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'Tis the season for Maltese citrus

This article was first published in The Circle on 2 February, 2019.

Photos by Rachel Zammit Cutajar and James Bianchi.


Citrus fruit grows abundantly at this time of year. Oranges of all kinds, tangerines and lemons fill local market stalls and hang off the backs of vegetable trucks.

Malta’s citrus industry dates back as far as 870, when Malta was under Arab rule, and later, during the reign of The Knights of St John, Malta became particularly renowned for the superior quality of its citrus fruits which were exported to other European countries.

Among the citrus grown in Malta, Seville oranges thrive. Also known as bitter oranges, they aren’t meant for eating fresh as their flesh is bitter. However, their high pectin content make them an ideal candidate for preserves and are generally used to make orange marmalade. Paddington Bear’s favourite sandwich filler goes back to the 1700s, when a damaged ship from Spain sailed into Dundee harbour in Scotland. The cargo of Seville oranges was sold cheaply to merchant James Keiller, whose wife turned it into a preserve and created England’s favourite breakfast food.

Seville oranges grow well in Malta and homemade marmalade is easy enough to make. My two aunts Jane and Cella made marmalade every year. I still find their recipe for the Seville orange marmalade the best as it is much less bitter than some other marmalade recipes.

Although traditional marmalade is made with Seville oranges, you can make it with any citrus fruits. The garden of my late mother’s Zejtun home is full of old citrus trees that bear plenty of fruit. As we can’t eat them all we preserve as many as we can, in marmalades (orange or tangerine) or limoncello (which I also make with tangerines for a mandarincello).

Seville orange marmalade

It is important to use freshly picked fruit. If you can pick the fruit yourself, try and make the marmalade that day or the day after at the latest. Besides all the ingredients you will need a large pot, a mouli-legume (sometimes called a passé-rapid) or colander, a piece of muslin and string, some empty jam jars, a little brandy, waxed discs (or greaseproof paper), some pretty cotton material and matching ribbon and labels. This recipe makes approx. 10 jars of marmalade.



Seville orange marmalade

Ingredients

· 2.4kg sugar

· 14 Seville oranges

· 2 lemons

· 3 litres water

Method

1. In a very large pot, boil oranges and lemons in the measured water until very soft.

2. When cool, take the fruit out of the water, leaving the water in the pot, and cut the fruit into quarters.

3. Scoop out the pith and pips and put them into into a mouli-legumes, or into a normal large colander, placed over a large bowl.

4. Chop all the skins finely and set aside.

5. Press the pulp and pith through the mouli or colander collecting the thick juice in the bowl below.

6. Put this and the shredded skins into the pot with the water.

7. Do not throw away the dry pith and pips left behind in the mouli or colander, but gather them and tie them into a square of muslin that you secure with string and tie onto the handle of your pot so that the ‘bundle’ hangs down into the mixture in the pot. This helps add pectin to your mixture which makes the marmalade set.

8. Put the pot onto a low flame and warm the mixture adding the sugar when warm and stir constantly until the sugar melts.

9. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and leave to boil like this for some time (approx. 45 mins) stirring now and again and removing the scum that may rise to the top. Keep an eye on it as it has a tendency to boil over.

10. To test when the marmalade has set, put a little onto a very cold saucer (put it in the freezer beforehand), and push the marmalade with your finger. If it crinkles and gels it is ready. You might have to test it several times till you are sure it is ready. Try not to miss gelling point as you can over boil it.

11. Meanwhile sterilize the empty jam jars by washing them in hot water, and then put them in a VERY slow oven till dry and warm. Keep them there till your marmalade is ready.

12. Fill the warm jars with the marmalade (with the help of a medium sized jug). While still hot, put waxed discs (or circles with greaseproof paper) into a cup with some brandy and place the discs on top of the marmalade in each jar. This will prevent mould from forming on the top of the marmalade.

13. Either seal with the lids while hot or allow to get cold (do not close them when ‘warm’) and when you are sure the marmalade has set.

14. Cut some circles out of pretty material to top your jars. Tie with matching ribbon, label with their date of making, and leave in a cool place till needed.

Note: The marmalade will set according to how much natural pectin is in the fruit. If your marmalade has not set, don’t panic. Boil up the marmalade again and add a sachet of pectin. This will alter the flavour a little, so see if you can make do without before resorting to packaged pectin.

Tangerine marmalade



The previous owner of our house, Michael Radcliffe, left some beautiful citrus trees in the garden and he also left a recipe for his tangerine marmalade that I still use to this very day.

Tangerine maramalade

Makes approx 5 jars

Ingredients

· 18 tangerines

· 6 lemons

· 2.75 litres water

· 1.2kg sugar

Method

1. Cut the tangerines and 5 lemons in half and squeeze out all the juice.

2. Remove centre membranes from both fruits and put this in a small basin with the pips and 250ml water.

3. Shred the tangerine peel very finely.

4. Remove the rind from the extra lemon with a potato peeler and shred this also.

5. Put the pith from this lemon into the small basin with the other pips and membranes.

6. Put the fruit juices, shredded peel and remaining water in a large basin and leave overnight.

7. The next day put the pips and membranes through a mouli-legumes (also called a passé-rapid) and press out the juice which you set aside.

8. Gather the dry pips and put them into a muslin square tied into a bag. Set aside.

9. Put the contents of the larger bowl (discard 250ml of this) into a large pot.

10. Add the juices that you have pressed through the moulie.

11. Tie the muslin bag with the pips onto the handle of the pot and hang the bag in the juice mixture.

12. Boil steadily for 1 hour.

13. Remove the bag of pips, pressing it well against the inside of the pot to release any liquid and the pectin.

14. Warm the measured sugar in a bowl (in the oven) and add it to the liquid in the pot.

15. Dissolve slowly and then boil rapidly until this sets when tested (see previous recipe).

16. Skim well and pour into warm sterilised jars.

Fennel and blood orange salad



Ingredients

· 2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered and cored

· 6 oranges, peeled and divided into segments or sliced

· Handful green olives, pitted and chopped

· 1 red onion, thinly sliced

· 1 lemon, juice only

· Salt and pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Method

1. In a serving bowl mix the fennel, oranges, olives and onion.

2. In another small bowl or jug, mix together the lemon juice, oil and salt and pepper, whisking together well.

3. Add the seasoning to the salad, toss well and serve immediately.


Celebrate local produce with Pippa Mattei

Love local ingredients? Get more of Pippa’s recipes in her cookbooks 25 Years in a Maltese Kitchen (also translated into Maltese) and the Gourmand award-winning Pippa’s Festa. All three books are available at all leading bookstores or online from www.mirandabooks.com with free delivery to Malta and Gozo addresses.

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