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Friday 31 January 2014

Fit for a King?

King Charles Marmalade

Making marmalade is one of the few things I can do with any degree of success (or even reliability). For some reason, long since lost in the mists of antiquity, I've always seemed to make it on January 30th - the feast day of Charles, King and Martyr.  Hence, it has become known (to me, at any rate) as King Charles Marmalade.

My dear departed Belle-Mère used to make her own marmalade which was, quite simply, the best I've ever tasted.  Some years ago she gave me the recipe, which I've since adapted for use with a microwave.  I've been using this tried and tested method for several years, and would love to share it with anyone who might find it useful.  It yields 3-4lb of sharp, zesty marmalade – with no long hours of standing, stirring, watching or burning – and no messy pan to wash afterwards!!!

You will need:

  • 6-7 Seville Oranges (depending on size).  Please note: you can't use ordinary dessert oranges.  They are much too sweet, and don’t have enough natural pectin.  The season for Seville Oranges is quite short; usually January/February (Northern Hemisphere) or July/August (Southern Hemisphere)
  • 1kg Jam Sugar  NB: ordinary sugar won’t do.  Unless, that is, you want to have to boil your marmalade to within an inch of its life, and end up with something much more suited to repairing holes in roads.  If this happens, there won't be much you can do with it - except possibly give it to someone you don't like very much.  Jam sugar has extra pectin, which makes the whole process much simpler and quicker.
  • Water as required
  • Whisky to taste (optional)

You will also need:

  • One large microwave-safe bowl.  The marmalade expands considerably whilst boiling, so the bowl must not be more than half-full when the mixture is cold.  
  • One medium-sized microwave-safe bowl
  • One wooden spoon
  • One kettle
  • Two 500-ml measuring jugs
  • One nylon sieve
  • One citrus zester.  You can use a fine grater, but I find a zester is quicker and neater.
  • One electric blender.  The hand-held sort (sometimes called a "stick blender") is best, as you can use it in the cooking bowl.  Otherwise a liquidiser will do, or a food-processor - or even an old-fashioned potato-masher, if you’ve got plenty of time and the muscles of an all-in wrestler.
  • A supply of clean jamjars, plus lids
  • One pair of hands
  • One bowl of warm soapy water
  • One glass of wine (of your choice)
  • One copy of The Times crossword (if The Times is not available, The Guardian will do)
  • One pen
  • These instructions
  • Oh yes – one microwave oven (these instructions are based on 700W, and all settings are HIGH throughout)
  • One dishwasher (not essential, but preferable)

Put a kettle of water on to boil.

Remove the rind from the fruit using the zester (this shreds it finely and you don’t get any of the pith).   Put the rind into one of the measuring jugs, and fill the jug to the 500-ml mark with boiling water.  Leave to cool (uncovered) for about an hour – during this time a little of the water will evaporate.

Meanwhile, peel the oranges and discard the pith.  Put the fruit into the large bowl and crush roughly with your hands, discarding any of the tough membranes.  Extract the pips and put them into the medium-sized bowl.  (Be warned – Seville oranges are extremely pippy!  This part of the job is rather messy, I’m afraid.  The bowl of warm soapy water is for washing your sticky paws afterwards.)  Add 250-ml of boiling water to the pips, put the bowl in the microwave, set the timer for 10 minutes, then sit down with the glass of wine, the crossword and the pen.

After microwaving the pips, stir the mixture well and allow it to stand for 5 minutes, then strain it through the sieve and add the liquid (it will look like a thin clear runny jelly) to the fruit in the large bowl.  Try to extract as much of this as possible – it is the natural pectin which will help the marmalade to set.  Discard the pips.

Now strain the contents of the other jug into the bowl and liquidise the fruit mixture using the blender.  If you want shredless marmalade you can discard the zest – otherwise stir it into the mixture now.  Add approximately one-third of the sugar and stir well.  Microwave the mixture for 10 minutes whilst you resume your attempt at the crossword.

Add the remaining sugar, stir the mixture well and microwave for a further 10 minutes.  Stir well, then microwave again for another 10 minutes.  Stir well, then leave the mixture to stand for 10 minutes before pouring into sterilised jars.  The marmalade will still look quite runny at this stage, but don’t worry; it will set as it cools.  If you like, stir a dash of whisky into the jar before putting the lid on.

Put all the dishes and utensils into the dishwasher.

If you haven’t finished the glass of wine and the crossword, do so now.  If you have, you can reward yourself with another glass of wine.

Please note - no kings were harmed in the making of this condiment.

No more woe for Juliet and her Romeo?

Today I’m over on Catriona King’s website, talking about The Ghostly Father.  Hop over there and take a peek! 

Monday 27 January 2014

Instant bestseller? I still can't quite believe it.

Officially, The Ghostly Father isn't due out until next month.  But Amazon appears to have released it early, and I've heard that some friends have already received their copies.

Last Saturday morning, I had an email from the publisher telling me that based on pre-orders alone, it was number 1 in the "Alternative History" bestseller list.

To everyone out there who has helped to make this happen, I’d like to say a heartfelt “Thank You” – I just hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Saturday 18 January 2014

The Ghostly Father materialises!

This morning the postman delivered this:

Yes, it's an actual, physical book! 

Was this what really happened to Romeo & Juliet? 

Officially due out on St Valentine's Day, but you can pre-order it here.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Happy New Year - Happy New Book

Greetings, dear friends!  And a very happy 2014 to you all!

I'm happy to report that progress on the book continues apace.  Here's a sneaky peek of what we can expect to see next month: