixture has reached the boil, allow it to bubble fairly rapidly for around 30-60 minutes, until a setting point is reached (104C, if you have a jam thermometer, or you can use the wrinkle test). Be very careful to stir it regularly because it burns easily – don’t allow the mixture to catch and burn on the bottom of the pan. Wear oven gloves to stir, as it bubbles madly and could burn your arms/hands.
When a setting point is reached, remove from the heat and leave for 10 minutes, then pot in sterilised jars.