The first blood oranges of the season always remind me of the orange orchards in Khanpur, Pakistan which is where I had my first taste of them. I will never forget the sight of vivid streaks of maroon running, graduating to ruby pink and orange, nor their cold sweetness. The orchard keeper picked one of the many bright orbs and ran his knife through the fruit to quarter it. The sharp edges of the quarters tickled the corners of my lips. The cold flesh willingly released itself into my mouth.
I was eight years old. The passage of time has not dimmed their wonder.
Because their season is fleeting, I like to preserve them as marmalade the colour of a desert sunset. Their bright and bold flavour requires no embellishment. Sometimes, I like to add a splash of vodka to bring out their sharpness. This Blood Orange and Fennel Marmalade is inspired by the classic Italian salad pairing. A combination that Valeria and I love. We used fronds of fresh fennel to infuse the marmalade. They add a subtle and savoury aniseed note.
1 kg blood oranges
50g fennel fronds
100ml lemon juice
750g caster sugar
A square muslin
Wash the blood oranges. Place them in a capacious heavy bottomed pan and cover them with water. Boil the whole fruit until it is soft and tender. You may need to top up the liquid. This usually takes between 2 – 3 hours.
The peel should be meltingly soft. To check this take a small piece and squeeze it between your fingers. If it squishes easily it is ready.
When done remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice to the pan. Make a bundle with the fennel fronds by securing them in the muslin. Add this to the boiled oranges and their liquid and leave it to soak overnight.
Remove the oranges from the cooking liquor. Set it aside as you will need it later. Halve the oranges and remove any seeds and stringy pith. Quarter and slice the peel to medium thickness.
Measure the cooking liquor to 2000ml. If it is less add more water to make up the amount. Add the chopped peel, fennel muslin and sugar to the pan. Place it on low heat and allow the sugar to dissolve.
Once the sugar has dissolved turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil. If using a jam thermometer, boil until the temperature reaches 105 Celsius. If you do not have a thermometer you will have to check for the set. To do this place several saucers in the freezer. When the jam has come to a boil place a small dollop of it on the cold saucer making sure to remove the pot from the heat when testing. Allow it to cool briefly before pushing it with your finger. If it wrinkles it is ready. If not continue to boil until it reaches this stage, testing frequently.
Let the marmalade cool for a several minutes. This allows the peel to disperse evenly. Ladle it into sterilised jars.